How to take your garden and yard back from the mosquitoes
By JESSICA DAMIANO, Associated Press
Life comes with lots of little annoyances, few of them littler or more annoying than mosquitoes. Just about everyone who spends any time outdoors will be bothered by the bloodsucking party poopers at one point or another.
Although it may seem difficult to avoid mosquitoes, there are several easy measures you can take to reduce or eliminate them from your yard and garden. The best control is prevention.
With the exception of those who live near a lake, marsh or swamp — or in densely packed neighborhoods — most of the blame for mosquito invasions usually falls on the property’s residents. Mosquitoes need only one-quarter inch of water to breed — and a female can lay hundreds of eggs at a time.
Inspect your property for standing water. Even the most diligent among us will likely find water collected in a children’s playset, tire, clogged gutter, pot saucer, overturned trash can lid or flying disc toy. Drain or dump water as you see it, even if the amount appears insignificant, and drill drainage holes in the bottoms of vessels like tire swings.
For water that’s intended to stand, such as in ponds and bird baths, the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) is a safe and effective way to kill mosquito larvae. Several strains of Bt are available, each targeting different insects, so be sure to buy the israelensis strain to target mosquitoes. The product is also effective against black flies and fungus gnats.
Bti comes in various forms, including donut-shaped briquettes called “Mosquito Dunks.” The floating rings offer 30 days of protection and “will not harm people, pets and other animals, aquatic life, or other insects, including honeybees,” according to the CDC.
If you don’t have a pond or bird bath, you can make a DIY mosquito trap: Add a handful of straw, hay or grass clippings to a (preferably dark-colored) pail filled with water, and let it sit for 1-2 days. Then add one mosquito dunk. For large infestations, tuck several buckets around the yard. The decomposing organic matter will attract the insects, which will lay eggs on the treated water. Replace water and add a fresh dunk every 30 days to thwart future generations of mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes also like to hunker down among weeds and overgrown vegetation. Keep the yard tidy.
Running a standing or box fan at high speed will significantly reduce mosquito activity on your porch, deck or patio. It works by literally blowing the insects away and dispersing our exhaled carbon dioxide, which would otherwise attract them. You’ll keep cooler, too.
Avoid using insecticidal foggers or sprays, which threaten essential pollinators and other beneficial insects while controlling only a small portion of the adult mosquito population. In addition, such applications would need to be repeated multiple times per season.
So-called “mosquito plants” and other plants marketed as repellents do, indeed, contain oils or chemicals that the insects find unappealing. But they’re not effective unless those compounds are released, such as by crushing the leaves. Merely having such a plant in the garden or a pot will not provide any benefit.
Various research studies have shown citronella candles containing lemongrass oil provide mild-to-moderate protection. The jury is out on whether the benefit can be attributed to the repellant properties of the active ingredient, the candle’s ability to mask the human scent or if the flame itself is the deterrent.
In case you’re wondering, mosquitoes do serve a purpose — as pollinators and bird food. Still, because the roles they serve in these areas are minor, eliminating them from your yard will not adversely affect the ecosystem.
Itchy welts aside, many of us live or vacation in areas where mosquitoes can transmit viruses like West Nile, Zika, dengue and chikungunya, and parasitic illnesses like malaria. Pets are at risk, too, with heartworm disease posing the most significant threat.
Wearing long sleeves and pants, reducing time spent outdoors between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active, and keeping up to date with pets’ heartworm prevention treatments will go a long way toward reducing mosquito bites.
And remember, you don’t live in a barn. Keep the door closed.
"For lot of people, it feels like this year is a lot worse," Carlson said, who says on average the levels are similar to those seen in 2019 and 2020. "Last year, there were almost no mosquitoes for pretty much the duration of the entire summer because of the drought."
That said, some areas are experiencing above-average mosquito populations this year because of heavier rain or higher water levels, he added. So if you live in a part of the state that has been wetter than usual, it could be that the mosquitoes are indeed back with a vengeance.
My dad used to console me by saying mosquitoes couldn't resist my "sweet blood." Carlson says people like me have "won the genetic lottery." Fact is, some people are more attractive to mosquitoes because of their underlying biology — the amounts of carbon dioxide they emit or the natural scents they carry, for example.
Some of it can be activity-based, Aliota adds. If you're huffing and puffing on a strenuous hike, you might feel them coming for you. Potential bummer alert for your July 4th gathering: Alcohol consumption can also stimulate mosquito attraction.
They also detect us by body heat. So if your body temperature naturally runs warmer than the average person, consider yourself desirable.
"That's why if you're ever around a pregnant woman in the summertime, she tends to get more mosquito bites than anybody else," Carlson said.
So the solution is clear: Invite a pregnant friend to your barbecue.
If you're just sitting in the backyard or are hosting a patio get-together, one of the most effective things you can do is plug in an oscillating fan to keep the air moving, Aliota said. The wind can help keep mosquitoes from finding you and your guests.
And don't forget the bug spray. "I am a strong believer of using DEET," said Aliota, though for kids he recommends using a spray with picaridin.
Permethrin is another treatment that can be applied directly to clothing and gear rather than directly to the skin. Before sending my kid to a weeklong camp in the woods, I sprayed his socks, pants, shoes and shirts to keep him a little safer from mosquitoes and ticks.
To provide a spatial repellent to cover an outdoor area such as a deck or patio, both Aliota and Carlson said they were intrigued by Thermacell, which diffuses a synthetic version of a substance found in chrysanthemum flowers. "I've seen some evidence that suggests they work pretty well," Aliota said. "I was actually looking to buy some."
"I think you'd have to eat a lot of garlic to have any kind of repellent effect," Aliota said.
Same goes for those citronella candles — or planting citronella, said Carlson. "Your yard has to be entirely made out of citronella plants for it to have any impact."
These gadgets promise to lure mosquitoes by mimicking human breath and then killing them by drowning, electrocution or other means. Some have been studied and shown to be effective, but Carlson recommends staying away from these products because they may invite even more mosquitoes to your area and won't succeed in killing them all.
He also advises that people use caution when purchasing foggers that can be applied to your yard. These products can knock down mosquitoes for a number of hours, but may kill more than mosquitoes — such as pollinators and other insects beneficial to the environment. Consider hiring a licensed professional who is trained to apply proper dosages.
Trust me, black leggings will only invite an attack on your posterior. A mosquito is drawn to dark clothing, and stretchy, tight fabric will not prevent its long proboscis from piercing your skin. Best to opt for a lighter color, as well. Remember the three L's, Carlson advises: "Light, loose and long sleeves."
Kathy Beadle, a field operations supervisor with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, checked for floodwater mosquito larvae.
Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the fact that in other parts of the world, "mosquitoes are Public Health Enemy No. 1," said Aliota.
Even in the Midwest, cases of West Nile Virus pop up every summer. But our cold winters are good for something, he adds. The species that transmit the pathogens that cause dengue or Zika virus aren't established in our state.
"Predicting what the rest of the summer is going to be like for mosquitoes is essentially like predicting the weather," Aliota said. "It's somewhat unreliable, and it can vary depending on the mosquito species."
Although more than 50 mosquito species are found in the Midwest, the ones that are most likely biting you in your yard are aedes vexans. They lay their eggs in tree holes or other containers that collect water and thrive when there are intermittent thunderstorms. This species is the most likely to peak at this time of year.
USDA Agricultural Research Service via AP
This image provided by the USDA Agricultural Research Service shows a closeup of a mosquito on human skin.