Keeping Mosquitoes at Bay

mosquitoLast month we learned that the so-called mosquito repellent plants don’t actually keep our yards pest free. Does that mean we have to suffer annoying, itchy welts? Thankfully, there are alternatives. We start by preventing mosquitoes from breeding.

Most of us know that mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. The eggs hatch into aquatic larvae. In as little as three day (depending on the temperature), those larvae become flying adults. The males leave us alone, but the females suck up a gut full of nutrient-rich blood to support egg-laying. And often, that blood comes from us.

The easiest way to stop this life-cycle is to eliminate the water. Mosquitoes don’t need a pond. Birdbaths, plant saucers, even a tiny puddle under a drain spout can contain mosquito larvae. A quick tour of the yard can reveal issues that need to be addressed. It’s a simple matter to turn over containers and regularly clean birdbaths and fountains. mosquito dunks

For larger, more permanent water features you can buy a form of the bacteria Bt that comes embedded in a “doughnut” you float on the water surface. The bacteria in the doughnut kill the larvae before they become biting adults. Putting larvae-eating fish in a pond is another option.

But what do we do about the adults who venture into our yards from elsewhere? Screening will keep most of the pesky flyers out of the house but who wants to stay indoors all season? As an enthusiastic gardener, I want to be able to enjoy our yard without getting chewed.

Unless I want to encase myself in a hazmat suit every time I venture out, my best bet is to apply a repellent directly to my skin and clothing. The question is, which one should I use?

The most common mosquito repellent is DEET. It’s highly effective and has been safely used by millions of people. In fact, it’s now considered the standard by which other repellents are judged—to be better, they must be more effective, less expensive, or even safer than DEET.

I can just hear your protest—aren’t natural repellents much safer than anything man-made? Actually, no, not always. Just because a chemical occurs in nature, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. To quote a study on “Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing” from the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health:

DEET has undergone stringent testing and has a good safety profile. … In contrast, plant-based repellents do not have this rigorously tested safety record, with most being deemed safe because they have simply been used for a long time. However, many plant-based repellents contain compounds that should be used with caution.

Additionally, when it comes to plant-based repellents, there is the potential for an allergic reaction; be sure to test small amounts of any plant extract before smearing it all over your skin.

I was going to make this a detailed post comparing all the different repellents , but Robert Pavlis at beat me to it. Instead of quoting his entire article, I’ll just send you to his post, “Mosquito Repellents—Best Options,” for an excellent review of the products available. (Then learn even more by reading his other articles on mosquito repellent plants.)

SnakeBightOverlook@EvergladesNP 2007dec31 LAH 008It’s good to keep in mind that even the best repellents have their limits. I have vivid memories of hiking Snake Bight Trail in the Florida Everglades. (Bight, meaning “bay,” not bite!) It was hot, humid, and very buggy. I was applying a new layer of DEET every 20 minutes or so (I kept sweating it off) and I still came back totally covered with bites.

We make not like them, but mosquitoes are part of life. We can’t keep them all out of the garden, but thankfully we can keep them from biting us—at least most of the time.

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