By Anne Rivas
What do spring showers bring? Mosquitoes! I confess to spraying (only) my clothing with heavy-duty DEET before going on a hike last week. I was able to wear those unwashed clothes days later to mow my lawn without being bitten. If you’re going to use a chemical to repel mosquitoes, that’s one way to do it.
Having recently lived in a state that claims the mosquito as its state bird, I offer some ways to protect ourselves without killing beneficial insects and pollinators.
Wind and moving water discourage mosquitoes. If the air is still, use a fan when you’re sitting outdoors. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, which is dissipated by a breeze. Mosquitoes need to keep their wings dry, so they avoid moving water. The Water Garden website recommends adding a pond for mosquito control. That website also recommends the use of Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelenses (BTI) as a natural mosquito control. While safe for people, pets, and wildlife, BTI kills caterpillars, so keep it out of your butterfly garden.
Change standing water at least once a week. A variety of critters visit my birdbath – birds, squirrels, hornets, and my dog. She’s very tall. I dump it every few days, scrub it out, and refill it. That prevents mosquito eggs from maturing into blood-sucking demons.
Anything that holds water is a potential mosquito nursery – plant saucers, buckets, toys, and tires. Butterflies and small birds like water that collects in shallow depressions in rocks. So do mosquitoes. Do you have self-watering pots? Check the reservoirs to make sure water does not stand for longer than a week.
Our gutters are clean, but the downspouts drain into pipes that go underground and come out in the yard. Every so often we clean out the crud that collects at the bottom of those pipes.
For personal protection, there are a few milder ways to repel mosquitoes than soaking your clothing in DEET. Grow citronella grass, catnip, rosemary, lavender, basil and scented geraniums. The scents of these plants repel insects, but contact can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people. Catnip is in the mint family, so put it in a pot unless you want a field of it. If you use plant oils, you will need to apply them more often than you do commercial repellents.