Ahhh, the joys of summer. . . Sunshine, apple crumble, fresh berries, and – bzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz – oh yeah, mosquitoes. While theoretically I am glad that mosquitoes exist as they form a valuable food source for birds and bats, I would tend to feel from the number of itchy welts on my skin that perhaps my garden has just a few more than are strictly necessary. Just last week I was bit no fewer than 19 times in a period of about five minutes, which I believe is a personal record.
While normally I don’t form vendettas against insects for doing their thing, I think anyone would agree with me that 19 bites in five minutes would warrant some manner of defensive action. If that defensive action is taken on with a spirit of grim glee, well, maybe they shouldn’t have bitten me so many times. Without further ado, I present:
Six tips to banish mosquitoes from the yard naturally
While I feel bad smashing bugs that are just going about their business, I don’t feel at all bad encouraging one of their natural predators to come, enjoy my yard, and eat up. Especially when that natural predator is a hummingbird. According to this article, early ornithologists shot a number of hummingbirds (apparently an approved method of research back in the day) in order to examine the contents of their stomachs. They found the remains of all kinds of flying and other kinds of insects, with the stomachs packed with no fewer than 50 individual bugs!
How do you attract hummingbirds? Lots and lots of nectar plants. Your local natives will have flowers that are well-suited to the beak size and seasonal needs of the hummingbirds in your region (here in Northern California, Ceanothus and Ribes are two powerhouses), and you can always supplement with tubular, nectar rich plants such as Abutilon, Grevillea, Weigela, sages such as S. ‘May Night’, honeysuckle, coral bells, fuchsias, penstemon, flowering quince, and Liriodendron.
Plant fragrant plants around seating areas
Mosquitoes like to hang out in foliage, but when that foliage smells strongly herbal, the mosquitoes will vacate their stinky territory in favor of more neutral grounds. Top repellents?
- Catnip and catmint
- Lemon balm
- Eucalyptus (E. nicholii, willow peppermint, makes a great patio tree!)
If your patio isn’t surrounded by planting areas, you can try DIYing a trend-setting kokedama ball of lavender or another herb (instructions here). A few of these hanging, a citronella candle burning, and your outdoor seating area will be people-friendly once again.
Put up a bat-signal and call for help
Actually, scratch that. You don’t need Batman to deal with mosquitoes, you just need bats. Bats can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes per hour (all that dipping and diving must burn through calories like crazy), making them one of your strongest allies in the anti-mosquito war. While bats get a bad rap for carrying rabies, in fact the vast majority of rabies cases are transmitted by dogs. Most of us enjoy having dogs around, even if Fido’s effect on the mosquito population has been negligible, and if it’s the cute factor you’re after, bats have got it in spades. Have you seen their ears? Yeah. Cute. There are some well-constructed bat boxes available for under $40, and Bat Conservation International provides tips for installing a successful bat house.
Make your own natural repellent
While I’ve had good luck in the past using some of the natural bug repellents, my problem is that I don’t usually like whatever carrier oil or cream they are in. I don’t need a bunch of moisturizing and goop, I just need the bugs to not bite me. Enter Stephanie Rose from Garden Therapy. She’s shared a fantastic recipe for a natural bug spray. A few spritzes and the skeeters will stay away, and the best part is you don’t need to spend time applying a bunch of gloppy lotion – just spray a light, cooling mist over your face, clothes and any exposed skin, and you’re good to go.
Of course, if you’re averse to spritzing, you can try two other methods I’ve had success with. These citronella-infused silicone wristbands are surprisingly effective, and they come in glow-in-the-dark, camouflage, and other kicky colors. These MosquitNO stickers work in a similar way, since they are infused with a 15% concentration of citronella oil. You just stick them on your clothes, and while it is not 100% coverage, it’s sure a heck of a lot better than 19 bites in five minutes.
Eliminate standing water and use Mosquito Dunks
If you have any persistent puddles, garden ponds, watering troughs for chickens, or birdbaths, make sure you dump and refresh the water regularly and don’t allow mosquito larvae to proliferate. If it’s not possible to refresh the water, consider using a Mosquito Dunk. Mosquito Dunks are a biological control, which is to say is made of a type of naturally-occurring bacteria which only attacks specific types of insects. It is safe for fish habitats, and animal watering troughs. They’re cheap, easy to use, and only have to be used every 30 days, making them a lot easier than most types of pond maintenance.
And in the “I swear it’s true but the scientific community scoffs” category:
Don’t eat bananas. Seriously. I eat bananas, they swarm me, I abstain and the swarms are smaller. I’m a highly scientific sample of one! The thing about bananas is said to be an old wives’ tale, but there are scads of people online swearing to its accuracy, as do I. I love bananas. I will continue to eat them daily, despite the deleterious effects. I will also continue wearing dark colors such as black and purple, another mosquito no-no.
Lastly, DON’T use bug zappers
Scientists have shown that bug zappers aren’t very effective at killing mosquitoes, in fact, they are most effective at killing beneficial insects which would otherwise be your partners in keeping garden pests, even stinging and biting ones, to a minimum. It might make you feel useful to hear those snap, crackle and pop sounds all evening, but you are doing more harm than good. Keep your wallet and good karma intact and skip the zaps. Got any tips for keeping mosquitoes at bay? Let me know in the comments below. Photo credits: Mosquito: Edans via CC Attribution License on Flickr, Bat: Kretyen via CC Attribution License on Flickr, Hummingbird: KevCole via CC Attribution License on Flickr, Bug spray: Garden Therapy