After the warm winter and early spring the US enjoyed this year, we can expect to see a bumper crop of mosquitoes this summer. And, while the word “mosquito” comes from the Spanish for “little fly,” these diminutive bugs can cause super-sized problems. Mosquito bites can itch enough to nearly drive you batty, and scratching can lead to secondary infections. Mosquitoes also spread dangerous diseases such as encephalitis and West Nile Virus in humans. They can even transmit a deadly heartworm in our furry family members.
Many of us would rather not use chemical mosquito repellents to solve our mosquito problem, though. If you’d like to use more natural means to avoid being feasted on this summer, here are the 7 best mosquito repellent options to choose from.
There are plenty of smells we humans aren’t exactly fond of–eau de dumpster, anyone?–and mosquitoes are no different. Certain plants produce oils that mosquitoes find “stinky” and will generally avoid. Citronella is one of those plants, and we use citronella oil to make candles, lotions and other products to keep the pesky insects at bay. An all-natural alternative to these products is to plant this decorative clumping grass near the back deck, or other areas the family plans to hang out. Other mosquito-repelling plants include marigolds, horsemint, catnip and ageratum. Remember to check the USDA plant hardiness zone where you live before you plant.
Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide. Instead of melting into a liquid as it warms up, like the ice in your soda, dry ice transforms directly into carbon dioxide gas. One of the ways mosquitoes locate their victims is by detecting the carbon dioxide we mammals exhale with each breath. Therefore, buying dry ice just before a backyard barbecue and placing it in the yard away from your guests will distract some mosquitoes and reduce the number of bites. It’s no magic bullet, though–researchers at Yale discovered in 2010 that mosquitoes have more than two dozen scent receptors for human sweat, and they are also attracted by movement, moisture and body heat.
The most surefire way of reducing the mosquito population in your yard is to disrupt their life cycle. Since mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, check your property thoroughly for places water can collect, such as clogged rain gutters and birdbaths. If you have decorative ponds or other standing water you want to keep, make it unwelcome to mosquitoes by keeping it aerated or by adding natural mosquito killers such as anti-mosquito bacteria or fish that feast on mosquito larvae.
Traps that attract and kill mosquitoes can reduce the population of adult mosquitoes in your garden. Commercially available “bug-zappers” use light to attract mosquitoes and other insects. The Mosquito Magnet™ attracts mosquitoes by emitting carbon dioxide, warmth, moisture and a mosquito-attracting scent, and then sucks in the mosquitoes that take the bait. This homemade mosquito trap uses fermentation-produced carbon dioxide to lure the little bloodsuckers to their demise.
Spices not only make your dinner more enjoyable–some spices can drive mosquitoes away. If you’re having a backyard bonfire, throw some fresh sage or rosemary on the embers to make the bugs keep their distance. A body spray made of one part garlic juice and five parts water repels mosquitoes. However, use with caution–it may also drive away human guests.
If you’re looking for a pre-made natural repellent, neem oil is one option. Derived from the neem tree in India, this oil is safe to use and discourages mosquitoes from biting. Another plant-based product, DEET-free Herbal Armor™, uses extracts including peppermint oil and lemongrass extract to keep mosquitoes away.
Another way to get rid of mosquitoes is to let nature do the work for you. Encourage natural bug-eaters like birds and bats to patrol your property by installing a birdhouse or bathouse. Some types of bats can chomp down 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes per bat, per night, which puts most traps to shame. Admire your wildlife helpers from afar, though–bats can carry rabies.
Photo courtesy of JJ Harrison.
Have a safe, fun summer!
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