Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mosquitoes Got You Itching?

Sheesh! See a mosquito, smack a mosquito. Not even the 100+ degree temperatures are deterring these pesky insects from biting. Since, I’m not a big fan of spraying poison on my skin (hey, makeup doesn’t count), I have been reading up on alternatives. I thought I would checkout the claims that some plants keep mosquitoes away. What a great idea!! Sadly, I found that there is no science to back up that certain plants on their own keep skeeters at bay.

The science is that the botanical compounds in plants do repel those little blood suckers but these oils must be extracted from the plants. Some of these plants include Lemongrass, American Beautyberry, Mexican Mint Marigold, Lemon Verbena, Pennyroyal, Rosemary, Lantana, Lavender, Mint, Basil, Lemon Thyme, Mosquito plant (citronella-scented Geranium) and Lemon Balm to name a few. This makes sense because I remember my grandfather putting American Beautyberry leaves under his plow horse’s harnesses. He claimed it kept the flies away.

Extracting the oil from these plants can be as simple as crushing the leaves and strewing them or burning the plant parts (much like incense) near your patio area. The added bonus is the wonderful aroma of the herbs. You can try crushing the leaves of these plants and spread them on your skin, but please do a patch test first. I have fashioned a big terra cotta pot of many of the above plants and when I garden, I give each one of them a slight “squeeze” to release the oils. It seems to be working.

Just like butterflies and moths, mosquitoes are nectar feeders and pollinate plants.
Only the female feeds on blood to get iron and protein when she is ready to reproduce. Mosquitoes can go from eggs to adults in as little as five days. Yikes! 

Females find their blood meals by following trails of carbon dioxide, body heat, and water vapor that vertebrates exude. So, don’t breathe, get hot or sweat when working in the garden. Tee, hee. They are not attracted to light, so all-purpose bug zappers don’t work (although they kill thousands of beneficial, pollinating insects).

As gardeners we know to be vigilant in emptying containers of standing water. If after dumping standing water and introducing natural predators you still have mosquitoes, you can use a product called Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis  (Bt-i). Bt-i is a natural occurring, soil-borne bacteria that has been used since the 1950s for natural insect control. Bt-i kills 95-100% of mosquito larvae within 24 hours but is not harmful to birds, mammals, or amphibians.  Holly Ross of Hollyberry Herb Farm in Canton, Texas suggests using the powder form of Bt-i in water to spray on gardens and lawn. Be sure to coat the underside of leaves where eggs occur.

We know mosquitoes pass on disease to humans and domestic animals. But, mosquitoes are more of a nuisance than a health threat in this part of the world. Millions of people are bitten by mosquitoes but only a few get sick. This is not to minimalize those that suffer from one of the mosquito-borne deadly diseases. But, overuse of pesticides leads to poisoning, pollution and the death of beneficial wildlife. I guess it is a catch 22. The key to minimizing the annoyance of bites and the risk of disease is prevention. Avoid going outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are active (easier said than done for a gardener) and cover exposed skin by wearing long pants and sleeves.
Interesting gardening attire
A better choice in gardening attire

Not good gardening attire

If worse comes to worse, use a fan. Mosquitoes are not strong flyers so a fan is often all you need to keep these biters away while you enjoy an evening in your garden or on your patio.

Garden on!

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