Natural Mosquito Control
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
– Dalai Lama
Gorgeous summer weather typically comes hand-in-hand with mosquito populations booming. These little biters are the bane of barbeques everywhere and can make it a challenge to get out to enjoy our beautiful backyards. Many of us have just learned to live with it, with the itchy bites to prove it. Just because they’re hard to avoid, though, doesn’t mean there are no options for reducing their populations.
Life of a Mosquito
Fighting to keep the mosquitoes in your yard under control can feel a lot like war. The legendary military strategist Sun Tzu once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” We take his advice seriously and know that some basic knowledge about how mosquitos live can help us to make our homes as uninviting to them as possible.
Mosquitos are persistent and irritating, but they still have some vulnerabilities. Their life cycle (and ability to make even more biters) is chained to a few staples they need to reproduce.
Of the 3500 species of mosquitoes worldwide, our country is home to at least 176 types. Almost every variation we find here relies on some standing water to lay their eggs. The eggs can be dormant all winter and hatch in standing water in the spring, starting a new cycle of little flying vampires. The eggs hatch into larvae (called “wrigglers” by some), which spend a week in the water before becoming pupae (also called “tumblers”). They only spend a few days in this form before they become the hungry adults that we recognize.
Blood is the key ingredient in reproduction, as the protein from it is used to make more eggs to start the next generation. While it is true that the male adults don’t have the needle-like proboscis that females do, preventing them from biting, they are still needed to fertilize eggs, meaning any mosquitoes are fair game for smacking!
Fighting Back Against Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes can emerge in the spring and summer and seem like an impossible army to fight. While their numbers are overwhelming, we can use our knowledge of their life cycle and sense of smell against them to reduce their numbers and repel them, before resorting to harsh chemicals.
The key to keeping these biters away from you and your yard is to prevent more of them from hatching, to encourage predators to feast on them, and to use the power of plants to keep them away.
Prevention: Drain Standing Water
The first way to stop mosquitoes is to prevent more of them from being born. They cannot travel very far, so being diligent about eliminating places for them to breed in your yard will do a lot to reduce how many of them you face this summer.
Take a walk around your yard, especially after rain. Look for anywhere that these pests could be laying their eggs. Any standing water is suspicious, and you’ll be surprised at some of the places you find it. The most obvious culprits are garbage cans, pet water dishes, rain barrels, and bird baths. Eavestroughs can also be a nursery for these pests that remain out of sight and out of mind. If you have plugged troughs, you can bet they’ll be hatching there.
Drain all the standing water you can, and take a mental note to keep it drained after it rains. For any standing water you can’t drain, consider sprinkling some larvicide. This chemical-free solution is incredibly safe for people and pets, as it simply introduces an army of tiny predators that eat the larvae.
Repelling: Mosquito Repelling Plants
No matter how well you prevent their eggs from hatching, some of these pests will inevitably find their way into your yard. Part of the trick to enjoying your yard in peace is to use mosquito-repelling plants to make your yard as unappealing as possible. These plants may not be as effective as the industrial-strength DEET you can buy at the store, but they do provide a passive repellant that adds beauty to your yard.
Most people automatically think of Citronella Geraniums when they think of mosquito-repelling plants. These are definitely among the effective plants, but there is a much more extensive selection of natural repellents than many people think.
Marigolds are an innocent-looking, pretty yellow flower that repels mosquitoes and other garden pests naturally, thanks to containing the pesticide pyrethrum. In fact, many pesticides use synthesized varieties of repellents that occur naturally in plants. Ageratum has coumarin, which is found in many mosquito repellents, while catnip is a member of the mint family that mosquitoes avoid.
Reducing Numbers: Predators
While preventing them is the first step, it is also important to know how to get rid of any lingering mosquitoes you have. Luckily, mosquitoes are slow and very tasty to predators, making them a popular meal. The first step is to encourage the predators to consider your yard as a feeding ground.
First, let’s do a little myth-busting. The internet is full of claims that the Purple Martin and various types of bat are the perfect mosquito hunting machines. These predators will certainly dine on the occasional mosquito, but not enough to noticeably affect the number of biting pests in your yard. They are helpful to have around but aren’t the fix-all solution.
While Purple Martins are the most famous, other birds do an excellent job of keeping your mosquito numbers down. Barn Swallows can eat an impressive 60 per hour, and Robins, Chickadees, and Woodpeckers carry their weight, too. Keep in mind that if you’re fostering a flying mosquito-eating army, you might want to keep your cat indoors or on a leash, as they are the top bird killer in Canada.
Dragonflies are the best natural mosquito controls you can get. These gorgeous insects are completely harmless to humans but are mosquito-munching machines. A single dragonfly can eat over 100 per day! The catch is that your dragonflies will need a pond or boggy area nearby to live, and are very sensitive to air pollution.
Avoiding mosquitoes and tolerating the occasional bite is a part of our summer routines that most of us would love to eliminate. Trying to reduce the number of mosquitoes that will make it to you is a great way to avoid these bloodsuckers, without resorting to synthetic chemicals daily. By preventing, repelling, and reducing their numbers, you’ll notice a big difference and finally be able to enjoy the outdoors at home in peace.