Beat Back Pests with a Mixture of Repellents and Elimination
The advent of warmer weather brings so much to enjoy: light-filled days, gentle breezes and temperatures that invite outdoor lounging.
What’s less enjoyable? Serving as the appetizer, entree and dessert for a horde of mosquitoes.
Mosquito bites come from the females in the species, who use the protein in blood to power reproduction. While the lifespan of a female mosquito varies widely — from weeks to months, depending on the environment — a female can lay hundreds of eggs in a short amount of time. For many of us, itchiness and swelling follows a bite. Sometimes, the bite can also be the gateway to disease, if the mosquito has previously bitten an infected primate (human or not). While disease transmission is more common in tropical and sub-tropical climates, no one wants that risk.
An ounce of prevention
To discourage mosquitoes and other bothersome bugs, first make it harder for them to find a comfortable habitat. Mosquitoes are happiest with dark, warm, damp places, because that’s where breeding is most successful.
Start by eliminating any place where water can collect and stand. This includes plant pots (pay attention to the drip dishes underneath), wheelbarrows, buckets, trash cans, abandoned toys, clogged gutters and plastic gutter downspouts that may not empty fully. Remove plant debris, like leaf piles, and fallen branches or trees. Keep grass and weeds trimmed, and dethatch grass yearly, to remove packed plant material at its base. Use a covered compost bin, not an open compost heap.
If you have a pond, consider stocking it with fish that eat mosquitoes or use a larvicide, which is safe for the fish, but not the insects. If you have a birdbath, change the water weekly. Change the water daily in outdoor pet bowls.
Another way to attack a pest problem is to enlist help from nature. A wide range of plants – American beautyberry, basil, bee balm, catnip, dill, eucalyptus, garlic, lavender, lemongrass, marigold, peppermint, rosemary and sage – serve as natural mosquito repellents, to varying degrees. Ring a deck with pots filled with your favorites, or install beds filled with growing pest-fighters. And use cedar mulch because cedar oil is another natural repellent.
Birds and bats are also natural predators. Hang a few feeders, to attract a variety of birds. If you’re not opposed to bats, provide a bat house. Ideal placement is 15 to 20 feet off the ground and in the open, where sunlight will heat it for five to eight hours a day. Don’t attach the house to a tree, which is likely to not get enough sun and exposes the bats to predators. Bats also need a water source, so if you’re not close to a natural body of water, add a bird bath nearby (but change the water often).
A pound of cure
Even the best prevention efforts can’t eradicate backyard pests. Mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide that people exhale, so if we’re breathing, bugs will follow.
One of the best chemical-free ways to keep pests away is to use fans. Mosquitoes can’t fly well in a breeze. Scientists also theorize that the moving air will confuse the bugs as they follow scent, so they won’t know where to alight. Other approaches are to use citronella and lavender candles, burn coffee grounds or use devices that automatically release repellents, though these don’t work well on windy days.
A study published in the October 2022 issue of the journal Cell suggests that some people are more susceptible to bug bites because of the acidic composition of their skin. If you’re a bug magnet, try washing with a repellent soap on a day that you plan to be outside. Also wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes, as bugs are drawn to bright colors and patterns.
If you are willing to include chemicals in your defense arsenal, consider the synthetic repellents found in a variety of sprays and lotions, all EPA-approved: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. While DEET is the oldest and perhaps best-known, picaridin has been found to cover a wide range of insects by mimicking a chemical found in pepper plants. Don’t confuse oil of lemon eucalyptus with lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which is sometimes marketed as a mosquito repellent. IR3535 is a synthetic repellent developed by Merck in the 1980s; it has been used in Europe for more than three decades.
Additional chemical applications are available via foggers that can be used for short-term events or commercial broadcast treatments, which can last for several months.
Any time we step outdoors, we leave a controlled space and enter an environment that isn’t designed solely for our comfort. With some forethought, we can enjoy that experience more this summer.
For information about the most common pests in your area, the National Pesticide Information Center — npic.orst.edu — provides contact information for county extension offices. ✦
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