May 25, 2018

Repelling Mosquitoes, Naturally

There is a lot of information out there about repelling mosquitoes and other biting flies. Commercially, using a low concentration of DEET is the widely-accepted standard. But there are also common concerns about the dangers of this chemical and the petroleum-based delivery system often found tagging along with it.

What about some natural ways to remedy the mosquito situation? I’ve got a list right here:

Remove Standing Water

The best way to deter mosquitoes is to prevent them from living and increasing their numbers around your home! They don’t like to travel very far, so making your home less than inviting for them will keep their numbers down. Removing standing water is a great way to drastically change how many of these annoying biters you deal with this summer.

Mosquitoes are crafty creatures, and their larvae can survive in about 1 Tablespoon of water. While they need this water to be able to reproduce, they are very creative about finding spots to lay their eggs and grow. This means that you have to be consistently diligent about removing standing water from your environment.

Dishes under plants need to be cleaned out every other day. That harvest bucket you left out overnight accidentally and then it rained? Yep, empty it and put it away. Birdbath? Put a small pump to keep the water moving (birds like this too), or clean it out every other day. Old tires, old boats, junk piles…get rid of them if you can.

If you have a decorative pond, that’s cool. Try using a mosquito dunk (we have them!). Or, get some koi or goldfish, for a pretty backyard companion that loves to eat larvae. Keeping the surface of the water moving helps keep mosquitoes at bay as well, so maybe put a small floating fountain or pump in the pond, if it’s big enough.

Use Cedar Oil Spray

I can’t stress enough how well Cedar Oil works for ridding your landscape of mosquitoes. The stuff is amazing! Derived from Thuja-variety cedar trees, spray it on, allow it to dry, and enjoy a mosquito/no-see-um free yard. We sell ours in a bottle that has a hose-attachment point, making it easy to attach and spray. Reapply as needed.

Because of the concentration of the Cedar Oil (ours is 17%), do not apply it directly to the skin. It’s strong enough to irritate your skin, and we don’t want that. There’s other stuff better designed to use on your skin if you need.

Marigolds, Floss Flower, Lemon Verbena, Catmint
Catnip, Lavandin (Lavender), Sage, Rosemary, Basil

Plant a Mosquito-Fighting Patio Planter

Much of our knowledge of the effects of plants on biting flies comes from traditions of herbalists and backwoods practice. It’s sadly a dying artform at this point in our history, but there is lots that we can still learn and use at home.

Many believe now that everything has to be proven by science, and being a biologist, I totally understand where they’re coming from. However, I also respect the traditions of the past and like to experiment with them until I find the ones that work for me. Different people have subtle differences in their chemical makeup, so different things work for different people (like the same perfume smells different on different people). Feel free to experiment to find something that works for you and your home that you are comfortable using and helps ensure a more comfortably mosquito-free experience for you.

To utilize some popular mosquito-repelling plants, you’ll want a good-sized (LARGE) planter for your patio to have room for a variety of pest-control plants within easy reach. Here’s a fun plant-o-gram for you:

Outer Ring:
– Light Green: Marigolds – natural source of pyrethrum, found in insecticide (when extracted and concentrated) and known to many companion planting gardeners as a natural pest deterrent.
– Pink: Floss Flower – mosquitoes don’t like the scent, but butterflies & hummingbirds do!
– Light Orange: Lemon-scented Geranium (Pelargonium crispum) – many say that lemon-scented plants deter biting flies (lemon verbena, lemon thyme also).
– Dark Purple: PennyRoyal – used historically in indoor and outdoor containers (please keep it in a container, it is INVASIVE) and flower arrangements to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.
– Teal: Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) – put a handful of leaves into a pot and cover with water (about a cup or cup and a half), boil until leaves are dark, then allow to cool, place whole concoction into a sprayer bottle and mist yourself and clothing when needed to keep mosquitoes away.
– Blue: Catnip (Nepeta cateria) – contains nepetalactone – one study showed that catnip was effective at low concentrations at repelling mosquitoes (the study results are debated, and no further work was done on the topic). If you have a cat, you might want to swap out the catnip for something else if you don’t want your cat rummaging around in the container!

Inner Ring:
– Purple: Lavender – Plant a Lavandin variety, which has a higher concentration of camphor (used most often by soap makers!)
– Grey: Sage – burn it to keep away pests (great for campfires or fire pits)
– Orange: Rosemary – you can also burn Rosemary to keep away pests
– Dark Green: Basil – oil is toxic to mosquitoes, it’s easy to crush a leaf and rub on exposed skin – plus inhaling the scent of basil gives you a feeling of being wide awake!

You can, of course, plant these all individually and spread them around your patio as well! They do give nice pops of color…and with the Catnip and Catmint, kitties will be grateful too!

Watch Out For Snake Oil Salesmen…

Warning, controversial content alert! Here it is: Citronella is NOT a geranium. (Whaaaaaat?)

The “citronella plant” geranium (sold in box stores) is Pelargonium citrosum. It smells a little bit like Citronella, and even has some of the same phytochemicals, but it is NOT where Citronella Oil comes from. And I see mosquitoes landing on the leaves all the time, unfazed.

Actual Citronella Oil comes from a variety of lemongrass Cymbopogon nardus (also known as nard grass or mana grass) that grows up to 6 feet tall. The oil is released when you brush up against the plant, or crush a leaf blade.

Most products that say they contain citronella do not have enough of the oil to make a difference – so honestly, don’t waste your money if you are buying them for their repelling purposes. The exception would be pure essential oil extracts of Citronella used in essential-oil based bug repellents, which I personally find quite effective.

Actual citronella is too big for a planter like this – that’s why it’s not included in the plantogram!! Plant it in the ground, or in its own large container as a statement piece. Be careful, though, the oil from crushed blades of the citronella is pretty potent and can be irritating to sensitive skin.

Avoiding the Buzzzzzzzz…

So, these are my tips for keeping mosquitoes at bay during your outside time. Keep in mind that most of the time, to get the benefits of a plant’s repelling power, you have to crush a leaf or two (or burn, in the case of sage and rosemary) so that the oils are exposed. So experiment, and see what happens, taking precautions with sensitive skin of course.

Hope it helps! Let me know your mosquito solutions in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Thanks,
Marissa

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