No doubt a lot of us will be enjoying Independence Day with our family and friends outside — I know my family will. We’ll be cooking up our favorites on the grill and having an outside picnic. What’s not to love … except the pesky mosquitoes and other stinging insects.
One of the best ways to avoid mosquitoes is to avoid outdoor activity during their peak time, which is usually greatest around dusk. Long pants and sleeves are always recommended to help decrease mosquito bites, but summer is too darn hot for long sleeves and pants for me. If this is the time of day that you like to go out as well, some type of mosquito repellent is recommended, as we are all familiar with diseases that mosquitoes are known to carry (and its not just the diseases, but the irritation and scratching). Repellents containing diethyl toluamide (DEET), oil of lemon eucalyptus and Picardin are often used.
So grab your favorite and spray away? No, it is only necessary to apply enough to confuse the insect so it cannot detect a suitable spot to feed. Over spraying does not make repellent work better and may irritate the skin. Often if long clothes are worn, spraying the clothes you are wearing is protection enough, without spraying the skin. There are repellents that are 95 percent DEET content, although a repellent of this concentration is unnecessary. Concentrations of 10 to 15 percent DEET are recommended for adults; products containing less than 8 percent are recommended for children. Repellents that are DEET-free contain citronella and are also effective, but may require a more frequent application (every two hours).
Some plants are known to repel mosquitoes. The most common is probably a scented geranium known as the mosquito plant or citronella. I have a few citronella plants myself outside in containers. Other plants known for their ability to repel mosquitoes are rosemary, lavender, pine, garlic and lemongrass. It is true that the oils of these plants will repel mosquitos. The plants, themselves, however, will probably not do the trick. It is when the leaves are crushed that the aromatic oils are released. These ingredients can be found in mosquito repellents in some stores. They do work well when applied often. Crush the leaves of the plants and wrap in pantyhose to release the oils into the air.
Protecting ourselves is key, but ridding the mosquitoes of breeding sites is even better. Mosquitoes lay eggs singly on a moist surface of soil or in a cavity wall but always in association with water (such as in ditches, street catch basins, tire tracks, streams that are drying up and fields or excavations that hold water for some time) or in rafts on the surface of still water. Old swimming pools, tires, gutters — anything that can hold water is a potential breeding site for mosquitoes.
Females lay 100 to 200 eggs per batch and deposit an egg batch every 7 to 10 days. Eggs can take from days to months to hatch, depending on the availability of water and the temperature. Eggs laid in flood-prone sites can accumulate for years until they hatch under favorable environmental conditions, thus resulting in explosive population levels in a relatively short time.
For areas where the water cannot be dumped out, larvaecides are available — remember to always read the label for application rates and procedures. If you have rain barrels, use a screen at the opening to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs. Non-moving water features or large bird baths? Mosquito dunks or “donuts” are available.
Yard foggers are by far the easiest to use. These are ready-to-use products contain pyrethrins for adult mosquito control. Yard foggers are used about 15 minutes before going outside, but only provide temporary relief. Treat the areas that stay damp — under the canopy of shrubs, decks and other shaded areas.
Netting is another great invention. Small net tents allow us to sit and enjoy the outdoors without mosquitoes hovering around. Mosquito netting can be purchased to hang over porches, decks, and my favorite, babies in their swing.
This article is adapted from the ACES publication “Mosquitoes In and Around the Home,” ANR 1116.