I hate mosquitoes. There, I said it. While I don’t like being labeled a hater, when it comes to mosquitoes, I am guilty as charged. Like grassburs, I believe they are around just to torment us. Fleas, ticks, fire ants, and flies are also on my insect hit list, but mosquitoes are in a different league than these lesser miscreants. Mosquitoes spread a wide assortment of often deadly viral and parasitic diseases to animals and people. Veterinarians have to deal with widespread heartworm disease in dogs and cats that results from the bite of an infected mosquito. Physicians are increasingly confronted with outbreaks of various diseases in people including the West Nile, Zika, and Encephalitis viruses carried by mosquitoes. To add insult to injury, mosquitoes can make it impossible for most everyone, including me, to enjoy their yards.
My back yard is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat®, nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify. This program encourages home owners to set up their yards as a place that insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals can safely live alongside people in an urban setting. Certification is based on providing the four components needed by wildlife – food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Lastly, to help maintain a safe habitat for wildlife, sustainable practices must be used in the yard. These include such things as conserving water, using native plants while avoiding exotic plants when possible, and minimizing the use of chemicals. It’s the last one that is a problem when tackling mosquito control.
Let me first acknowledge that if you want a mosquito free yard, you can stop reading now and call up one of the mosquito control companies that use pesticides. Regular professional spraying or misters mounted around the house will give excellent control. However, in my opinion, the collateral damage to the other little critters in the yard is unacceptable. If you agree, there are many approaches to managing, but not eliminating, mosquitoes with minimal insecticide use. Understand that what seems to work for some people does not work for others. This is not surprising since everyone’s yard and neighborhood situations are different. While I am always trying different things, this is how I am living with mosquitoes now.
My number one goal is to eliminate standing water that could be a potential potential breeding spot. I regularly patrol the yard looking for anything, no matter how small, that is collecting water. It takes about a week for most mosquitoes to complete the egg to adult cycle, so I stay alert for places that water persists for more than a few days. Flower pots can be a problem, so I am always careful to dump out the water from the little saucers after each watering. Leaking sprinkler heads and drip lines from the air conditioner can also create a mosquito haven. Gutters that fail to drain properly, yard toys, outdoor grills, and patio furniture are some of the places easily overlooked that can collect water and be a hidden mosquito nursery. I make sure my little waterfall stream is flowing properly to keep mosquitoes out. Any water feature that does not flow, like a pond or a bird bath, needs either fish to eat the larvae or some biological mosquito control like Mosquito Dunks in the water. The Dunks are safe for birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, and most all other insects including bees.
Since mosquitoes move freely through the neighborhood, I occasionally peek over neighbors’ fences looking for problems in their yards. I once investigated a neighbor’s front yard birdbath and found it swarming with thousands of little “swimmers”, the mosquito larvae ready to become adults. After refilling with fresh water, I made her a present of Mosquito Dunks to keep in the birdbath. It helps to know your neighbors since not all will be appreciative of your help.
I will likely always struggle with mosquitoes in my yard is because it is almost completely shaded by oak trees and I have large naturalized areas of plantings. Native plants of course, but they grow in to dense thickets of vegetation. Great for wildlife, but also for mosquitoes that tend to concentrate in these shaded, protected areas. I am not suggesting you cut down all your trees and plants, but keeping them trimmed especially around ground level leaves fewer places that attract mosquitoes.Some people report good results with pheromone mosquito traps, but they have not worked for me at all. Certain plants such as rosemary, basil, mint, and marigolds are touted as mosquito repellants. They are nice plants to have around, but I guess I have never been able to plant as many as are needed to make a dent in the numbers of mosquitoes that are literally out for blood.
I encourage natural mosquito predators when I can. Purple martins, bats, dragon flies, spiders and frogs are some of the most common mosquito eaters. However, in my experience, they never make a huge impact in a mosquito infested yard. The mosquitoes just reproduce too fast.
When doing yard work, I avoid working later in the afternoon and around dusk when mosquitos are most active Wearing loose fitting long pants and long sleeve shirts at least makes them work a little harder to find a good place to stick me.
Fans are my best protection against mosquitoes when out on my patio. Mosquitoes are not strong flyers. Strategically placing fans running at a reasonably high setting is perhaps the most effective and safest personal deterrent to mosquitoes looking for their next meal.
Personal mosquito repellants with chemicals like DEET and picaridin work reliably well if you don’t mind spraying that stuff on you. However, unless the mosquitoes are really attacking, I usually use one of the natural non-chemical repellants. They don’t work as well, but I feel better avoiding the chemicals if I can. I mainly spray on my ankle area where they particularly love to feast.
For help in the yard, products like citronella candles and non-lethal repellant sprays without chemicals can be helpful and should be used whenever possible. How well they work depends to a large extent on the yard and neighborhood you are in. But I have to admit, there are those occasions when the mosquitoes absolutely have to be gone. When we are having a gathering in the back, my wife cares little about the killing of lightning bugs, crickets and beetles when compared to guests possibly being eaten alive by hungry mosquitoes. I will then use a 16oz aerosol spray fogger to strategically spray a protective perimeter around the area. I avoid flowering plants that attract butterflies and bees, and concentrate on those low protected areas where I know mosquitoes hang out. This minimizes the damage and has always given excellent control.
Fighting mosquitoes in the future may be much different than it is today. When I visit my daughter and her family in Houston, I often hear the fogger trucks rolling through the neighborhoods spraying insecticides to control the huge populations of mosquitoes. The collateral damage to other living things has to be considerable, but there are legitimate concerns about viruses like Encephalitis, Zika, and West Nile from mosquito bites. New approaches include the release of genetically altered sterile males that disrupt the mosquito life cycle and have resulted in a 80-90% drop in mosquito populations during trials. However, there is hesitation in the widespread use of this and other gene modification techniques over concerns of unintended consequences once the altered mosquitoes are turned loose in nature. Some of man’s disastrous attempts at biologic pest control in the past should indeed give us pause.
At least in the near future, mosquitoes will remain a problem in our area during much of the year. For our pets, this means heartworm disease will be a constant threat and preventatives need to be given year round. And for people, when all else fails, we must continue to rely on that reliable last line of defense, slapping every mosquito we can.