How to Manage Mosquitoes in the Garden

Learn basic, age-old strategies as well as some new approaches for controlling and preventing mosquitoes in your outdoor spaces.

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Mosquito on Leaf

Protect Yourself

The first and best line of defense is to protect yourself by covering exposed skin while working in the yard, and that means wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, as well as shoes and socks, even gloves and a hat.

Various sprays applied to clothing offer additional protection. The most popular mosquito sprays contain a chemical called diethyltolumide, better known as Deet, in varying concentrations. While the scientific jury is still out on its safety, Deet doesn't appear to be all that harmful in lower concentrations, especially when applied to the clothing rather than applied directly to the skin.

You can now buy clothing — shirts in particular — in which the fabric has been impregnated with a chemical mosquito repellent. The repellent remains effective even after several washings.

To protect the skin, there are a number of alternative sprays and lotions, most of which contain some sort of citrus oil. "My favorite of the lot are handy wipes that you simply rub on exposed skin," says master gardener Paul James.

You can also skip chemicals all together and cover yourself, at least from head to waist, with a Bug Baffler shirt. The super-fine mesh keeps out mosquitoes as well as flies and is considerably more comfortable in hot weather than a long-sleeved shirt. It also allows you plenty of freedom of movement, whether working in the yard or simply recreating.

Prevention

As important as protection is, prevention is arguably more important. After all, if you take steps to control mosquitoes, and prevent them from taking over your property in the first place, you'll minimize the need for protection.

Eliminate breeding sites by getting rid of standing water anywhere and everywhere - clogged gutters, drain outlets from air conditioners, dripping faucets, old tires, children's wading tools, overirrigated and poorly drained lawns, saucers under potted plants, tree stumps and tree holes, watering cans and buckets, and wheelbarrows.

"And that's the short list," Paul says. "If you were to walk around your property, especially after it rains, I'm sure you'd find plenty of other places where water collects."

Naturally there are some places where you want water to remain such as a birdbath or pond. In situations like that, all you really need is a Bt doughnut. Bacillus thuringensis, or Bt, is still the most effective way to control mosquitoes in standing water, and it isn't toxic to birds or fish. A granular form of Bt can be sprinkled into the water.

A new version of the same thing is now available in these convenient disposable pouches which last for 30 days and treat up to 300 gallons of water.

Citronella continues to offer excellent protection against mosquitoes whether in the form of candles or torches filled with oil. Use these in smaller areas, such as on the patio while dining or entertaining.

"By the way, here's a little trick I learned by accident several years ago. If you place an unlit citronella candle or a container filled with citronella oil in an area - such as your garden shed - where bugs or spiders are a real problem. Guess what? No more bugs and spiders!"

Don't forget how effective a fan on the porch or patio can be. Both mosquitoes as well as flies can't stand windy conditions.

Newer ways to keep mosquitoes at bay include this all-natural granular product that you simply sprinkle on the lawn. It deters not only mosquitoes but gnats as well. And one application lasts for weeks, regardless of rainfall. The active ingredients in this stuff are various oils derived from things like lemon grass, mint, and garlic, all of which slowly decompose and break down into beneficial soil conditioners. One 5-lb. container will treat and provide protection for up to 4,000 square feet of lawn. As a sort of bonus, this stuff leaves your lawn smelling like your favorite Vietnamese or Thai restaurant.

There are also some very impressive and rather expensive mosquito-control devices, nearly all of which burn propane to produce carbon dioxide. "And if you have several hundred dollars to spend, by all means get one. However, these less expensive approaches work well and you don't have to deal with refilling all those empty propane tanks."

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