Ground Pesky Mosquitoes
Learn how to prevent mosquitoes from taking over your yard.
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By Robin Oliver, Scripps Howard News Service
Hiding in the nearby drainage ditch, in that unused flower pot, in the rusted toy dump truck your child left behind is the itch of summer.
It is easy to ignore the mosquito when the weather is cool and those evenings on the porch are not yet interrupted by a high-pitched buzzing in the ear or a slight sting on the leg.
The disease-carrying pest is hoping for your forgetfulness as its larvae swim undisturbed in tiny puddles of standing water obscured among the flourishing spring flowers.
Once they're airborne, they're difficult to destroy. But you can minimize their presence by taking some preventative measures now.
"The best thing is to prevent them from growing in the first place," says Ralls Coston, supervisor for the Jefferson County (Ala.) Heath Department's Environmental Health Program. "Everyone needs to walk around their house and check for any place there is even a little bit of standing water."
Remove the water basin from any flower pot that stays outdoors, he says, and fill deep tree holes with sand or mortar. Pick up toys or trash that could collect water and take them inside.
"If there are things that hold water that you don't want to get rid of, like a bird bath, empty the bird bath every week," he says.
What mosquitoes look for is still water in a somewhat shady area. Coston recommends using a filter and pump on decorative ponds to circulate the water. As long as the water is moving. the mosquitoes won't be interested in it as a breeding ground.
When water cannot be changed regularly or circulated, treat the area with bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, says Mark Mayeske, Jefferson County agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
"It is a strain of beneficial bacteria that gets in the larvae of mosquitoes," he says. "It replicates in their gut, and it kills them."
The bacteria comes in disk form, sometimes called dunks. Coston says one dunk can treat about 100 square feet of water for a month.
Mayeske suggests teaming up with neighbors to treat areas of standing water and avoid mosquito reproduction. But complete elimination is next to impossible.
"In reality, you're not going to get rid of all the mosquitoes," Coston says.
He says screens on windows and doors are important to keep the insects out of your home.
Roald Hazelhoff, director of environmental programs and the Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College, says once mosquitoes have hatched, attracting natural predators is one of the only ways to attack the problem.
Birds, bats, spiders and dragonflies are among the mosquito's enemies. Hazelhoff says people should consider adding birdhouses or bat houses to their yards. More importantly, though, plan a diverse natural habitat.
"The more diverse your yard in terms of planting the better, because that draws not only dragonflies but also birds," he says.
(Contact Robin Oliver of the Birmingham Post-Herald in Alabama at www.postherald.com.)
Master gardener Paul James takes questions about gardening from his audience.