Top Mosquito Evasion Tactics

Summer’s here and so are the biting insects.

By Geri Laufer

According to Orkin’s annual ranking of America’s top 50 mosquito cities, the 2019 Top Mosquito City has been awarded to Atlanta—for the sixth year in a row. In case you’d like to attract some to your personal space, here are few tips. Wear dark clothes and exercise to get your lactic acid going. Exhale carbon dioxide (always!) and wear a floral or fruity scent to increase your attractiveness. Do you keep your skin temp about 98.6 and have type O blood? You’ve probably noticed your popularity. Or maybe you just live in Atlanta.

When is the Effectiveness of Repellent Reduced?
• After you add a layer of sunscreen
• Dilution from rain, swimming pool, or any splashes of water
• After absorption into skin
• Evaporation off the skin from wind, sun, or high temperatures

Personal mosquito repellent products are gaining in popularity due to all the publicity about West Nile virus. DEET is one effective ingredient, but there are medical concerns about its potential toxic effects, especially when used by children. Check with your doctor. There are DEET-free bug sprays on the market that offer some relief to those venturing outdoors during mosquito season.

Tricks to Repelling Mosquitoes
Reduce the population by removing standing water —upturn flower pots, buckets, and watering cans. Drain puddles so mosquitoes are not able to breed by laying their eggs in water.

Place biological mosquito dunks in ornamental water lily ponds or water-filled ditches. This is a product with Bti, a bacteria toxic only to mosquito larvae, that lasts 30 days. It kills mosquitoes before they are old enough to bite, in a few hours, and is easy to use and safe for humans, animals, and plants. However, Bti works only in standing water and does not work on adult mosquitoes.

Stick a fabric softener sheet in your pocket or up your sleeve. Bounce fabric softener sheets contain linalool, naturally found in lavender and basil and considered toxic to some insects, and they also contain beta-citronellol that is found in citronella.

Blow tiny mosquito bodies away from the picnic table with an oscillating fan on the deck aimed at you and your guests.

Neem and tea tree sprays are non-toxic and have been used extensively in tropical communities for protection from mosquito bites. Neem tree spray can also be used against insect and diseases by spraying on garden plants.

Burn candles or dried herbs as fumigants.

Six Most Effective Mosquito Repelling Plants

Certain easy-to-grow herbs and flowers have some effect in repelling mosquitoes from areas of homes, condo communities, picnic areas, playgrounds, and landscapes. Be sure to stroke or bruise the plants to release the essential oils that are actually the repellent element.

Marigolds—Ubiquitous yellow- and orange-flowered annuals, marigolds are tough annuals for flower borders with a distinctive smell that mosquitoes (and some people) find offensive. Marigolds contain pyrethrum, a natural pest control compound used in many organic insect repellents. Grow marigolds in containers or at entrances, screened windows, and decks or patios.

Ageratum—Blue floss flower or annual ageratum is a low-growing, ornamental plant that reaches heights of 8 – 18 inches and is easily recognized by its lavender-blue flowers. Ageratum secretes coumarin, a smell that mosquitoes dislike and an ingredient widely used in commercial mosquito repellents. Although the leaves of ageratum can be crushed to increase the emitted odor, it is not advisable to rub the crushed leaves directly on the skin. This plant will thrive in full or partial sun and does not require rich soil. Taller, wild ageratum blooms in late summer or fall.

Catnip—In August 2001, entomologists at Iowa State University reported to the American Chemical Society that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial insect repellents. While scientists don’t really understand the mechanism, catnip, Nepeta cataria, is very easy to grow. This low-growing, lavender-flowered perennial herb is related to mint and grows easily as a cultivated perennial in metro Atlanta.

Citronella/Lemongrass—Citronella is in the same genus as lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), used in Thai cuisine. When purchasing lemongrass, look for the true varieties, Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus. Other plants may be sold as citronella-scented, but they do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella. It is a tender perennial, so bring it indoors in winter.

Citronella-Scented Geranium—Garden centers often sell these plants in place of citronella. These tender perennials are offered in pots ready to transplant to a larger container or to in-ground beds. Occasionally they will winter-over in metro Atlanta if temperatures do not fall below about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Once established, new plants are easily propagated by cuttings and shared with friends and family after rooting.
The essential oils from lots of other aromatic herbs repel mosquitoes including: lavender, lemon balm, sage, pennyroyal, lemon thyme, basil, rosemary, tobacco, and lemon eucalyptus.

Bee Balm—Also known as horsemint, oswego tea, or bergamot, bee balm is an adaptable perennial plant in the mint family that repels mosquitoes much the same as citronella. It gives off a strong incense-like odor that confuses mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts (warm people). Bee balm is a fast-growing, shade-tolerant, and drought-resistant perennial. It grows 2 – 3 feet tall and wide with pink, red, rose, white, or lavender flower heads that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It grows in sun or shade. Mature clumps can be divided in spring and fall by lifting the plant and cutting into small sections for transplanting to permanent spots. The leaves can be dried and used to make herbal tea.

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Geri Laufer lives in Atlanta, where she, graphic designer husband David, and English Coonhound Lily are working on designing and installing a never-finished landscape. You can reach her at Geri Laufer