Beat the Buzz: Surviving Mosquito Season

Whether it is West Nile virus, heartworms in pets or Zika virus, mosquitoes and the diseases they carry always seem to be in the news. There are a number of ways to make your landscape less of a mosquito magnet, and the sooner you start, the better.

When outside in your yard, the first line of defense is to protect exposed skin. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants that are light-colored and loose-fitting will work until temperatures get too high. Insect repellents that are EPA-approved, including products containing DEET, are quite effective. Select the product containing the highest percentage of active ingredients, and apply it to exposed skin.

There are 150 different species of mosquitoes in the U.S., and all species require water to complete their life cycle. Mosquitoes have four distinct stages in their life cycles: egg, larva, pupa and adult. A single female can lay hundreds of eggs during her life, which typically lasts for several weeks. All stages except the adult stage are dependent on still water.

To achieve effective mosquito control, it is imperative to eliminate old tires, buckets, wheelbarrows and anything that can collect and hold water. Drain water from birdbaths, pet dishes and flower pots on a weekly basis.

While replacing old water in vessels removes mosquitoes that have emerged from the egg stage, it does not remove all eggs. Often, eggs are stuck or fixed to the structure. To remove eggs effectively, you must scrub the inside of the vessel before filling with new water.

In lieu of scrubbing, use mosquito fish or other species of fish in small ponds and water gardens to keep larval-stage mosquitoes from entering adulthood. Apply mosquito larvicide dunks that contain Bacillus thuringiensis or Bacillus sphaericus to small water bodies, such as birdbaths. These products contain naturally occurring soil bacteria and are safe for nontarget species of insects, as well as birds and pets.

Since mosquitoes can complete their life cycle, from egg to adult, in as little as 10 days, it is imperative to start preventive measures early in the season. Adult mosquitoes seldom travel more than 200 yards, so a few control measures by you and your neighbors could make your summer more enjoyable.

  • Look for old trees in your landscape that might have holes or depressions that hold water. You can fill these with sand without harming the tree. Another option is to use the expanding foam insulation for windows and doors. Foam insulation can help to seal new moisture from entering decaying wood in a still-living tree.
  • Clean rain gutters and ensure that they are draining properly. Corrugated drain extenders are great for getting rainwater away from the foundation of homes. However, they will hold small amounts of water between rain events, and that is all most mosquitoes need to lay eggs. Consider using straight pipe drain extenders instead.
  • Keep grass mowed to reduce resting sites for adult mosquitoes. Clearing out brush or overgrown areas near the home also will help eliminate or reduce these adult resting areas.

If you are hiring a professional company to apply chemicals in your landscape, here are three things to consider:

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  1. Many products advertised as “natural” or as “the ingredient found in chrysanthemum flowers” are actually synthetic pesticides called pyrethroids, which are toxic to many insects, including honeybees and butterflies, as well as fish.
  2. Spray areas as late in the day as possible, when pollinators no longer are active.
  3. Talk to your neighbors to make sure there are no pets or children in the area. Find out whether there are beehives, fish ponds or vegetable gardens nearby that you might not know about. Many pesticides used are not intended to be sprayed on edible plants.

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