IDEA: Plants to Keep Mosquitoes Away

Mosquitoes (1)

IDEA

Here in Manitoba, we are no stranger to mosquitoes. During the warmer months, we turn to nets, screen-in porches, bug spray, coils, and DIY outfits to try and keep the ‘skeeters’ away. In my plan to buy bug spray and coils, I was curious about the impact these have on the environment and if there were any ‘natural’ and sustainable ways of keeping these pesks away this summer.

Before diving into remedies that may work here in Manitoba, I think it’s important to address how mosquitoes are more than just a pest that leaves you feeling itchy. Mosquitoes are the main carriers of diseases such as West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, and malaria. These names may sound familiar because millions of people around the world are highly affected by them every day. As of February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 27 countries had ‘new introduction or re-introduction with ongoing transmission’ of the Zika virus and in 2016 there was an estimated “216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries, an increase of 5 million cases over 2015”.

Both Zika virus and malaria are not common in North America but West Nile Virus is. Between 2002 and 2016, there have been over 5,000 cases reported in Canada with 104 in 2016. This means that along with being annoying, mosquitoes can also affect the health of humans and animals.

*Learn more about the global impact of mosquitoes down below. 

ARE YOU HELPING ATTRACT MOSQUITOES?

Keeping their impact in mind, the first thing myth I wanted to bust is if mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others and if so, why?. The answer is yes and it has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) our bodies releases as it burns energy. Every living being emits CO2 but it is affected by your metabolic rate. For example, if you are physically exerting yourself (AKA exercising) you release more carbon dioxide.

However, this isn’t something in your body you can easily regulate. Sure you can not exercise when mosquitoes are most active but if you’re living, you’re releasing CO2. So, I turned to how mosquitoes manage to track us. A TIME article explains that mosquitoes still need to distinguish the difference between CO2 emitting humans and other CO2 emitting things such as cars or decaying trees. Due to their poor vision and inability to navigate stronger winds (breezes), mosquitoes tend to keep close to the ground and therefore end up comparing the silhouettes of CO2 emitting things against the horizon, especially around dawn and dusk.

unbe-LEAF-able

The method of using plants seems to be pretty simple yet somewhat overlooked. You may be familiar with citronella candles or mosquito coils. Their smell and smoke repels mosquitoes but did you know, “using one mosquito coil releases the same amount of particulate mass as burning 75 to 137 cigarettes and emits the equivalent amount of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) as 51 cigarettes”?

Me either.

So, if the smell and smoke are what mosquitoes avoid in the air, but you don’t want to simultaneously contribute to air pollution, turn to the original smell… plants (specifically citronella and other fragrant species)!

Planting specific species around your outdoor living space can help prevent mosquitoes, add a pop of colour to your yard, garnish some summer dishes, and keep the environment healthy. See a list of mosquito repellent plants below and read the reasons why, here & here.

  • Citronella Geranium – produces and smells like citronella oil (perennial, deer resistant, flowers)
  • Floss Flower – mosquitoes hate the smell but butterflies and hummingbirds love it (full sun, flowers)
  • Citronella Grass – the go-to ingredient for most commercial citronella products (best for large planters, lemon scented)
  • Peppermint – it’s smell and oils will ward off bugs but benefitting you healthwise (full sun to partial shade, groundcover)
  • Lemon Balm – smelly but invasive, so watch where it grows (perennial, full sun to partial shade, drought tolerant)
  • Lavender – plant the lavadin variety for a fragrant, mosquito/moth/fly free garden (perennial, deer resistant, drought tolerant)
  • Catnip – related to mint, catnip simutaneously attracts cats and repels mosquitoes (perennial, full sun, groundcover)
  • Basil – the essential oil is toxic to mosquito larvae and the strong smell will create a pesk free dinner (annual, full sun)
  • Mint – use it to keep them away or soothe those itchy spots (full sun to partial shade, groundcover)
  • Sage – toss some on your next bonfire for a mosquito free zone (perennial, full sun to partial shade, drought tolerant, deer resistant)
  • Rosemary – keep planted or use on a bonfire like sage (perennial, full sun, erosion control, drought tolerant, deer/rabbit resistant)
  • Marigolds – they look good and they repel insects with a component called pyrethrum (annual, full sun to partial shade, flowers)

RESPONSIBLE ACTION

Since mosquito larvae (eggs) are aquatic, they occur in small (and typically stagnant) bodies of water. In ideal conditions, larvae become adults in 6 or 7 days. This is our first step: drain any sitting water. This can be from a pool or hot tub cover, garbage cans, bird baths, pet water bowls or canoes (see a full list below). When they aren’t active, they take shelter in hollowed-out trees and tall grass. Fill in hollow spots with sands and in your outdoor spaces, make sure you keep grass relatively short.

They also stay within a few kilometers of water and tend to be more active in the late evening, at night, in calm, cloudy or humid weather or in the cool shade. Gearing up and dressing appropriately or staying out of these conditions can help prevent those itchy bites.

 

Protect Your Home Against Mosquitoes
Infographic from GREENWISE

TIPS

Taking this all into consideration, there are some small actions that everyone can do to prevent mosquitoes in the first place. These are taken from the Manitoba Government’s agricultural site for mosquito and fly prevention.

  • Dump any standing or stagnant water
    • swimming pool or hot tub covers – remove puddles of water from the tops
    • plastic wading pools – cover or drain when they aren’t being used
    • bird baths – drain or replace the water every other day
    • watering troughs – fill with fish or change the water
    • rain barrels – screen the top or treat with detergent
    • garbage cans, tire swing – drill drainage holes or keep them covered
    • canoes, kayaks, wheelbarrows – store upside down
  • Clothing
    • wear light colours since mosquitoes are attracted to the dark
    • wear long-sleeved shirts or pants when out in the evenings
  • Screens
    • screen-in your porch or gazebo
    • keep your tent door closed as much as possible
  • Activities
    • sit in the sun, but remember your sunscreen
    • don’t exercise too much outside at dusk and in the evenings
    • use insect repellent

RESOURCES

INTERESTING VIDEOS

*check out these 5 videos from TED that discuss the global impact of mosquitoes

 

Written by: Keana Rellinger

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