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Natural mosquito control: how to get rid of the nasty bugs

mosquito, biting. natural mosquito control

Aedes albopictus mosquito / James Gathany, USCDCP via Pixnio

More than simply annoying, mosquitos spread nasty diseases. So we need to keep them from biting. Science has developed chemicals that work very well. Unfortunately, it turns out they’re not healthy for people and pets. More and more people are turning to natural mosquito control. 

This article will examine natural mosquito repellants, mosquito traps, and ways to deter mosquitos from settling in your yard. 

The life cycle of mosquitos

mosquito larvae

Mosquito larvae in water / Marc Pascual via Pixabay

Before considering natural mosquito control in detail, however, it helps to know something about the mosquito’s life cycle and diet. The life cycle has three stages. 

The first three take place in water. A female mosquito lays eggs in water. When the egg hatches, the larva (wriggler) stage begins. Larvae feed in the water and molt several times before they enter the pupa (tumbler) stage. Pupae do not eat, but they develop into adults over a span between two days and a week. 

Once the adult mosquito emerges from the pupal case, it waits for its parts to harden and flies away. Both male and female mosquitos feed on the nectar of plants. The sugar provides enough nourishment to live, but the female needs protein in order to produce eggs.

The female mates once, then goes looking for blood to provide the protein. The humans and animals that provide the blood emit carbon dioxide, so she seeks carbon dioxide to find her first meal. I say emit instead of exhale because we also release it through our pores, and our pores are where the mosquito finds the blood. That blood enables her to lay eggs. Still fertile, she seeks more blood to lay more eggs. 

Depending on how long she survives, she may repeat the process several times in one summer. Male mosquitos die when winter comes, but in some species, the female hibernates. She doesn’t need to mate again to lay more eggs the following summer. 

Natural mosquito repellants

mosquito bite

Mosquito bite / Johan via Flickr

The most widely used mosquito repellants use a chemical called DEET. It very effectively repels mosquitos, but it carries human health risks. Therefore, many people prefer natural mosquito repellants instead. Unfortunately, “natural” is too often just a meaningless marketing phrase. You can look for repellants with active compounds derived from plant sources.

The EPA has recognized three ingredients for natural mosquito repellants:

The EPA recognized oil of eucalyptus as a repellant in 2000. It has an active ingredient called PMD that has been synthesized and can be manufactured in laboratories. We can consider synthetic PMD as a natural repellant because, unlike DEET, it exists in nature. It is not recommended for children younger than 3 years old.

People have long used citronella candles. Unfortunately, they don’t work very well in large open areas. As an ingredient for spray repellants, manufacturers have had trouble developing any that work well outside the lab. And when they do, it needs to be reapplied more frequently than other repellants.

Quite recently, the EPA has recognized catnip. It’s one thing to recognize an ingredient as safe and effective and quite something else to gain EPA registration for a product that contains it. Therefore, very few commercial natural mosquito control products both contain catnip and have EPA registration. But it’s even more effective than DEET. 

The EPA does not register essential oils as repellant ingredients, because they don’t pose much risk either to human health or the environment. Obtaining EPA registration for specific products is so expensive than nearly manufacturers decline to seek it. But there is no way to know how effective unregistered products are. 

Homemade remedies

eucalyptus oil. natural mosquito repellant

Jo Zimny Photos via Flickr

Do-it-yourself natural mosquito control uses essential oils. Essential oils by themselves will dissipate too quickly to be effective. They are, after all, volatile organic compounds.

I have found recipes for homemade essential oil insect repellant spray. They probably work as well as any you can buy. The list of mosquito repelling plants below should give you plenty of ideas for essential oils to try. 

You can also mix half water and half apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on objects near where you plan to spend much time (but not on your skin). 

Here’s one of three simple and effective mosquito traps from Bob Vila:

  1. Cut an empty two-liter plastic bottle to make top and bottom halves. Remove the cap.
  2. Dissolve ¼ cup of sugar in 1 cup of hot water.
  3. When it cools to about 110º F, pour it into the bottom half of the bottle and add 1 gram of active dry yeast. (One 0.25-ounce package is about 7 grams). This combination will give off carbon dioxide as if it were a mammal breathing.
  4. Flip the top half of the bottle upside down to make a funnel, push it into the bottom half, and tape the two pieces together. 

Put the trap above ground, in the shade, and away from where people will gather. Mosquitos will enter the funnel and drown. Empty the trap and add a fresh mixture every two weeks or so.

Easy natural mosquito deterrents

What could be better for natural mosquito control than non-toxic repellants and traps? Making your yard so unattractive to mosquitos that they go somewhere else.

Here are some ways to deter mosquitos:

  • Remove standing water from your property. After any rainstorm, look for buckets, children’s toys, tarps, low spots in the yard, etc. that have water in them and empty it. If you have a birdbath, put fresh water in it frequently. Mosquitos lay eggs in standing water. If they can’t find any in your yard, that greatly reduces the number of mosquitos that will infest it.
  • You can wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, socks, closed toed shoes, and a hat to keep mosquitos away from your skin. 
  • Instead of standard white lights, install yellow bug lights by the door to your patio. Bugs apparently orient themselves by moonlight and starlight. Lightbulbs and fires attract them in the same way. But yellow light does not.
  • If you want to sit on your deck or patio, take a fan out. The breeze will deter mosquitos. 

Natural mosquito control with plants

lavender. natural mosquito control
Lavender / Manfred Richter via Pixabay

If you want to put more effort into natural mosquito control and beautify your yard in the process, plant what mosquitos don’t like. Let them be part of your strategy for a low-maintenance backyard.

I looked at eight different articles that list mosquito repelling plants, including one that concludes that you need to buy sprays anyway. Some of the others have more helpful suggestions. 

You can’t simply plant a bunch of these plants in your garden and send all the mosquitos away. Most of them work well only after you crush or burn them. 

One simple method for extracting the essential oils is to crush some leaves in your hands and rub it on your skin. It works well enough for most people, although some have allergic reactions and mosquitos find other people so attractive that it doesn’t work very well. 

Also you can cut some plants and put them in places where people will walk on them to release the oils.

You’ll recognizes some of these plants as herbs you can use in cooking. So if you’re grilling, add some of them to the grill to release the oils. 

One of the articles suggests planting mosquito-repelling flowers in pots and then surrounding yourself and guests with them as you sit outside.

All mosquitos feed on plant nectar. Therefore, they like the flowers in your garden. Some plants especially attract mosquitos: bamboo, papyrus, taro, water lettuce, water lilies, and water hyacinths.

You can deter them by planting some of the following plants close to the ones mosquitos like.

By the way, some of these plants might provide additional natural mosquito control if they attract insects that eat mosquitos.

List of mosquito repellant plants

Citronella grass (lemongrass). natural mosquito control
Citronella grass (lemongrass) / Wikimedia Commons

The articles I looked at have anywhere from three to 25 plants. Here are the ones that show up in at least five of them:

Lavender is a soothing herb often used in aromatherapy. Humans love the smell. Mosquitos don’t.

Marigolds don’t smell as good to humans, but they’re very pretty. Besides repelling mosquitos, they can also keep rabbits away from your vegetables.

Catnip is actually a more potent mosquito repellant than even DEET. 

Basil heads the list of mosquito-repelling plants that also form part of our diets. It’s one of the herbs you can toss on the grill to disperse its essential oil.

Citronella grass (also known as lemongrass) has an active ingredient called citronellal. You’re probably familiar with it as an ingredient in recipes or from the familiar citronella candles. (By the way, a single citronella candle doesn’t do much. It doesn’t release enough citronellal to cover a wide area.)

The lacy-leafed citronella plant you find in garden centers (a.k.a. mosquito plant) is a kind of geranium. Two of the articles declare that it doesn’t deter mosquitos at all, but it does contain citronellal. Other scented geraniums also find a place on the majority of the lists. They appear to be less effective than citronella grass for natural mosquito control. 

Lemon balm and bee balm (also known as monarda) repel mosquitos and attract bees. Don’t let that deter you from planting them. If you leave bees alone, they’ll leave you alone. Many plants depend on them for pollination. Just don’t plant them close to your doors.

Floss flower (also known as ageratum) has long been used to heal wounds and cuts. Its active ingredient Coumarin actually kills mosquitos should they dare to approach it. 

The mint family includes numerous varieties that repel mosquitos. Catnip and basil, already mentioned, appear on seven lists. Other potent mosquito repellants in the mint family include peppermintsage, rosemary, oregano, andthyme, which several lists mention separately. 

Shop related products:

Wondercide – Ready to Use Flea, Tick, and Mosquito Yard Spray with Natural Essential Oils – Mosquito and Insect Killer, Treatment, and Repellent – Plant-Based – Safe for Pets, Plants, Kids

Wondercide – Mosquito, Tick, Fly, and Insect
Repellent with Natural Essential Oils – DEET-Free Plant-Based Bug Spray and Killer – Safe for Kids, Babies, and Family – Lemongrass
2-Pack of 4 oz Bottle

Thermacell Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent, Gen 2.0, Rechargeable; Includes 12 Hr Mosquito Repellant Refill; No Candle or Flame, Easy to Use & Long-Lasting Alternative to Bug Spray/DEET
Sources:

11 mosquito repellent plants: natural methods to keep mosquitoes away / Plants Spark Joy
11 plants that repel mosquitos and 6 that attract them / Luana Steffen, Intelligent Living. June 28, 2019
12 mosquito repellant plants / Christine Yoo, Garden Design
12 plants and herbs that naturally repel mosquitoes / Christopher Michel, Country Living. April 20, 2021 
12 plants that repel those pesky mosquitoes / Jamie McIntosh and Emily Estep, The Spruce. August 10, 2021
A comprehensive list of mosquito repellent plants /  Debra Maslowski, DIY Natural
Are plants that repel mosquitoes a scam? / Gretchen Heber, Gardener’s Path. June 18, 2019
How to naturally repel mosquitoes safely and effectively, according to experts/ Kaitlyn Pirie, Good Housekeeping. May 21, 2020
Natural methods for getting rid of mosquitoes in your yard / Andrew Krosofsky, Greenmatters. May 13, 2021
These 13 plants really repel mosquitoes! / Michelle Ullman, BobVila.com
What do mosquitoes eat? / Mosquito Reviews

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