Posted on Jun 15, 2019 | by Kerry Kelley
Buzz Off, Skeeters!
Is this how it seems you need to spend your summer, wrapped in protective netting whenever you go outdoors? Are you constantly slapping at those bothersome mosquitoes buzzing 'round your head? If not, thank your genetics, and consider yourself lucky. As for me, I had just about given up trying to spend a pleasant evening out of doors, and hiking in my favorite bird-watching spots was out of the question.
These days, it's not just itching and irritation we have to worry about. While not common, with West Nile, Zika, and even malaria and dengue fever transmitted by mosquitoes in the US, those bites can be downright dangerous.
So what are we outdoorsy types to do besides swaddle ourselves with netting, or cover ourselves with (EPA-approved, but still) chemicals?
Fortunately, you do have options! There are several natural plant-based solutions and some common-sense practices to deterring those pesky bugs. They won't necessarily kill them all, or completely eliminate your chance of getting bitten, but they will reduce the populations or make you a less attractive meal.
Perhaps you've heard of the "Mosquito Plant." They've been around in garden centers for a number of years now, and maybe you've wondered if they live up to the hype. Well, I'm here to tell you that they do. Now don't get me wrong--one plant won't rid your entire yard of mosquitoes, but the oils in the leaves definitely DO have excellent mosquito repellent qualities.
What is the Mosquito Plant? It's actually one of a number of scented geraniums. Scented geraniums are similar to the popular zonal geraniums you plant in your windowboxes every year, but the flower clusters are much smaller. In their favor, however, you will find varieties with scents of rose, mint, nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices, coconut, various fruits, and combinations of the aforementioned. The possibilities are seemingly endless. They often sport variegated leaves as well.
The Mosquito Plant variety is "Citrosa," for the citronella scent. Will this plant keep mosquitoes away if you sit next to it? Studies say no, some users say yes. The important thing is to frequently brush the plant to release the oils, otherwise nothing happens.
I can say from personal experience that the oils in the leaf DO work. I was cleaning out a pond years ago, and being chewed to pieces in the process. I had no repellent sprays, but did have this plant and an aloe plant. I took them both and mashed them together well with a little water, and spread the concoction all over. Chancy thing to do without spot-testing first, I know, but I was desperate! It totally worked, and fortunately I suffered no ill-effects from the application itself. Remember to always spot-test when you're trying things like this--you never know what you might be allergic to!!
Anything lemon scented tends to repel mosquitoes, but releasing the oils is necessary for the best effect. One suggestion is to harvest leaves and stems and strew them on the ground or floor outside. As you and your guests tread on the foliage, the oils will be released. Or, burn some cuttings on the grill. Again, this won't work for hours on end or keep you bug-free, but anecdotal evidence suggests this can help. If nothing else, these plants smell wonderful!
You may be growing a patch of catnip (Nepeta cataria) for Fluffy, but did you know that catnip oil repels mosquitoes? Nepetalactone, one of the essential oils in Fluffy's beloved hallucinogenic, was found by entomologists from the University of Iowa to be 10 times more effective than the same amount of DEET. It repels flies and cockroaches to boot.
Catnip has also long been used as a medicinal herb for its calming properties--settling the stomach and promoting relaxation. The blooms attract bees and butterflies, and while it's not as refined or colorful as its popular oft-planted cousin, catmint, it is appropriate for cottage gardens, meadow plantings, and pollinator gardens.
Cutting back after first bloom will bulk it up a bit and promote more flowering. If, however, you're growing for repellent properties, you'll want to remove the flowers before they form to keep the highest concentration of oil in the foliage.
Tips for keeping mosquitoes at bay: It's pretty much common sense. They breed in stagnant water, no matter how shallow, and a new batch can hatch in as little as 4 days. Check your property after a rain for common sources of standing water, and beg your neighbors to do likewise:
For safe organic control of mosquito larvae where standing water is unavoidable, look for products containing bacillus thuringensis israelensis--a naturally occurring bacteria that is toxic to mosquito and fungus gnat larvae, but has no known effect on other species.
You might be able to encourage something to chow down on those remaining mosquitoes--bats and hummingbirds may do the trick. A bat can potentially devour thousands of mosquitoes in an evening, among many other insects you may find undesirable.
Installing a bat houseis easy and will also help the declining bat populations by providing them a safe place to roost during the day.
If bats are just too creepy for you (I know, some folks simply don't like winged mammals flitting about), try inviting some hummingbirds to dine. They love nectar, but also eat lots of small insects and spiders.
Mosquito, Tick, and Flea Repellent by I Must Garden: This all natural DEET-free mosquito, flea, and tick repellent is safe to use around children and pets. Kills mosquito larvae and insects on contact and repels up to 30 days. For use in yards, gardens, playgrounds, around pools and decks. Made of Cedar, Lemongrass, Thyme, Citronella, Rosemary, Geraniol, Mint, Garlic, & Vegetable Oil. Also kills gnats, chiggers and no-see-ums. Comes in a 32 oz spray bottle, 32 oz concentrate, or 32oz hose-end spray concentrate (easiest to use for a large area).
Victorian Bat House: Divided living quarters and a landing pad at the base make this house as functional as it is beautiful. Ready to mount on a pole, building or tree. Dimensions: 6" x 15" x 30"
Bat Haven: Long-lasting, solid cypress with a corrugated metal roof. Inside lined with wire mesh for easy gripping, and decorated with a happy bat. Dimensions: 14" W x 21" H x 5" D Only 1 remaining!
Z-Incense Citronella Sticks: With a 3 hour burn time and repellent effectiveness of 4 hours, Z-fence is an excellent alternative to body sprays, allowing you to expand the area of coverage so you and your guests can enjoy the outdoors without the hassle of mosquitoes. Set of 10 18-inch sticks.
ZBAND and ZKIDWRAP BY ZFENCE: Repellent-laden disks slip into adjustable bracelets. Unobtrusive and comfortable band for adults or kids; fun animal shaped design for kids. Refill discs for kids and adults also available.
Git Spritz: with essential oils including catnip, eucaplyptus, and lemon grass. A fresh minty, spicy scent in a spray bottle that makes it quick and easy to apply. Popular with our customers!
Git Stick: A solid lotion stick, easy to carry in purse or pocket so you'll be ready to ward off insect pests at any outdoor summer gathering. The emollient base with mango butter, botanical oils and Vitamin E moisturizes your skin while essential oils including catnip repel pesky bugs.
Back Off Bugs! Hand and Body Lotion: Hemp oil base, skin-soothing botanicals, aloe vera, and the same essential oils as in Git Spritz.
While we're talking about soothing your skin, we'll add these great products:
Hancrafted English Lavender Soap: With botanical oils, kaolin clay, ground lavender flowers, and essential oils of lavender and patchouli. Simple and pure, and a fragrance to die for. Some of this sits on a shelf next to my desk, so I can vouch for that!!
Happy Wanderer Natural Soap for Rash Relief: With jewelweed and plantain. Jewelweed is a native American plant known to reduce the itchiness and spread of poison ivy. Plantain soothes and encourages regeneration of skin, which may reduce scarring.
Gardener's Hand Soap: The perfect way to clean and renew your hands after a day in the garden. With cornmeal, kaolin clay, and skin-soothing comfrey and essential oils of lavender and tea tree.
Soap Gift Set: Includes 3 handcrafted soaps: English Lavender, Gardener's Hand Soap, and Happy Camper. Keep some, gift some!
Who doesn't love a hummingbird? They're adorable teeny-tiny bundles of energy, whose speed and amazing aerial acrobatics endear them to birders and non-birders alike. One of the most delightful summer pastimes is feeding and watching these playful feathered creatures.
But what if you don't have room for a garden, or your garden is already landscaped with nice green things that leave you hummer-less? Not to worry--there's plenty of ways you can encourage these hungry birds to pay you a visit.
Hummingbirds spend up to 90% of their hovering time in feeding, burning a tremendous number of calories in the process. That's why they feed on high-calorie, sugary nectar, which you can provide.
You can place a hummingbird feeder almost anywhere--in the garden, on a balcony, on your deck, in a tree-- trust me, they'll find it. All you need is a suitable hook. Follow these tips for placing your feeder:
If that kind of maintenance seems too burdensome, you can still invite the hummingbirds with more traditional means--plants! With their long beaks and probing tongues, hummers usually look for long, tubular flowers. As mentioned before, their vision is especially sensitive to colors in the red through yellow range, but they feed on flowers in other hues as well. Just pop a few pots on your porch, or a box or basket on your balcony, and plant these sure-to-please nectar producers:
Salvias, perennial or annual and easily grown, are a favorite. Salvia is a large genus in the mint family, with over 1000 species. Usually sun-loving and drought tolerant, they are also generally deer resistant. Some are hardy perennials, like Meadow Sage, that bloom most heavily in the spring before the hummingbirds have arrived. Here we'll suggest a few good summer blooming candidates:
If you'd like to use native plants, go for red cardinal flower,Lobelia splendens, or blue Lobelia siphilitica. Monarda, or bee balm, will not only make the hummers happy, butterflies and bees will be pleased as well. These three appreciate plenty of water. If you need something a little more drought tolerant, choose penstemon, also called beardtongue, or kniphofia, which bears the fun common moniker of "red hot poker." Be sure to look for compact varieties if your space is at a premium.
You certainly can't go wrong with a plant called hummingbird mint. Agastache is a delicate looking, yet tough, plant in the mint family. As with many mint family members, it boasts fragrant leaves and good deer resistance. Long spires of delicate flowers in shades of red, pink, orange and yellow bloom summer to fall on licorice-scented foliage. They offer lovely color and texture to mixed containers.
Two tropical plants worth seeking out are Hamelia patens and Russelia equisetiformis. Hummingbirds are big fans of both.
Hamelia is often called firecracker plant or firebush. In Florida, they are often grown as hedge plants, which just shows you how many flowers they have in Florida--they can afford to just cut them off whenever they want!
I am a jealous zone 7 gardener, can you tell?) The clusters of small tubular flowers are most often orange, and the glossy pointed leaves are deep green.
There is a new golden-foliaged variety that brightens mixed containers.
The russelia also bears the common name, "firecracker plant."
This one may be a little harder to find, but it's truly worth it. Incredible drought tolerance combined with an abundance of drop-dead gorgeous lipstick red flowers and long, narrow, bright green cascading stems make for one terrific plant. It needs so little water you could definitely grow this in a hanging basket.
In case you're unsure, I'll tell you that we had this plant at a nursery I worked for years ago. One one-gallon plant must have fallen off the truck, because I found it about 2 weeks after the shipment arrived, kicking around the loading area, with no pot. It was a hot May in Maryland. It was fine. I have loved this plant ever since.
Most shoots will trail, but some will grow straight up, so it can look a little unkempt at times. You can prune them out if they bother you, but those shoots often flower abundantly. It's definitely not for those of you who prefer your annuals in neat rows and annually shear your boxwoods. But if you like something wild, wooly, and wonderful, give this one a try. You may also find a yellow- or peach-flowered variety, but for the hummers, stick to the red!
Other plants to consider:
Want to feed the hummers?
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