Mosquitoes can smell the carbon dioxide you exhale from 150 feet away. They zero in, land ever so lightly, stab you, and suck your blood. In doing so, they may expose you to several fatal diseases, including chikungunya, dengue fever, encephalitis, malaria, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, and Zika virus. They can also carry canine heartworm.
Mosquitoes are responsible for 700 million illnesses and over 1 million deaths around the world each year. In 2016, there were more than 96,000 cases of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. and California has the highest U.S. number of cases of chikungunya, a viral disease that causes debilitating muscle and joint pain and fever.
Odds are very high that mosquitoes are lurking in your garden. If you search online for “mosquito repelling plants”, you’ll find thousands of lists. With all the claims about mosquito-repelling plants, what’s true, and what’s hype? Let’s find out.
There are many claims made about plants being able to turn away these blood-sucking, disease-carrying pests. Research has shown us that many plants do, in fact, have the ability to repel mosquitoes, but probably not in the way you expect.
Pine, lemongrass, lavender, catnip, scented geranium (aka mosquito plant), jasmine, eucalyptus, chamomile, juniper, rosemary, soybean, olive, Tagetes, violets, sandalwood, thyme, peppermint, lemon, rosewood, turmeric, and sage can all repel mosquitoes. Sort of.
The essential oils contained in those plants are what provide the protection. But adding them to your landscape isn’t going to help, though they may look lovely. The problem is, you’d have to roll around in those plants every 15-30 minutes to be protected from mosquitoes. I don’t know how long your plants could tolerate that sort of treatment.
In fact, both male and female mosquitoes eat nectar, sap, and honeydew. It is only the females who need the protein found in blood for egg-laying.
Many mosquito-repelling products claim to be natural plant extracts. Keep in mind that natural does not always mean safe. Strychnine is natural but it can kill you. Extended exposure to chemically significant essential oils can lead to allergic reactions and skin sensitivities.
Mosquito predators and repellent products
Electronic mosquito repellers do not work. Either do mosquito-repelling wristbands. Bug zappers kill millions of beneficial insects and very few mosquitoes. CO2 traps are mostly ineffective. If you are sitting in one place, clip-on insecticide fans and personal propane vaporizers may provide some protection. And, as much as I enjoy candlelight, citronella candles don’t work much better than regular candles once you get a few feet away, according to a study by NIH.
Crane flies are not the mosquito-eaters we thought they were and bats do not eat as many mosquitoes as is commonly believed. Larger bats eat larger prey and smaller bats don’t seem to have a big impact on mosquito populations. Another common myth claims that setting up a Purple Martin house will reduce mosquito numbers. Local martins will be happy, but it won’t change your mosquito problem. You could always copy the Capuchin monkeys and rub yourself with millipedes, but I don’t recommend it.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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