No, we're not talking about the crazy neighbors who live down the block. We're talking about mosquitoes, which can turn an enjoyable outing into a swatfest. Although there's no way to permanently eliminate mosquitoes, there are short-term solutions.
In this story, we'll show you seven simple steps that you can take before your party to keep away most of the mosquitoes (and other annoying insects). The steps are safe and fast, and most cost just a few bucks. They'll also help reduce the mosquito population throughout the summer.
Hedges, bushes and tall grass provide shade that shelters mosquitoes. They need a place to get out of the heat and sun during the day, so the fewer shaded areas they find, the less they'll congregate in your yard.
Keep the hedges and bushes trimmed, and mow the yard at least once a week. Mow or till weedy spots to minimize shade and to keep these marginal areas from becoming overgrown jungles. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. Otherwise, you'll just drive the mosquitoes next door—and they'll come back often to visit.
It's no surprise that mosquitoes are attracted to water, but it is surprising how little water it takes for mosquitoes to breed and multiply. Mosquitoes can lay eggs in just a thimbleful of water, which means that anything that holds even a tiny bit of water can be home to mosquito larvae.
Find and empty these water sources. Dispose of or drain water from old tires, buckets, unused kids' pools, bases of flowerpots, furniture, toys, boats and trailers left outside. Keep the gutters clean so water can't accumulate. Fill tree and stump holes with mortar. Slope ditches so they drain, and fill swampy areas with soil.
Sometimes it's nearly impossible to get rid of standing water. And sometimes, like when you have a small pond, you just don't want to.
Pour a tiny amount of Agnique MMF mosquito larvicide in the water so that a thin layer covers the surface. It'll suffocate the larvae (and any other insects in the water) without harming fish. (Buy it online at myadapco.com or ehrlichdistribution.com.) Or put Mosquito Dunk into the water. These doughnut-shaped briquettes produce a toxic bacterial spore that kills mosquito larvae, but won't harm fish or animals. One briquette lasts for 30 days. Large bodies of water may require more briquettes. The Mosquito Dunk doesn't repel mosquitoes; it prevents breeding. Find it at home centers in six-pack quantities. It's also available at lowes.com and other sites.
Mosquito Myth Busting
Contrary to popular opinion, these often-tried remedies won't ward off mosquitoes:
- Citronella candles are no more effective than other candles at keeping mosquitoes away. Candle smoke in general may have a limited effect. Likewise, planting Citrosa geraniums won't repel mosquitoes.
- Outdoor foggers and misting systems will temporarily reduce mosquito numbers, but they rise again as soon as the system turns off and the spray dissipates.
- Spraying garlic will make your yard smell like an Italian dinner but does little else.
- Bug zappers attract and kill thousands of insects, but most of them aren't mosquitoes. They kill only a small number of mosquitoes in the area. (Ironically, they zap a lot of insects that prey on mosquitoes.)
- Placing propane gas traps in your yard will effectively capture many mosquitoes, but again, only a small fraction of those in your yard.
- Ultrasonic devices have no repellency value at all, according to studies.
- Building bat towers and purple martin houses to attract potential mosquito predators has been proven useless. Bats and purple martins rarely feed on mosquitoes.
When water is part of your landscaping or used for recreation, you don't want to drain it. But that doesn't mean you have to surrender it to mosquitoes. Buy a few goldfish or minnows from a pet store or bait store and add them to your water garden. They may only live for one season, but they'll eat mosquito larvae.
Chlorinate water that remains standing for a long period, like water in swimming pools, saunas and hot tubs. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for the safe use of chlorine. Keep pools covered when not in use. For small fountains, birdbaths and wading pools that you don't want to chlorinate, simply change the water once a week to dispose of mosquito larvae. Sweep surfaces with a brush to knock off eggs before refilling the container.
Large wooded areas, ponds and lakes are havens for mosquitoes. It's almost impossible to treat these areas yourself, so call in the big guns—your local Mosquito Control District. Local policies vary and services are localized, but often, when the number of mosquitoes reaches a certain level, Mosquito Control will spray for them. This is also a good idea if mosquitoes are swarming your yard in unusually high numbers.
Make the call about two weeks before your party. It'll take time for Mosquito Control to come out, conduct the test, and if needed, spray. Keep in mind that specific criteria must be met before Mosquito Control will spray private property. Your mosquito problem may not meet the threshold, but it's worth a call.
If Mosquito Control won't spray your property, hire an exterminator to spray the foliage. This ensures a swat-free party by wiping out mosquitoes and other insects for at least a few days. Have this done one to three days before your party. Expect to pay $135 for a yard of less than half an acre and $225 for a yard up to an acre. For a (nearly) mosquito-free summer, have the foliage sprayed monthly (about $350 for the summer for a small yard).
Although you can buy sprays yourself, we recommend leaving the application of insecticides to the pros. They can buy more effective treatments that are restricted to licensed exterminators. They also know which to use and how much to apply to kill the mosquitoes without posing a hazard to other critters. When used according to the label, the insecticides pose minimal risk to humans and pets.
Mosquitoes are particularly attracted to body odors and the carbon dioxide we exhale when breathing. They allow mosquitoes to home in on us—and that's when the biting starts. Dissipating these telltale human signs makes us harder to find. So, right before the guests arrive for your party, set fans on the ground and turn them on to break up the scent patterns. This simple solution is surprisingly effective for spur-of-the-moment events, when you can't use the measures listed above.
Because of their light weight, mosquitoes are weak flyers. The breeze from the fans makes it difficult for them to fly, keeping them out of your party zone.
How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
Despite your best efforts, a few mosquitoes will probably crash your party. Follow these steps to keep them from harassing you:
- Replace outside bulbs with yellow “bug” bulbs, which attract fewer mosquitoes than traditional lights. Find them at home centers ($2.50 for two 60-watt bulbs).
- Apply a light coat of an insect repellent containing DEET on your skin.
- Spray an insect repellent that contains permethrin on your clothes (not directly on your skin). Studies have shown that a combination of permethrin on your clothes and DEET on your skin effectively keeps away mosquitoes and other insects. Follow the manufacturer's directions; overapplying can be dangerous.
- You can outfit the whole family in clothes that have been factory treated with an insect repellent. The repellent lasts for about 25 washings. One source is ExOfficio (exofficio.com). Men's T-shirts start at about $30.