Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
Photo by Steve Chandler: Bromeliad holding water that mosquitoes may enjoy
For Friday, June 14, 2013 release
By Steve Chandler
No one enjoys the prospect of being bitten by mosquitoes while outside enjoying nature. This is especially true for gardeners who spend lots of time outdoors tending plants. It is only natural for those of us who find plants interesting to turn to them for solutions to control mosquitoes. Gardeners often add plants to their landscape that have a reputation for consuming or warding off these insects. Citronella grass, rosemary, catnip, lavender, and marigold are among several plants that have been used to produce oils or lotions that one may spray or rub on the skin to help discourage mosquitoes. Unfortunately, planting such plants in or around the garden isn’t likely to help very much – unless you just happen to like the look or smell of these plants.
A better strategy for controlling mosquitoes remains managing where they grow – in standing water that gardeners should drain or eliminate. Most of us have seen mosquito larvae wiggling in water caught in an old bucket or a large saucer at the bottom of a potted plant. We understand it only takes a couple of weeks for the larvae to mature and spring from the water to start the search for a blood meal and begin its reproductive cycle anew. That’s why we store unused pots, saucers, pales and other gardening supplies that can host mosquitoes upside down so they drain while not in use. We are also aware that cleaning the leaves out of our gutters so standing water drains freely or keeping our rain barrels from being overfull are good ideas to further reduce the places mosquitoes might grow. Gardeners even lend a hand when we notice our neighbors have a few things they could do to discourage mosquitoes – because we realize no matter how well we keep our landscape drained of standing water, it only takes a few minutes for mosquitoes to fly over from next door.
Most gardeners realize that carnivorous plants like pitcher plants and flytraps are mostly grown as novelties – and do little to curb mosquito populations. By the time such a plant has caught, killed and digested an insect, a gardener will have prevented dozens more from hatching out simply by using the leaf blower to blow the water out of bromeliads or cast iron plants after a summer shower. Some key mosquito control questions gardeners should ask themselves are: “What plants do I now grow that cup water in their leaves that I should drain after a rain?” “Can I water the roots of some of my plants rather than spray the water on the leaves where it may stand?” Ask when choosing a new plant for the garden, “Does this plant encourage mosquito growth?”
Wearing a long sleeved T-shirt and light-weight long pants in the middle of a hot summer day may not be much fun, but that remains among the best options for gardeners to prevent mosquito bites. Such clothes are usually cooler than a full suit of mosquito netting – although you will get more comments from the neighbors wearing that! If you add a cap or hat to your outfit, you may help save your face from the sun, plus they’re handy to take off from time to time to swat at the gnats flying around your ears!
Steve Chandler is a Master Gardener volunteer with the Leon County Cooperative Extension Service and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Advisory Committee. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov