Ahhhh…the pleasant summer evenings spent outdoors on your deck or patio, lounging on a chaise, enjoying dinner al fresco or gathering around the fire pit making s’mores with the kiddos. The soft, refreshing breeze, the incredible smells wafting off the grill and the mesmerizing flames of an evening fire. Enter the unmistakable whine of our least favorite pest; those tiny vampires we all know and detest: mosquitoes. While they do possess a quality or two we can appreciate, like providing food for birds and bats and acting as pollinators, they really seem to be more trouble than they’re worth. Known as the deadliest insect on earth (fortunately for us, mostly outside of the U.S.), they carry a number of unappealing viruses including Zika and West Nile. So, the million-dollar question becomes, “How do we get rid of these tiny annoying beasts?”
Let’s start at the beginning with a little Mosquitoes 101. To best understand how to eradicate them from our property, we need to understand their breeding cycles, habits and preferred habitat. Did you know that a female mosquito only needs to encounter a male mosquito once to mate…and can then produce eggs up to FIVE times in a summer? Once she mates, she rests up for a few days and begins the search for the best place to lay her eggs. The ideal location is anywhere that has sufficient moisture; think marshes, swamps and standing water. Although their methods vary by species, the common denominator is always a wet environment. Once the eggs hatch, they become larvae, pupae and finally the adult – all within 8 to 10 days. They can live anywhere from a week to as long as several months, with some species being able to survive over the winter.
Now that we understand how they arrived in our backyard in the first place, we can focus on the areas in they tend to thrive and begin to solve the problem.
1. Eliminate Standing Water.
Mosquitoes breed in water and they don’t need much stagnant water to reproduce. Eliminate standing water and you will greatly reduce their numbers, as anything holding moisture for over a week is likely producing mosquitoes. Take a tour of your property and pay attention to the places where standing water exists. Bird baths, pet bowls, open trash cans, old tires, buckets, kiddie pools, wheelbarrows, gardening supplies and even saucers under potted plants. Make it a practice to flip over what isn’t in use so it doesn’t fill with water. If you use a tarp to cover items such as firewood, a boat, grill, etc., make sure to pull the tarp tight so it doesn’t collect water in the folds. Keep gutters clear of debris. After a rain, walk through the yard and dump water where it has collected to avoid creating a breeding ground. If you have an area that is not drainable, such as a rain barrel, pond or ditch, consider using mosquito dunks. These quarter-sized tablets can be dropped into standing water and will release a toxin that will only kill mosquito larvae and won’t harm fish, birds or other animals.
2. Maintain a well-manicured landscape.
Trees and plants near your house can provide shade and a welcome habitat for mosquitoes. Along with organic material like leaves and stagnant water, mosquitoes will have everything they need to breed and survive. A well-tended lawn is a great defense against these pests. Remove low-lying brush and vegetation, keep trees and shrubs trimmed and grasses short to decrease moisture and increase the wind and sun exposure your property gets.
3. Treat your lawn.
Head to your local home improvement center and pick up an insect repellant. Generously spray your lawn, shrubs and landscaped areas to create a barrier that insects won’t want to cross. These are usually created with oils, which repel insects without releasing harmful fumes or chemicals, making them safe for kids and pets. There are also granules available that can be applied to your lawn much like you would a fertilizer. These methods can be effective for two to three weeks. If you’re not a do-it-yourself type, you can always hire pros to do it for you. Typically, they will treat your whole lawn and it can last the entire summer.
A few other ideas to keep those mosquitoes at bay:
- Use the right kind of lights outside and near doors and windows. Mosquitoes are known to be attracted to light, but that doesn’t include all lights. Yellow bug lights, LED lights and sodium lamps won’t attract them.
- Fans can help. Mosquitoes need calm conditions to get near you to take a bite. They won’t be able to bother you if wind speeds are beyond two miles per hour. A few well-placed fans can keep decks and porches mosquito-free.
- Mosquitos are attracted to the aroma in the air around you or on your skin. Use effective mosquito repellents to keep them at bay. DEET is the ingredient that has been proven most effective by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control. For those sensitive to DEET, there are repellents that contain picaridin or IR3535. While not as long lasting, they are good substitutes.
- Wear the proper clothing if you’re going to be out during prime time for mosquitos, which is at dusk, dawn and especially once darkness falls. Wearing long sleeves and pants will reduce your chances of getting bit.
And if you do happen to suffer a bite, here’s how to treat it properly. Something in a mosquito’s spit causes the itchy welt that appears on your skin. Fight the overwhelming urge to
scratch, as it will hinder the healing process by allowing bacteria in and cause infection. Wash the area with soap and water. Apply calamine or an anti-itch cream. Put an ice-pack on the bite and take an antihistamine. Most bites will get better within a few hours, but if you’re highly sensitive, it may take several days.
Sure, mosquitos are going to be a fact of life if you spend any time outdoors in the summer. Follow these easy guidelines to help eliminate the little bloodsuckers. You may find yourself swatting less and enjoying the beautiful Michigan summer even more. After all, isn’t that what you created your outdoor oasis for?