Tips to get rid of mosquitoes without harming pollinators

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Hanging out in the garden with family and friends can be bliss. Scare away and kill mosquitoes at the same time? Not as much. But think twice before hiring a professional pest control company, even if they claim to be eco-friendly or all-natural. While this seems like a practical option, the sprays they hand out to kill mosquitoes will also likely kill friendly pollinators — animals and insects that benefit plants.

More than 80 percent of plant communities need some pollinator — bees, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds — to reproduce, says Jean Burns, associate professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “If you lose all the pollinators in your garden, you may have a lower yield in your vegetable garden, or your flowering bushes may not set seed and may not flower the following year,” she says.

Worse, the loss of pollinators could have a ripple effect beyond your garden. If plants don’t survive, they can’t pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form leaves and stems for animals, and they can’t release oxygen through photosynthesis. That makes a big difference when it comes to keeping the air clean.

Mosquitoes may seem like nothing more than a disgusting pest, but they play an important role in the ecosystem. Their eggs, found in the water, serve as a food source for fish and macroinvertebrates, says Emma Grace Crumbley, an entomologist with the national pest control company Mosquito Squad. And after they emerge from the eggs, they are food for birds, frogs, bats and other species. On the other hand, some mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus, so it’s important to protect yourself from their bites as much as possible.

This begs a conundrum: How do we keep mosquitoes at bay without causing collateral damage to pollinators? Here are some options, many using nature as a solution.

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Drain standing water. Female mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water and cannot reproduce unless the larvae have a place to live. At least once a week, empty anything that can collect or pool water, such as “You would be surprised at how little water there is [mosquitoes] to need. Even a discarded water bottle or an empty bag of chips with some rainwater can be a breeding ground,” says Matthew Aardema, a medical entomologist and assistant professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, whose research focuses on mosquitoes.

Give them a Bti cocktail. For stagnant water that cannot be drained, try a Bti product. Bti is a bacterium that specifically targets mosquito larvae without affecting other organisms. When the larvae ingest the Bti, it kills them within minutes. “Tackling larval populations is more environmentally friendly than spraying over large areas,” says Aardema. Bti products can be found in specialist garden shops. They come in many forms, including tablets, granules, pellets, and liquids. Follow the directions on the product for frequency of use.

Plant natural deterrents. Strategically placing mosquito-repellent plants in whiskey barrel planters was just one way environmental scientist Noah Perlut and his students at the University of New England reduced mosquito numbers on their campus in Biddeford, Maine. “Our goal was not to eradicate the mosquitoes – that would be impossible and ecologically irresponsible – but to make the place more comfortable for people,” he says.

Perlut’s team planted bee balm, marigold, spotted geranium, lavender, sweet fern and citronella around the rim of the barrels, with cherry tomatoes and basil in the centre. “It’s not enough to plant mosquito-repellent species, you have to activate them,” he says. When people pick the tomatoes or herbs, they brush the other plants, which then release chemicals that affect the mosquitoes’ ability to orient themselves and find prey. Research what plants are native to your area, says Burns. Suitable options may include rosemary, peppermint, catnip, garlic, and sage.

Attract natural predators. Research which birds in your area eat mosquitoes and are willing to nest in nest boxes, then learn how to attract them. Perlut and his students created an inviting habitat for two species – tree swallows and eastern thrushes – to nest where humans congregate. “Since these species search for insects, including mosquitoes, and adults feed their chicks plenty of mosquitoes, this was a huge hit. And best of all, the infrastructure requires little maintenance once it’s up and running,” he says. The university has also installed bat houses to increase numbers of these mosquito-hungry predators — but it’s understandable if you don’t want to actively attract bats into your home, either because you don’t want to handle guano (bat droppings) or because they creep you out.

The nuclear option. If your yard is so infested with mosquitoes that no other repellent seems to be working, it may be time to call in a pest control company. But you need to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. Although most scientists support some type of control effort, few are fans of pesticides. “When we spray chemicals on mosquitoes, it not only affects the mosquito, but kills all flies and species like the mosquito, including all pollinators,” says Perlut.

Some companies offer the option of a natural treatment using essential oils, but be careful. They say these solutions are more eco-friendly, using words like “non-toxic” or “DEET-free,” while claiming they have the same ability to knock down mosquitoes on contact. Any effective treatment is indiscriminate, so it’s important to hire a company that can analyze your garden and create a plan to create a barrier while minimizing the risk to pollinators.

No mosquito control company can (or should) offer a 100% guarantee that pollinators will not be harmed. Crumbley says to look for professionals who are trying to mitigate collateral damage by focusing on “quiet zones,” places that mosquitoes seek to escape the heat but aren’t as attractive to pollinators as high ones Grass, piles of wood and overgrown bushes. Such professionals will also be careful not to spray anything that will attract pollinators, such as flowering plants, a home garden, or an aviary.

Don’t waste time with gimmicks. Experts agree that most hyped “solutions” such as citronella candles or torches, mosquito coils, zappers and mosquito lamps are largely ineffective because they only emit an odor in a small area or electrocute mosquitoes. “Evaluate your lawn, understand what attracts mosquitoes to your yard, and control what you can,” says Crumbley.

Denver-based author Laura Daily specializes in consumer protection and travel strategies. Find them under Tips to get rid of mosquitoes without harming pollinators

Chris Estrada

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