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"Dealing with Mosquitos in the Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Now that summer has arrived and we are spending more time out in our yards, it is becoming increasingly apparent that at certain times of the day we are not alone. By that I mean that the mosquitos are out in force and looking for some sustenance.
Hidcote Lavender. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Now that summer has arrived and we are spending more time out in our yards, it is becoming increasingly apparent that at certain times of the day we are not alone. By that I mean that the mosquitos are out in force and looking for some sustenance. 

Here are some techniques and more specifically, some plants that will help mitigate these annoying creatures and let us enjoy our yards without becoming victims of these flying hypodermic needles.

First off, let’s all remember that mosquitos require water to breed so make sure that there is no standing water sitting around. Even as little as a thimble full of water can support an amazing number of larvae. If you have a pond, make sure the water is in motion. You can also add fish, which will eat the larvae, or a type of bacillus can be floated in the water, which will also kill the larvae.

Air movement tends to annoy mosquitos, so a simple fan where you congregate can work wonders to keep the little brats away from your party. Citronella candles and to some degree bug zappers can also work. 

If you have cool, lush gardens that are well watered, you will probably have some challenges and the best technique is probably to stay out of the garden in the early cool morning and again in the cool evening. That being said, here are some plants that will also repel mosquitos.

1. Lavender — This Mediterranean plant grows amazingly well in the northwest despite our damp winters, but it must have good drainage and full sun to thrive. It is also deer and rabbit resistant.

2. Marigold — This annual is very pungent and will repel all sorts of insects while providing tons of summer color. Again, full sun is essential.

3. Lemon grass — This is an annual in our climate but very popular with gardeners for making tea as well as repelling insects. We usually sell out of it by this time of year, so it is hard to find when you really need it.

4. Catmint — This is a hardy perennial that comes in several variations. It sports lovely blue flowers, that if cut back will often re-bloom again later in the summer. Plant it in full sun.

5. Basil — Believe it or not, basil will repel mosquitos along with other bugs. Plant it in containers where you can harvest it for cooking too.

6. Floss flower — Ageratum is a commonly used blue flowering annual that is wonderful in containers or used to edge a flower bed. As a bonus, it contains coumarin which will repel mosquitos (but is toxic to mammals).

7. Mint — The many forms of mint (chocolate, pineapple, spearmint, orange, etc.) will all repel bugs and you can also make tea from the leaves or dry them, bundle them and spread them around the house. Mint can be invasive, so it is best to keep it in a container.

8. Beebalm — This is a wonderful perennial that will bloom for a long time in the garden (it can be a bit aggressive like mint) and has heavily scented leaves that can be crushed and used as a repellant. It will also attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, so it is a double bonus in the garden!

9. Scented geraniums — These come in lots of flavors, but supposedly the lemon scented variety works the best. Plant them in pots and sometimes you can winter them over till next year in a cool garage.

As a last resort, you can always apply a natural or synthetic bug repellant to your arms and face while you are out in the garden and then wash up when you come inside. Bats and swallows will consume lots of mosquitos too, so encouraging these animals to come into your garden is a good thing.

Whatever you end up doing, don’t let mosquitos ruin your garden experience. You can outsmart them with plants that will repel them, go out in the middle of the day to avoid them, wear proper clothing so they can’t physically bite you, keep excess water to a minimum, and as a last resort, using natural and synthetic sprays to kill them. Enjoy your summer in the garden and stay safe!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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