Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2006
Regional Report

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A garden filled with highly scented foliage plants, such as this lavender, might offer the added benefit of repelling mosquitoes.


If we're lucky, we hear them before they land and bite legs, arms, and ears. This summer's 80-plus temps and frequent rains were perfect growing conditions ... for mosquitoes. By mid-August, the worst will likely be over as temperatures drop. But this summer the bloodsucking females of the species kept many of us from enjoying our gardens. Anything we can do?

One Philadelphia woman summed up the dilemma: "How can my husband and I enjoy this lovely property we just bought if we can't go outdoors without being bitten by mosquitoes? Should we even think about having a garden?"

Strolling her property at 9 a.m., we discussed possibilities: ornamental grasses, evergreen shrubs, even a patio or deck for the chairs, table, and hammock sitting in the yard. Skeeters buzzed; we swatted. She envisioned the garden space, then shook her head wondering if they'd ever be comfortable outdoors. Swat!

I reached in my pocket for the bottle of Esitalia Mosquito Block from Italy. We sprayed exposed skin, enjoying the concoction's citrusy fragrance. Ingredients: aloe, night-blooming Cereus, citronella grass, lavender, geranium, menthol, lime/lemon oil in water, and castor oil. The mosquitoes stopped biting. Ah-hah! Would a garden brimming with fragrant foliage plants repel mosquitoes? Certainly an idea worth exploring.

Mosquito Control
We can turn over every empty pot and remove all nonmoving water, and put Bacillus thuringiensis dunks in ponds to kill mosquito larvae. But even if we follow the experts' directives about eliminating the last thimble full of standing water in our yards, mosquitoes know no boundaries. The common "floodwater" mosquitoes fly up to 75 miles. They're morning and evening biters. The aggressive Asian Tiger mosquito prefers daytime blood meals. There are more than 2,700 mosquito species worldwide. Besides being annoying, many carry viruses (including West Nile) for various types of encephalitis, malaria, and Dengue fever.

The females bite to get blood for eggs they'll lay soon after gorging. They detect prey (people, other mammals, and birds) by chemical, visual, and heat sensors. Confusing their chemical sensors is one way to stop mosquitoes from biting. That's why the chemical insect repellant DEET is effective; the higher the concentration, the longer the repellency.

Is there an effective naturally derived repellant? Many natural repellants are effective for a short time, so frequent application is necessary. BugBand towelettes with Geraniol (rosemary, mint, and geranium oil) keep mosquitoes at bay for an hour while we weed and plant. So we reapply at the first bite. A 2002 New England Journal of Medicine article lists one soybean oil product as lasting 94 minutes and several citronella-based products good for 15 to 19 minutes. Citronella oil in high concentrations is an effective repellant. A single plant is not.

Which brings to mind the idea of a garden of highly scented foliage plants en masse, emitting myriad fragrances as we brush against the leaves ... AND confusing mosquitoes' chemical receptors. It could include lavender, scented geranium, Geranium 'Biokova', lemongrass, lemon verbena, lime thyme, monarda, nepeta, rosemary, castor plant. It would be worth a try!

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