The mosquito population in southern Ohio began to increase before spring arrived—I saw, and some others did, too, mosquitoes out in February when we had a few days of intermittently warm temperatures. I was hoping this winter’s Arctic winds and Polar Vortex would have killed any dormant mosquitoes that were in hibernation.
Where I live in Greene County I saw the early arrival of mosquitoes on my front porch and during a day hike to the Traveler’s Spring in Glen Helen Nature Preserve. The mosquitoes were as excited to see me as I was to see warm temperatures. I killed one that managed to get in the house before I was able to shut the front door. This got me thinking about ways to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active—late evening, early morning—is an infallible way to avoid being bitten. But for me this poses a conflict of interest: I’m most active outdoors in the late evening (gardening in the cooler part of the day) and in the early morning (running).
When I do go outside in the late evening and early morning, I try to prepare for the onslaught of mosquitoes by dressing in long pants and a sleeved shirt. I have discovered mosquitoes can and will bite through sleeved shirts that are not thick enough to protect the skin. I have found that cotton sleeved shirts work better at preventing mosquito bites than do polyester sleeved shirts.
I don’t use insect repellents with DEET because the U.S. EPA has issued it as an acutely toxic chemical that should be used with caution. Poison control centers receive calls from parents about children having seizures after being exposed to DEET. This makes me think DEET products should be avoided by children and pregnant women. And because DEET only repels insects and does not kill them, I don’t think the risk of acutely poisoning my family is worth it.
For the past few years I have been making water-based bug repellent with citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender essential oils. I keep a spray bottle in my car and with the picnic supplies. The only downside to this method is that it must be re-applied every couple of hours, but my bug spray smells so good I find the re-application enjoyable. I spritz my face with the spray too, even when the bugs aren’t around—the mist feels cool on the skin in the heat of the day.
Another remedy I have found effective is neem oil. Neem oil is plant-based and most nurseries and garden centers carry it. It can be mixed with water and a drop of liquid dish soap and used as a bug spray (it kills lice, fleas, and termites, too), or it can be combined with coconut oil and used as a topical lotion. I use both methods if I know I’m going to be outside in the evening for long periods of time. A study from the National Institute of Health confirmed neem oil is an effective bug repellent for up to 12 hours.
According to various other studies, neem oil kills mosquitoes and their eggs and larvae. Locations of standing water are mosquito sanctuaries—a mosquito can lay hundreds of eggs at one time—that quickly become obtrusive breeding grounds. In studying effective control methods for Dengue Fever, scientists at the University of Hawaii replicated such a breeding situation and found that neem oil added to standing water killed mosquito larvae.
Mosquito bites can be fatal if the mosquito is carrying a disease, so I think it’s important to be proactive and prepared. This week I’m excited to feature an interview with Julie Carter. Julie’s local business, L&L Natural Products, is based here in Washington C.H. Julie makes plant-based bug spray and she will have some for sale at the Toast to Summer & Hot Air Balloon Glow event in June at the Fayette County Airport. If you’re there, you’ll probably see me—I’ll be the one spritzing my face with plant-based bug spray.
Julie also recommends planting lemongrass around porches and pools to repel insects—another great method of mosquito control. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m also thinking about hanging mosquito nets around the porch so I can sit outside in the evenings without being eaten alive.
It’s mosquito season—are you ready? I wonder how it is for everyone else and whether you have been finding the arrival of mosquitoes as obnoxious and bothersome as I have. I’d love to hear from you about what you are doing to control and avoid mosquitoes.
Reach Ashley Bunton at (740) 335-3611 or drop me a note at [email protected] or on Twitter @ashbunton.