How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes Without Killing Friendly Pollinators

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Spending time in the garden with family and friends can be bliss. Having to hunt and swat mosquitoes at the same time? Not really. But think twice before hiring a professional pest control company, even if they claim to be eco-friendly or all-natural. Although it seems like a convenient option, the sprays they scatter to kill mosquitoes will likely also kill friendly pollinators – animals and insects that benefit plants.

More than 80% of plant communities need certain pollinators — 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 could get a lower yield in your vegetable patch, or your flowering shrubs might not set seed and bloom the following year,” she says.

Worse still, the loss of pollinators could trigger a domino effect beyond your garden. If plants don’t survive, they can’t extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make leaves and stems that animals can eat, and they can’t release oxygen through photosynthesis. It makes a big difference in keeping the air clean.

Mosquitoes may seem like nothing more than an obnoxious pest, but they play an important role in the ecosystem. Their eggs, found in water, serve as a food source for fish and macroinvertebrates, says Emma Grace Crumbley, an entomologist at the National Pest Management Society. Mosquito Squad. And after emerging from the eggs, they serve as food for birds, frogs, bats and other species. On the other hand, some mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus, so it is important to protect yourself as much as possible against their bites.

This creates a conundrum: how to keep mosquitoes away without causing collateral damage to pollinators? Here are some options, many of which use nature as a solution.

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Empty standing water. Female mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water and cannot reproduce if the larvae have no place to live. At least once a week, empty anything that can collect or hold water, such as buckets, birdbaths, dog bowls, kiddie pools, tarps, playground equipment, plant saucers and gutters. “You would be surprised how little water [mosquitoes] need. Even a discarded water bottle or an empty bag of chips with rainwater can be fertile 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 standing water bodies that cannot be drained, try using a Bti product. Bti is a bacterium that specifically targets mosquito larvae without affecting other organisms. When the larvae ingest Bti, it kills them within minutes. “Targeting larval populations is more environmentally friendly than bulk spraying,” says Aardema. You can find Bti products in garden centers. They come in many forms, including tablets, granules, lozenges, and liquids. Follow the instructions on the product regarding the frequency of application.

Plant natural repellents. Placing whiskey barrel planters with mosquito-repelling plants in strategic locations was just one method environmental science professor Noah Perlut and his students at the University of New England used to reduce the number of mosquitoes on the campus in Biddeford, Maine. “Our goal was not to eradicate mosquitoes – that would be impossible and environmentally irresponsible – but to make people more comfortable where they spend their time,” he says.

The Perlut team planted lemon balm, marigolds, spotted geraniums, lavender, sweet fern and lemongrass around the edge of the barrels, with cherry tomatoes and basil in the middle. “It is not enough to plant anti-mosquito species, but you have to activate them,” he says. When people pick the tomatoes or herbs, they brush off the other plants, which then release chemicals that interfere with the mosquitoes’ ability to move around and find prey. Research which plants are native to your area, says Burns. Suitable options may include rosemary, peppermint, catnip, garlic, and sage.

Attract natural predators. Investigate birds in your area that eat mosquitoes and are ready to nest in birdhouses, then learn how to attract them. Perlut and his students have created an inviting habitat for two species – tree swallows and eastern bluebirds – to nest where people tend to congregate. “Because these species feed on insects, including mosquitoes, and the adults feed their chicks many mosquitoes, it’s been a huge success. And the best news is that once you’ve built the infrastructure , it’s low-maintenance,” he says. The university has also installed bat houses to increase the numbers of these avid mosquito predators – but that’s understandable if you don’t want to actively attract bats. -mice in your home, either because you don’t want to deal with guano (bat droppings) or because they freak you out.

The nuclear option. If your yard is so infested with mosquitoes that no other deterrent seems to be working, it might be time to call in a pest control company. But you will need to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Although most scientists support some sort of control effort, few are pesticide fans. “When we spray mosquitoes with chemicals, it not only influences the mosquito, but kills all flies and mosquito-like species, including all pollinators,” says Perlut.

Some companies offer the option of a natural treatment with essential oils, but beware. They say these solutions are more environmentally friendly, using words such as “non-toxic” or “DEET-free”, while claiming that they have the same ability to kill mosquitoes on contact. Any effective treatment is blind, so it’s important to hire a company that can analyze your backyard and customize a plan to create a barrier while minimizing 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 try to mitigate collateral damage by focusing on “resting areas”, i.e. places where mosquitoes go to escape the heat but aren’t as attractive for pollinators, such as tall grass, woodpiles and overgrown bushes. These professionals will also be careful to avoid spraying anything that attracts pollinators, such as flowering plants, a vegetable garden or an aviary.

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

Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategy. Find it on


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