Prof. Frank Hadley Collins

Prof. Frank Hadley Collins

The threat of West Nile, Zika and viruses transmitted by mosquitoes is enough to send most people scurrying indoors. But what’s a gardener to do? We’re frequently outdoors morning, noon and/or night tending our plants.

In the past, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) instructed people to stay indoors at dusk since that’s when mosquitoes were known to bite. However, the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus is known as a “day biter,” which makes avoiding them much harder. But don’t lose hope, you can still garden safely using these tips.

Mosquito Prevention in the Garden

Mosquitoes live the first part of their life in water, which is why you need to drain any sources of standing water in your garden. After it rains or the sprinklers run, pour out water that is sitting in any kind of container. Zika mosquitoes have been known to breed in something as small as a water bottle cap.

If you have a bird feeder, you can add Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis or Bt(i), to the water. Bt(i) is a naturally occurring microbial agent that will not harm people, pets, birds, or (*most) beneficial insects. You can purchase it as Mosquito Dunks. If you have a pond, you can stock it with mosquito-eating fish from a local pet store.

To protect yourself indoors from mosquitoes, make sure your house has fine mesh screens and screen doors. Repair any tears or holes in the screens.

Personal Protection from Mosquitoes

Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when out in the garden as well as gloves and a hat. Tuck your pants into your boots/shoes and/or socks to prevent mosquitoes from flying up your pant legs. Mosquitoes can sometimes bite through clothing, so apply a repellent before you get dressed.

If you want to use a natural repellent instead of one that contains deet or picardin, it’s important to note that not all of them work well. There is one exception that was noted in the July 2015 Consumer Reports issue. It’s Repel Lemon Eucalyptus and was rated “Excellent” in protecting against mosquito bites. It has 30% lemon eucalyptus oil compared to those with other chemical and natural ingredients.

*Bt(i) does kill some types of fly larva -some which are beneficial insects like syrphid flies and soldier flies.