Backyard mosquito control in back yards and other outdoor venues is always a challenge, especially if you want to avoid using chemicals that could hurt children, pets or grass and plants. There’s not much question that DEET is pretty effective, and some people claim it’s quite safe to use - provided you follow an intimidating set of instructions on how to use it. But even if you’re perfectly comfortable using DEET, it’s designed to be applied to skin. It won’t keep mosquitoes from buzzing around you – or from biting guests who didn’t wear a repellant and don’t want to use yours. How, then, can you minimize, if not eliminate, the number of mosquitoes annoying you and your guests or friends in an outdoor setting?
Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that have at least some limited effect – enough to make your time outdoors go at least a little smoother.
Mosquito Control Basics
First, do what you can to avoid attracting mosquitoes in the first place.
- Keep your lawn trimmed and dry. Standing water and tall grass or weeds attract mosquitoes and other insects.
- Clean your eaves troughs and anything else that might let water pool or stand.
- If your yard tends to collect puddles in certain areas, a little bit of landscaping will change that forever. You need to add soil to level out the depressed areas where the puddles collect, and then create a slope at the front or back of the yard for water to run off. You may be able to do this yourself, but a landscaping contractor can also do it for a reasonable price.
Now that you’ve made your yard a bit less attractive to mosquitoes, you should be seeing less of them. But the above steps probably won’t be enough, because they’re persistent. It’s time to look at mosquito repellant measures.
I’ve looked at a ton of online recommendations, and there’s only one solution that has really solid science behind it. The rest are folk remedies. Some people claim great success with them, and I don’t doubt their word, but others find the same methods ineffective. My guess is that some of these solutions may actually work on some mosquitoes in some certain conditions, but different species of mosquitoes or different conditions render them useless.
You can buy a bat house inexpensively. This is a little box you mount in the fall or winter within a few hundred yards of a stream, river or pool. By summer, with some luck, you’ll have bats living in it, and each bat can eat several hundred mosquitoes. Getting this started can take some tinkering – you may not attract bats immediately, and find you need to change the placement of your box. But there’s no question that bats eat mosquitoes, so if you manage to get them coming around your home, they will drastically reduce, if not eliminate, your mosquitoes.
Since bats naturally prey on mosquitoes and won’t hurt other creatures or your plants, this is probably the most effective natural way to repel mosquitoes. And you won’t have bats buzzing your head in the evenings or anything – they prefer to avoid humans whenever possible.
Of all the plants that are supposed to repel mosquitoes, catnip is the one with the best science backing its claim – though there is also science claiming exactly the opposite. There doesn’t seem to be much question that a chemical found naturally in catnip actually repels some mosquitoes better than DEET, though a few species are apparently not bothered by it. Actually planting catnip in the backyard sounds useful, but the leaves have to be crushed to release the oil. Some people use catnip-based repellants topically and claim great success. You can try spraying a catnip-based repellant on fabric strips and hanging them around the backyard. They’ll be effective for a couple of hours, but what’s not clear is the radius to which they’ll repel mosquitoes. You may find you have to get everyone standing near a strip to see any effect at all.
Still, as a topically applied repellant, it might be more appealing to guests than a DEET-based one, so the option of offering it to guests who didn’t wear a repellant could be helpful.
It works a lot like catnip, and it does seem to work. But you need a high concentration of it. Some people claim spraying Listerine around the backyard works, but it’s not a high concentration. You can buy commercially made eucalyptus based repellants which should actually help somewhat, especially when applied topically.
Smoke and Flame
Mosquitoes avoid both smoke and flame. But the area just outside a plume of smoke? That’s perfectly comfortable for mosquitoes. So unless you are actually within a plume of smoke, candles (citronella or otherwise), fire pits, incense sticks and tiki torches are not really helpful.
The main problem with bug zappers is that mosquitoes don’t find them attractive. The secondary problem is that they destroy beneficial insects who might, ironically, keep your mosquito population down.
There are systems called Mosquito Magnets which are supposed to attract, then kill, mosquitoes. They cost around $300, and then need the repellant and other components replaced frequently (also not cheap). They get very mixed reviews from users. Some people find them effective, but not worth the price. Others say they didn’t work at all. In any case, the bat house would be a cheaper and better option, since bats need mosquitoes to eat, and this machine (if/when it works) would just be removing them from the ecosystem.
My take on all this is that the bat house is your best solution. It may take some patience up front, but once you get it working, it’s maintenance free and absolutely harmless – you’re just conveniently relocating a natural ecological function (bats eating mosquitoes) to your yard. If your problem really isn’t that big, and you feel the bat house is more trouble than you want to go to, then just settle for the protection of topically applied repellants – you have the choice of DEET-based ones, or the ones with catnip and/or eucalyptus.