Buzz off

How to survive mosquito season in Austin: 6 natural remedies that work

How to survive mosquito season in Austin: 6 natural remedies that work

Mosquitos only need a teaspoon of standing water to hatch eggs. Wikipedia

Austin loves its outdoor activities, from concerts to cookouts. But nothing ruins a great time like biting mosquitos, especially since the pesky bugs transmit diseases such as West Nile and Zika viruses to humans and heartworms in dogs.

Many of us resort to wearing chemical repellents or clothing that covers as much of our skin as possible. The former can leave you sticky and smelly, the latter is simply miserable in the Texas heat. Plus, when the whole family goes outdoors, it makes sense to use an area rather than individual body approach.

My neighborhood Listserv has been abuzz with complaints about mosquitos since the temperature started climbing a few months ago. Here are a few of the tried and true devices and treatments folks in the ‘hood use to keep mosquitos out of their balcony, patio, or backyard.

This device works based on the fact that mosquitoes are attracted to body heat and can sense carbon dioxide — which human beings exhale — from up to 100 feet away. DynaTrap emits heat and CO2 as well as specific wavelengths of UV light that attract the bugs. Mosquitoes do not travel long distances, often staying within an acre area. Therefore, every mosquito caught eliminates the potential of hundreds or thousands of mosquito eggs, effectively breaking the mosquito life cycle. Empty the trap periodically and replace the bulb roughly every four months or 3,000 hours. Available at H-E-B and Home Depot.

Mosquito Magnet
The priciest option, but a neighbor insists this trap is worth it. (Personally, I spent an evening on their lovely patio and didn’t see a single mosquito.) Mosquito Magnet emits carbon dioxide, heat, and moisture to attract mosquitoes from an area up to an acre. The manufacturer recommends operating continuously (even when you’re not outside) to break the mosquito breeding cycle. It runs on a propane tank and mosquitoes end up in self-contained, disposable traps. You’ll need to buy replacement attractant packs and traps periodically.

This EPA-evaluated and approved device repels mosquitoes from a 15-foot zone around it using Allethrin, a synthetic version of a naturally occurring repellent found in chrysanthemums. According to the manufacturer, Thermacell is at least ten times more effective than citronella candles, and runs on a butane cartridge using scented mats. It comes with one cartridge and three mats that last four hours each. (Refill packs include 12 mats and four fuel cartridges.) I tested one on my patio after the recent heavy rains. As I set it up, a mosquito buzzed around my arm, but when I sat outside 30 minutes later, I didn't see a single one.

Mouthwash and beer
Another neighbor swears by a homemade mouthwash-and-beer spray. Spray the concoction around the yard wherever you spend time outdoors. It doesn’t hurt plants, pets, or grass and some websites claim it will last about 10 weeks between applications.

Here’s one recipe: 16 ounces of mint-flavored mouthwash, 3 cups Epsom salts and three stale, 12-ounce cheap beers (no need to waste the good stuff!). Place everything in a large bowl and mix using a spoon until all the salt has dissolved. Pour into a spray bottle. For the most nature-friendly version, use organic mouthwash, and lavender or eucalyptus scented Epsom salts will work even better.

Plants such as lemongrass, rosemary, sage, and basil repel mosquitos and are useful herbs as well. (Peppermint and catnip also repel mosquitoes but are invasive.) Marigolds do double duty repelling mosquitos and other pests and adding color while doing it. Surround your patio with these plants in pots or the ground and before your cookout, scatter handfuls of their leaves around the area. Burning branches of rosemary on the grill also helps. Find these plants locally at Natural Gardener or The Great Outdoors Garden Center. Natural Gardener also sells repelling granules, sticks, and other natural outdoor methods.

Holistic anti-mosquito practices
In place of or in addition to the above methods, consider a holistic natural approach. This involves creating a healthy ecosystem in your yard with mosquito-repelling plants and habitat that attracts birds, reptiles, and insects that eat mosquitos such as damselflies. Build a bat house to attract these insect-eaters, too. The National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat guidelines are a good place to start. Avoid use of pesticides, which kill good critters along with bad. 

It is important to eliminate all standing water, as mosquitoes travel only a few hundred feet from where they hatch. Dog bowls and birdbaths are fine as long as you replace the water every few days. While most people know mosquitoes need standing water to breed, few realize a mere teaspoon is enough. Just overwatering your grass can create sufficient water to support mosquito eggs and larvae. Call 3-1-1 to report standing water that is not on your property and the City of Austin will take care of it.