Surviving Mosquitoes 101
It's mosquito season, and with all the rain we've had lately, theses pests are sure to be swarming in droves. So I thought I'd share a few tips this week to help you survive the onslaught. To reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by the hundreds, empty any standing water within a few days of their filling. That will prevent any larvae from hatching into bloodsuckers, because they need water to survive. I keep goldfish in my rain barrels to eat larvae, and visiting frogs have added a few thousand tadpoles that also find larvae tasty. Both also keep the water cleaner. If you don't have goldfish or tadpoles, you can gather Spanish moss and put it in containers like buckets and rain barrels, and it will also do the job. A little crushing opens the moss' cells to release its mosquito-killing properties in the water. The moss also adds nutrients to make the water a fertilizer solution.You can buy and put in mosquito dunks - solid donuts of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that last for up to 30 days - or the newer Mosquito Bits that work quickly but need to be replaced every seven to 14 days. I keep a large container of the bits at the ready. Sometimes mosquitoes even hatch in wet potting soil, in which case that also gets a sprinkling of bits. Either of these can be used in fish ponds and bird baths without any harm to anything except larvae and caterpillars. Dump anything that holds water twice a week during the rainy season. Birdbaths, non-chlorinated wading pools, garbage can lids and pottery all attract breeding mosquitoes. Empty the saucers under flower pots. The fact there are many empty houses these days with black water in the pools doesn't help. I pray the frogs are laying some eggs in them, too. There are always many more mosquitoes in the shady part of a garden than in the sun. Work accordingly. I can work in the front yard early in the morning with few bites, but I try to wait for the sun to dry the rain or dew before I work in the shade. I don't do evenings at all. That's when the mosquitoes are the worst. Feeding birds or putting up a bat house helps. A mature bat can eat several hundred mosquitoes every night. Encourage frogs, toads and dragonflies to take up residence by planting tall grasses and native plants around ponds and streams. Citronella, neem candles or torches filled with oil offer excellent protection in smaller areas, such as on the patio while dining or entertaining. A fan on the porch also is effective, since mosquitoes don't like windy conditions. So make the most of any breezy times we have. I recently learned it's only the females that add our blood to their diet of nectar. They lay eggs on the surface of stagnant water, which hatch four to 14 days later into wriggling larvae that begin to feed on water-dwelling microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria and algae. Try to get any standing water dumped on the roots of roses or any other thirsty plants before the larvae hatch into mature mosquitoes. You can make a difference and enjoy your outdoors in spite of them. More next week. v vToday's pick is the native Fakahatchee grass, Tripsacum species, which grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and love wetlands and river banks. These clumps thrive on rich, damp, well-drained soil, but they also tolerate most soil conditions and don't even mind drought. The leaves are evergreen in warm climates or in warm winters. Colder times turn the leaves brown. They may even freeze to the ground but they will come back. v vNow's the time to tell you, if you have a clump of ornamental grass of any kind that looks messy, with more brown leaves than green, you can cut the whole thing to just above the ground either in the winter or during the rainy season and a fine bunch of all-green leaves will soon return. I've done this at both times and it works. Use the old leaves for compost or mulch. Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.