Everyone loves cookouts, picnics, swimming and lazy late evenings outdoors. An unwelcome pest can ruin all the fun, though. We’re talking about mosquitoes.For some people, they’re annoying. For others, they can cause an allergic reaction that leaves the skin covered in red, angry welts for days.Mosquitoes can also carry diseases such as West Nile virus, making protection necessary, not only to ward off pesky guests, but to protect your family’s health. Coating yourself — and your yard and kids — in chemicals is not the only solution.We talked with two experts on all-natural health and horticulture to find out how to keep the mosquitoes away and what to do when they bite. The best part of these prevention and treatment methods is that they are just as safe and effective for children as they are for adults.Defend your turfProfessional horticulturist Donna Kaufman and her husband, Kurt, have been helping people ward of mosquitoes in the back yard the natural way for 25 years. Both have bachelor’s degrees in horticulture and together they run Unique Landscaping in Colleyville, where the emphasis is on natural landscaping methods and water conservation.“The importance of conserving water is paramount and a natural side story to controlling mosquitoes,” Donna Kaufman says.She recommends that people who water their yards twice per week cut back to only once, but for a longer session. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so any excess can lead to a problem. Water deeply, then allow the ground to dry out before watering again. Of course, check with your local municipality to ensure you are following the current watering restrictions. (Fort Worth, for example, recently made Stage 1 watering restrictions permanent.)In places where water naturally collects, check and drain it regularly to avoid a pool of standing water. Adding a mosquito-repelling product that contains BTI can be a nontoxic alternative in places where you want water, such as a bird bath.“They are great for use in water gardens, flower pots, old automobile tires, bird baths, rain gutters, decorative ponds, ditches, roof gutters or wherever water accumulates,” Kaufman says. “If that water reservoir dries out, they will start working again when water is back.”The plants in your yard can also deter mosquitoes. Kaufman recommends installing plants that don’t need too much water in the summer to cut back on places where the bugs can breed. There are several species that are drought-tolerant and hardy in Tarrant County.Many herbs such as lemon grass, lemon balm rosemary, basil, catnip and thyme are thought to help deter pests naturally. American beautyberry is also popular among ranchers, as the leaves keep biting insects away from livestock.No matter what you plant, Kaufman says, do not plant too many things close together.“Allow wind and air movement, to prevent mosquitoes from harboring in areas where people will be,” she says.Protecting your skinDon’t want to spray your toddler with OFF! every time he goes outside to play? There are several options for natural mosquito repellents that you can make at home and apply to the skin. JoAnn Baker, the healthy living manager at Central Market’s division office in Dallas, recommends essential oils. Some of the most effective are tea tree oil, lavender oil and citronella oil — the most popular. Citronella is commonly found in candles and diffusers that can be set around the yard to fend off mosquitoes. (As with any open flame, do not leave them unattended.) Essential oils can be purchased at most health food stores or “healthy living” sections of better grocery stores and are sold in small bottles containing a few ounces. The lid should have a dropper that allows you to portion the oil.To use essential oils properly, you need a carrier oil. This can be any type of food-safe oil, such as olive, sunflower, avocado or nut oils, the expert says.“I like almond oil best because it has a nicer fragrance,” Baker says. Of course, those with allergies need to check product ingredients. Sesame oil is an alternative for people with tree nut allergies.To make your own mosquito repellent, place your carrier oil in a small plastic spray bottle. Add essential oils based on your scent preference. The ratio should be 5 to 6 drops of the essential oil for every teaspoon of carrier oil. You can use one or a combination of essential oils. Mix the solution thoroughly, and then mist the oil on your skin generously before heading outside. You can apply as often as necessary and store in a cool place. Fabric wristbands containing essential oils are an alternative to the spray.Salving your bitesEven with the best deterrents, some people are just too tasty for a mosquito to pass up.For a naturally soothing salve to rub on a bite, grow your own aloe vera. The plant is easy to maintain and propagate through cuttings. It does well indoors during cold months and can be moved outdoors when the weather is warm. Cut off a small piece and peel back the skin to rub it directly on your bites.“Aloe vera is the best,” Donna Kaufman says. “It enriches the skin and takes away the itch.”Baker recommends any cream that is anti-inflammatory. Calendula cream is also soothing.
What to do
The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends the following for everyone:
1. Use insect repellent every time you go outdoors and follow the label instructions.
2. Drain standing water everywhere.
3. Wear pants and long sleeves in early morning or evening, when mosquitoes are most active.
4. Keep mosquitoes out of the house by securing screens on doors and windows.