I hate using chemicals or toxins on or around my family– especially the kids. But beautiful weather does invite it’s fair share of pesky critters: ants, flies, mosquitoes and the dreaded lyme-spreading tick. Classic patio bug-repelling candles and tiki torches are okay, but not great for those sensitive to the smells and don’t like to breath in smokey fumes. And although DEET (used in your traditional bug sprays like OFF!) works for repelling most insects, I personally don’t really need to douse our clothing in radioactive substances for a little immunity to annoying mosquitoes. Below are a few natural and easy ways to keep these nuisances at bay in and around your backyard, patio or terrace.
1. Invest in Essential Oils.
Lemon eucalyptus is possibly one of the most well-known and widely recognized natural solutions for repelling mosquitoes. Try to find the plant to keep around your home, and most importantly I would purchase the essential oil to properly dilute and apply to clothing or pulse points. The more you can keep this scent around, the fewer of those blood suckers you will have to slap off. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ironically, notoriously anti-natural solutions) has even admitted that the plant is as effective as DEET in mosquito repelling. There’s also a ton of other essential oils that repel mosquitoes including lavender, thyme, peppermint, clove, tea tree, citronella, real vanilla, etc. The most effective essential oils for tick prevention however are Cedarwood oil and Rose Geranium (with LAtin names Pelargonium capitatum x radens or Pelargonium x asperum), and these are what I use in my homemade tick repellant spray.
2. Get a Green Thumb.
Like I started to state above, there are so many plants that repel bugs and especially mosquitoes: think marigolds, citronella (also known as lemongrass), cascading geraniums, lemon balm, lavender… A bonus is that most of the plants that repel bugs have beautiful scents that add the most wonderful aromas to your gardenscape. These plants are generally sun-loving, prolific growers, and best of all, very easy to care for. And for those of you with a feline friend, researchers with Iowa State University found Catnip to be 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes!
3. Herb Bouquets.
While herb gardens work great, many times you aren’t really hanging out close enough to your garden to reap the full benefits. Mosquitoes hate rosemary, sage, lavender, thyme, basil serves double duty as it repels flies too, ants as well as flies & mosquitoes hate mint plants, etc. so before heading out on the patio or on a camping trip, make a bouquet of herbs to bring along with you as your tabletop decor. Bonus: if you are using a BBQ, throw a bit of sage or rosemary on the hot coals when you are done to repel mosquitos as the smoke diffuses.
4. Spicy Centerpieces.
Bugs hate cinnamon and vanilla, so make a pretty centerpiece with the two in a mason jar or bowl. Other notorious repellents are cloves and citrus oils. Simply slice a lemon or lime in half and press in a good amount of cloves for an all-natural mosquito—and fly—repellent. A Mexican friend once told me that this is how the lime-in-the-corona originated: natives just wanted to keep the flies out of their beer. You can also make an arrangement of garlic bulbs, a proven repellant, but who the hell wants to smell raw garlic all night long?
5. Send the Bat Signal.
Buy or (if you/your husband are handy) build a bat house. Some bat species can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour (!!!) so invite these flying crusaders to hang around your yard by providing some cozy room and board. The more bat houses, the merrier.
6. Make (or buy) an Effective Spray.
For a DIY mosquito repellent, you’ll need essential oil and something to mix it with, like water and witch hazel or vodka. For best results, combine a few of the strongest different essential oils like lemon eucalyptus, citronella, cinnamon, cedarwood, and juniper. An easy recipe is to mix in a spray bottle and shake well to blend: 1 cup vodka with 1 cup water and any combination of the essential oils I’ve been talking about in this piece. I personally use a little bit of everything because I have an essential oil collection already, but if you don’t want to buy hundreds of bottles of EOs a good choice is to buy a premade essential oil blend, like this one from Rocky Mountain Oils. All you have to do is dilute this into your Water/Vodka mix in a spray bottle. If you just want to buy one, I’d suggest this Wondercide Natural Insect Repellent as the most effective bug spray, especially for ticks. It even comes in a variety of scents/flavors.
7. Clean Up Your Yard.
The most important part of bug control is actually bug prevention. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water (their life cycle is a mere 4-6 days), so if you have stagnant water in your yard for at least 4 days, you are just asking for mosquitoes to move in. As for ticks, there are hot zones you need to get rid of: standard woodchip and mulch piles (but you can use cedar wood mulch to repel ticks!), firewood piles, leaf piles and tall grass/overgrown brush and weeds– these are all breeding grounds for ticks. Here’s a really effective tip: Most ticks actually feed primarily on rodents; so you want to get rid of the mouse, chipmunk and other rodent dwellings in your yard. Alternatively, if you can’t get rid of them– get into their nests. You can make your own tubes or buy something like Thermacell Tick Control Tubes— they are basically a cardboard tube filled with a soft cotton material that is treated with a substance (most times it’s permethrin, which is an insecticide, so be careful handling it!). Basically, mice seek out this cozy nest material and collect it to line their nests underground, when the ticks that are feeding/hitching a ride on the mice encounter the treated material back at the nest, they die instantly (mice remain unharmed) thus reducing tick population drastically as well as preventing them from procreating. This last one may not be the most natural solution, but it was developed by Harvard University researchers and extremely effective.
Nutritionally, you can drink a tablespoon or two of organic apple cider vinegar and eat lots of garlic. Vitamin B1 taken daily is also supposed to help repel insects, as well as avoiding the outdoors at dusk to reduce your chances of getting bit during mosquito rush hour. It is also said that you should wear light clothing, avoid drinking beer, and essentially stop breathing all together LOL! (because carbon dioxide is really what draws mosquitoes in). In all reality though, stressing doesn’t help. I try to have regular tick checks in my house (be sure to check elusive warm areas like the scalp, behind your ears, armpits, and behind the knees!) and just be smart about being outside: Tall boots if you are walking through wooded or high brush areas, covering body parts if possible. However the 7 above are the best tips in my book– that actually work. Hope you have the same great experience during your next summer pow-wow.