Natural Bug Remedies – For Your Garden, Your Kids, and Yourself

Today is a glorious day. We’ve been sitting out under our oak tree, both sons and I, in the afternoons — until my older son sees his favorite playmate across the street, and my little one decides he needs a change of pace (at least that’s how I interpret his nonverbal objections). Today is no different, except that I am noticing how timely our latest batch of homemade bug repellent is turning out to be – just made on Friday at the first sign of trouble, I now am watching the bugs hover. The repellent is working, but leave one spot uncovered (the back of Aidan’s knees were left perilously unsprayed) and they are there. I watch one mosquito literally hang out in the air around us, never landing…but it’s only a matter of time until hundreds are out to join him — and eventually one will be intrepid enough to risk stench of geranium and make his move…

So what else can we do? I joke about it, but mosquitos are one of the most unpleasant hazards of Austin summer for a California girl, not to mention occasionally dangerous transmitters of diseases I’d rather not blog about from any personal experience (and don’t wish on you either). I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do by anyone, yet I’ll be bossed around by these tiny tyrants — hiding indoors, occasionally even running out of town for a break from it all. And we don’t have it the worst in the country, by any means. (Here at least, we have swarms of bats that live under our downtown bridge, who mercifully eradicate vast quantities of the problem for their dinner.)

Well, I’m not being run indoors so quickly this year. We’ve got the natural repellent (and it really is fantastic), we’ve got the bug bite remedies, now for some other solutions to keep our backyard the kid-friendly haven that we love…

  1. Remove Standing Water. We don’t have any (unfortunately, says my son, as he yearns for his own swimming pool), but if you do have a bird bath, swimming pool, or unchecked rain gutters, it’s amazing how fast mosquitoes will multiply if the water remains stagnant. Replace water regularly in bird baths, clear all potential clogs from the rain gutters, and, if you do have a pool — a) don’t tell my son about it, and b) make sure you are running the pump/filter long enough to ‘move’ the water — on average, it takes 8 hours to turn over an entire pool’s water, or so a pool tech explains it to me. This should be done at least once per week. You’ll also want to make sure the pool’s filter is working optimally and isn’t clogged as well. (I’ve been given a wonderful explanation on how to tell this by the surface ripples on the water, but without a visual demo, I’m lost — ask any good pool maintenance person for tips on this.) Create movement in ornamental ponds by adding fish (there are mosquito-eating fish I hear). The bottom line is that mosquito larvae thrive in stagnant water, and many lay their eggs on the surface.
  2. Plant Your Summer Garden with Marigolds. Marigolds are heaven’s gift in that they are both lovely on the eyes and repellent to mosquitoes simultaneously. Just know that they have to have a scent to them in order to work effectively in this regard. And while you’re planting…consider planting your garden with lavender, basil and catnip as well. Not only are these great ingredients for natural repellents and bug bite remedies, but their natural smell in the garden will discourage mosquitoes (and other pests). You can plant your basil next to your tomato plants to give them some pest protection (we’ve despaired of planting tomatoes in this climate, but perhaps you haven’t, brave souls!)
  3. Burn sage, rosemary, artemisia. Together or by themselves, sage, rosemary and artemisia give off pleasant, woodsy aromas that are unpleasant to bugs. Just be prepared — if you’re burning artemisia (also called moxa, which can be picked up in stick form from Asian markets or acupuncturists offices), your neighbors and guests may wonder if you’re smoking something…well, something that rhymes with ‘berry-fauna’.
  4. Buy a nontoxic mosquito trap. Hausbell makes a safety and eco-friendly with chemical free trap.
  5. Break out the pure vanilla. Caught without your supply of mosquito repellent, and don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the outdoor bbq? Mix 1 Tblsp pure vanilla extract (put this in your kitchen cabinet and it will also make your cookies taste better, I promise), with 1 Tblsp of witch hazel and/or water. Or rub it directly onto the pulse points of you and your little ones — behind the neck, ears, wrists, and puh-leaze mama, don’t forget the back of the knees again.
  6. Cover up. Come on, get modest. You do get vitamin D from the sun, but not between dusk and dawn. I put my little babe in sweet lightweight pants with the footsies and he’s all set. My big little one didn’t used to like to take his Spiderman outfit off (complete with Spidey-galoshes) even in the dead of Summer, so our greatest fear was heatstroke, not mosquitoes. We’ll see how it is this year.
  7. Hope to be blessed by common sense. Or good friends. Or both. Some years ago, my husband saw some lovely little tadpoles that had come to swim in a vase of few-day-old flowers. Not an animal lover by nature, he was still touched at the fortitude of these little beings, and wondered when we could expect frogs? He took extra efforts not to change the water. When our friend, a veterinarian, came over for dinner, Brian was quick to take him back to look at his crop of little tadpoles. Overcoming great laughter, our friend informed him that he was breeding mosquitoes. So if you need any extras, come on over to our place. We take good care of our biting friends here.

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