The dangers of Zika from mosquito bites
As of February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, since it's been reported in 55 countries around the world, including the United States. Fortunately, only about 20 percent of people with the Zika virus show any symptoms at all, and most are very mild. The most common Zika virus symptoms include conjunctivitis (red eyes), rash, fever, sore joints, and headache. Pregnant women, however, should take special care to avoid Zika virus, which can spread to unborn babies and cause a number of health issues, including microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby's head is smaller than expected due to abnormal brain development. Zika virus is commonly transmitted through just a few species of mosquitoes, the pesky little critters you try to keep away from your outdoor activities anyway. So, if you already know how to avoid mosquito bites, and you take your usual precautions to ward off mosquitoes, you're off to a good start. If you haven't yet tried repelling mosquitoes naturally using plants, it's an excellent time to begin! (Here are the fast facts you need to know about the Zika virus.)
Basil is not just for adding amazing flavor to your favorite dishes. This herb has major gardening benefits, like attracting bees, enhancing the flavor of other plants, and perhaps most important, repelling pesky mosquitoes. Matteo Grader, a pest control specialist for the London-based pest control company, Panther Pest Control, says gardeners highly recommend planting basil in the garden as a mosquito deterrent, thanks to its strong scent. Grader recommends also growing basil to make a natural mosquito repellent that won't harm your other plants. To do this, take about 100 grams of fresh basil leaves, picked right from your garden. Pour a half-cup of boiling water onto the leaves, and then a half-cup of vodka. Mix thoroughly and add the mixture to a clean spray bottle. Spray your natural, basil-based repellent in your outdoor area to keep mosquitoes at bay. (Bonus use: Basil is also a natural teeth whitener!)
Lemon balm contains a compound called citronellal, which has a very similar effect to the highly-repellent citronella. The lemony scent of lemon balm is also one that mosquitoes don't love, which makes it a perfect addition to your mosquito-repelling yard. Juan J. Rocha, Vice President of DynaTrap, suggests caution when planting lemon balm in the garden, though, because of its invasive properties. It can spread quickly once planted, soon taking over your other plants. It's best to plant this one in pots, keeping them near the areas in your yard where you want to control the mosquito population. Lemon balm is also a calming herb used to combat anxiety.
Your cat may go crazy for it, but mosquitoes will do anything to stay away from it. In fact, studies have shown that the essential oil in catnip, known as nepetalactone, is much more effective at repelling mosquitoes than store-bought bug sprays using DEET. The essential oil is so strong, that about one-tenth of it is needed to be just as effective as DEET. Catnip plants grow tall, so if you're planting them directly in your garden, do so in an area where it won't block your desired views.
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Pennyroyal is an extremely potent species of mint. If too much of its oil gets absorbed into the skin or consumed, it can be toxic to humans and animals. But, when grown and used carefully, pennyroyal is one of the most effective plants for repelling mosquitoes. You can plant a few pennyroyal plants close to the main gathering area of your outdoor space, like a seating area. Grader says that, for extra protection against mosquitoes, some people prefer to crush pennyroyal leaves and place them inside their pockets, where their strong odor still helps repel the pests. Here are more substances that mosquitoes hate.
Citronella has long been favored as one of the most effective plants that repel mosquitoes, which is why outdoor candles and bug sprays are often made with its oils. You can plant citronella grass right into your garden, and optimize its efficiency by planting it near other repelling plants, like lavender. Citronella thrives in a variety of climates and soils, so it's also one of the easiest plants to grow and maintain. Here are some weird reasons mosquitoes love to bite you.
Who knew such a sweet-smelling flower would also be one of the best plants to repel mosquitoes? Fortunately, mosquitoes dislike most of the scents humans find pleasing, and lavender is one of them. Rocha explains that carbon dioxide is one of the most pleasant scents for female mosquitoes, since their main sources of blood meal, like humans and animals, emit the scent. Lavender's calming, flowery scent is about as opposite as you can get from a scent that appeals to mosquitoes. If you want to get your lavender doing double duty, use it as a natural mosquito repellent, placing a few drops on your wrists or ankles. Learn about more incredible uses of lavender oil.
Arguably one of the most beautifully simple flowers, marigolds bring more than just specks of bright reds, oranges, and yellows to the garden. Their scent is also attractive to the human nose, but highly unattractive to mosquitoes. Amy Lawhorne, vice president of the tick and mosquito control company, Mosquito Squad, suggests planting marigolds in pots to place near common mosquito entry points of the home, like windows and doorways. Or, place several pots of marigolds on your deck or main outdoor gathering area to keep mosquitoes away.
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Garlic has long been used to repel mosquitoes from humans. Eating garlic leaves the potent scent and taste in your bloodstream, making you a less tasty meal for mosquitoes. Most people don't think to plant garlic, though, which can have a similar effect on mosquitoes in your yard. Its strong scent lingers through its shoots, and mosquitoes will want no part of the area in which they're planted.
Best ways to use mosquito-repellent plants
As the weather gets warmer, it's important to learn how to repel mosquitoes near your home by using your plants effectively. Although the United States isn't as prone to a Zika outbreak as other countries, it's still wise to take precautions. Your mosquito-repelling plants can only be effective, however, if you use them properly. Often, the best way to prevent mosquitoes from invading your space is to plant several repellent plants in a small area, or plant them in pots, which can be easily moved to where you need them. "If you enjoy working in your garden, you may get some relief from mosquitoes by interspersing your repellent plants among your other plants to keep the mosquitoes off you while you garden," Lawhorne suggests. Rocha stresses the importance of combating the majority of the mosquitoes before they hatch, which will allow your plants to more effectively control live mosquitoes. Rocha says you can do this by "getting rid of any sources of water where they may be able to hatch, including in wheel barrows, buckets, and dishes under flower pots, children's wading pools, clogged rain gutters, over-irrigated lawns, used tires, and any other items that may collect water, and thus, becoming a place for mosquitoes to thrive."