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Q: Mike: I want to eliminate/minimize the mosquitoes in my yard. A high strength garlic product on the web called 'Mosquito Barrier' is advertised as a 'No Poison' solution. Have you or any of your listeners had any experience with it? I have dogs; and wild animals like fox, raccoon, and possum pass through the yard, so I don't want to use poisons. Thank you.
---Linda in Stockton, NJ
Dear Mike: On a recent show you mentioned a garlic-based spray that kept mosquitoes away for two weeks. I couldn't find the info on your website; can you help?
---Valerie, once of Norris town; now Pocahontas, Arkansas
A. Sure thing, Val. Now, that info was contained in a Question of the Week last year, so it—along with a lot of other helpful advice on a number of different subjects—can be found at the YBYG section of www.GardensAlive.com, which you can easily reach by clicking on the "Previous Questions of the Week" link at our site, www.YouBetYourGarden.org. But you know, it's also time for a refresher on keeping those nasty little blood-suckers at bay, so…
There are several garlic-based sprays on the market. "Mosquito Barrier" and "Garlic Barrier" are two of the best known; available in both highly concentrated (99+% garlic) and dilute formulations in a variety of sizes, you mix them with water and apply using any standard sprayer. "Mosquito Repellent" from St Gabriel Laboratories is a pre-mixed 16% formula in a quart-sized spray bottle you hook up to a garden hose to treat 5,000 square feet of outdoor area. You'll find all three products (and other, similar ones) at some retail outlets; and on the web, ofcourse—just search the names.
Apparently, any mosquitoes (and similar pests, like chiggers, midges, ticks and gnats) directly hit by the initial spray are killed; then new blood-sucking fiends are repelled from the area for two to six weeks, despite the smell dissipating (to our noses at least) after an hour orso. Listeners have told me that the sprays work well; and here's a link to a website that features testimonials from city officials, camp ground keepers, a minor league baseball team and even a professional crop duster: http://organicbugspray.com/mosquitobarrier/testimonials.html
The stuff doesn't affect mammals, earthworms or the like; and Mosquito Barrier specifically states it won't harm beneficial insects—although it adds that you shouldn't hit butterflies and bees directly. Garlic sprays are even approved for use in organic agriculture by OMRI—(Organic Materials Review Institute)—the agency changed with deciding which pest controls can be used on certified organically grown crops.
Q. Hi Mike - We have flies that stay in the back yard, and mosquitoes that only bother us in the front yard. (I didn't know bugs had segregation!) I've got to bathe in DEET to keep from being carried off by the mosquitoes! Can you help?
---Marcia in Flower Mound, TX
Mike: We had great success with the lemon eucalyptus bug repellent you mentioned on your show, but I haven't been able to find it this year and was thinking of trying a Gardens Alive product called Sting Free. Do you have an opinion on its effectiveness?
---Amy in Glenside, PA
A. Yes, but first I want to announce great news on the DEET-free front: In April of this year, the CDC (the Federal Centers for Disease Control) finally got off their high toxin horse and acknowledged that a non-chemical product—"Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent"—is effective at preventing mosquito bites. (As you might expect, its repellency comes from a lemon-scented eucalyptus plant.)
Interestingly, the CDC shrugged off the other non-DEET repellent that's been proven to be effective in medical studies, acknowledging that "Bite Blocker" prevents mosquito bites, but deciding that it didn't last long enough for them to endorse. (Bite Blocker's declared active ingredient is soybean oil, but the repellency is more likely due to the extract of lemon-scented geranium it also contains.) Oh, and that "Sting Free" product from Gardens Alive IS Bite Blocker under another name. You'll find Bite Blocker in some drug stores, and—ofcourse!—direct from Gardens Alive as Sting Free. (Oh, and ask them why they call it "Sting Free", will ya? Mosquitoes don't STING—they BITE!)
A little bit more about that medical proof: In a 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, North Carolina dermatologist Mark Fradin, M.D. found that "Bite Blocker" provided complete protection from mosquito bites for an hour and half—not long enough for the DEET-happy CDC, but longer than one of the DEET products he tested. (Canadian researchers testing Bite Blocker got much better results—three and a half hours of "complete protection" in two 1996 field trials.)
In a follow-up study reported by Dr. Fradin (the samples arrived too late to be included in the main section of his published paper), Repel's Lemon Eucalyptus product provided complete protection for an average of two hours under the same test conditions. Its available on the web and at camping stores—but make sure you get the right stuff. Repel also makes a lot of repellents that contain the nasty chemical DEET.
And make no mistake—DEET is nasty. Plant based repellents need to be reapplied because they eventually evaporate into the air. DEET goes the OTHER way—it gets absorbed through your skin, exiting your body through your liver and kidneys. No thank you. I'd much rather put Bite Blocker or the Lemon Eucalyptus stuff on twice than have DEET says hello to my liver even once!
Many lemon-scented herbs, including lemon balm, lemon thyme and lemon scented geraniums, are also very effective at repelling skeeters. Just strip off the fresh leaves and rub them on any exposed skin. (This is why I tolerate the highly invasive lemon balm in my garden—so I can rub it all over myself when the sun goes down.)
Catnip also works extremely well. I just spoke with the researcher who discovered this herb's mosquito repelling properties—Dr. Joel Coats, Professor of entomology and toxicology at Iowa State University—and he tells me that there are at least three repellents on the market using catnip oil as their active ingredient, but none are yet licensed by the University. He adds that, just as with lemon-scented plants, simply crushing up fresh catnip leaves and rubbing them on your skin works very well.
And he adds that he's recently discovered something even better! Naturally occurring compounds in the extremely bizarre looking fruit of the Osage orange tree, he explains, are great at repelling skeeters. Initially, Osage orange works just as well as the lemon-scented herbs and catnip (which again, protect you completely for the first couple of hours just as well as DEET), but its repellency lasts much longer—up to six hours in initial studies. That's better than the nasty DEET product "Deep Woods Off"!
We'll keep you posted on these and other exciting new developments. In the meantime, if your friends catch you rubbing Osage oranges all over your neck and arms, feel free to blame us.
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2005 Mike McGrath