Gardening and Mosquitoes: A Journey Through My Search History

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I have two things I want to do when the winter is over:

I will plant a garden.

I will rid myself of mosquitoes for the rest of my life.

I figured, for a short time, that I could kill two birds with one stone. I’ve heard that some plants can deter mosquitoes, so I think I will plant these plants in the spring and have my beautiful Italian garden that I can tend to without needing to cover every inch of my skin with loose clothing and bug spray.

I have two balconies in my apartment, one facing roughly north and one facing roughly south. Right now the plants there are ornamental. They serve no purpose, really, except to cover my balcony with leaves and tiny, inedible berries.

Maybe it’s not realistic for me to believe I can solve all mosquitoes, but never underestimate the rage of a big, smart animal who is constantly bested by teeny-tiny, dumb insects. Big, smart animals always win, right?

This summer has been an infuriating cycle of researching mosquito sprays, getting bitten all over, then covering myself with the damn chemical spray. The mosquitoes here are so aggressive that I can feel one slam into my leg. It feels like a little tap. I slap the spot on my leg, missing the mosquito, who has somehow happily flown off to a dark corner to wait. A search for “mosquito repellant plants” yields a promising list of plants, including lemon balm, basil, lemongrass, lavender, and marigold. There are even helpful pictures.

Three minutes and twenty taps later, everything is itchy and swollen, yelling “COME AT ME YOU TINY FLYING BASTARDS!” and I get to thinking: if basil and rosemary really repelled mosquitoes, then Italy would be a very different country.

I switch gears. “Plants that repel mosquitoes research”. If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that there are people whose jobs it is to figure out what mosquitoes like and dislike.

That’s where I found that having plants alone don’t actually do anything to repel anything. It’s essential oils that repel bugs. Since ancient times, people have burnt the plants or hung them fresh in doorways. Smoke seems to be the most effective, the more pungent, the better. I google, do citronella candles work? Apparently they don’t.

Another search. Mosquito repellent for home. For some reason, google takes this to mean “DIY Insect Repellent recipes". Ok, that sounds fine. I can buy essential oils. I will be a spicy earth goddess. Mosquitoes will bow before me.

It turns out that essential oils on their own are too volatile to be reliable without some sort of fixative. So basically, if DIY remedies work at all, they only work for a set amount of time before the oil dissipates. I’ve been down this road before. Natural sprays from the store smell like I’m being jaunted by the ghosts of rancid air fresheners past. It’s not for me.

Ok, so what about coconut oil? They use that on babies in the islands. It has always seemed to work. I found a study where results were promising, but apparently not for straight up coconut oil. They tested fatty acids in coconut oil at various concentrations, not coconut oil itself.

I am back to square one on my mosquito goal. Except blog posts on the progress of my garden this winter. When all the bugs die.

Shelly Welch