As gardeners, we understand the value of many different species of insects in our gardens and home landscapes. Insects play several essential roles in the ecosystem, from pollination controlling other insect pests and providing a valuable link in the food web that sustains songbirds and small mammals.
For some insect species, however, the harm and inconvenience they cause to humans, livestock, or pets outweighs their benefits in the ecosystem. This is the case with the mosquito, which many gardeners inadvertently harbor.
There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes on Earth, with about 60 different species known in Ohio. In addition to being an annoyance through itchy bites, mosquitoes can transmit several diseases to humans and animals.
Mosquito life cycle
Mosquitoes are small, long-legged flies with slender bodies and are attracted to water. As adults, mosquitoes can feed on the nectar of plants, but female mosquitoes usually feed on human or animal blood to produce eggs. Adults can vary in length by approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Mosquitoes start out as eggs which are usually no bigger than the tip of a pencil and are laid on or near water. The eggs hatch into larvae called wigglers which turn into pupae called goblets. The larva and pupa live in the water while the adults are free-flying. Mosquitoes only lay their eggs in shallow, stagnant water.
When mosquitoes bite, they stick their tube-like mouthpart called proboscis into the skin and suck in blood. When female mosquitoes bite and suck blood, they release anticoagulants that prevent blood from clotting. While releasing blood thinners, mosquitoes can transmit parasites and viruses that cause illness and disease. Diseases that can originate from mosquitoes in Ohio are Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, La Crosse Virus, St. Louis Encephalitis Virus, and west nile virus.
water in the garden
In a quest to provide habitat for pollinators, birds, butterflies, wildlife, beneficial insects, and even bats, many gardeners have added aquatic features to their gardens and landscapes. These water features are also aesthetically pleasing and serve as a source of relaxation for gardeners who enjoy the sound of water flowing or moving in a fountain or cascade.
I have two fountains on my patio, a bubbling fountain in my perennial bed, four birdbaths in different garden beds, and a few small butterfly stones among the pollinator plantings. While these water sources are essential for birds, butterflies, pollinators and other insects in my gardens, they also provide a habitat where adult mosquitoes can lay eggs which quickly turn into adult mosquitoes looking for food. their next blood meal.
Other water sources where mosquitoes can lay eggs around the garden include garden ponds, rain gardens, depressions in the ground where puddles frequently form, and empty pots and containers. Even saucers under planting pots that catch water as it drips through the planting medium can provide a source of standing water where mosquitoes will lay their eggs. A single ounce of standing water can sustain a population of mosquito larvae.
Prevent egg laying
The most effective method to control the spread of mosquitoes in the garden and residential landscape is to eliminate all potential sites where mosquitoes can lay eggs. Bird baths should be emptied and cleaned weekly and the water from fountains and waterfalls should be circulated frequently to prevent the accumulation of organic matter and prevent the laying of mosquitoes. During periods of frequent rain, check drainage saucers under pots and containers and empty out any standing water.
garden ponds must include an aerator or be filled with fish that feed on mosquito eggs and larvae. Mosquito dunks containing spores of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis can also be added to ponds and large fountains to kill mosquito larvae. Unused jars and containers should be stored indoors or in sealed containers. Depressions in the ground where pools of water frequently form should be filled and leveled so that water can drain soon after storms.
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Although we are nearing the end of the gardening season, now is a great time to take stock of how your garden is draining and where water tends to pool so you can be better prepared for. next spring and summer. Plus, we still have plenty of warm days ahead of us to enjoy our birdbaths, so you can use the methods suggested above and hopefully relax without the buzzing of mosquitoes!
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at The Ohio State University and an educator at OSU Extension.