Garden Plot: Don’t wait until ‘mosquito week’ to stop your skeeters

National Mosquito Control Awareness Week won’t be “celebrated” until later this month (June 23-29, to be precise), and by then it will be too late to know anything other than the fact you’ve got more bite marks on you than … than … OK, whatever I say here will get me into trouble, so let’s just say a lot of bites.

That’s because the first female mosquitoes of the season are biting now and laying eggs that will hatch in roughly 10 days. So if you wait until the end of June to take action, you’ll be bitten by the great-granddaughters of the first mosquito that got you.

First course of action

Clean your gutters! They are the single biggest unseen breeding source for your local mosquito population.

We’re fighting two very different fiends

To prevent mosquito bites, we have always been told to empty out any standing water on our property, such as wheelbarrows and pet food dishes. That’s fine for dealing with the old-school mosquitoes that come out to play at dusk and dawn because those females overwinter in the adult stage and need to quickly find a water source in which to lay their eggs after they bite you in the spring. 

But the “new and improved”, day-flying mosquitoes, such as the Asian tiger, laid their eggs back in the fall, essentially “gluing” the egg masses to objects that will fill with water sometime over the spring and summer, making the “search and drain” technique useless.

Ah, but there is a way to fight both types of mosquitoes, and it doesn’t involve toxic insecticides …

BTI: Bite taming intercession!

The first mosquitoes of the season are now appearing. The females are looking for a “blood meal” — that would be you — after which they will lay their eggs in the nearest source of standing water. That’s where a substance known as BTI saves the day. BTI is a naturally occurring soil organism with a unique property. Applied to standing water in dunk, briquette or granular form, BTI prevents mosquito eggs from developing into biting adults.

And unlike chemical larvicides BTI does not affect any other life form. Birds can drink BTI-treated water. Your dog can (and probably will) drink it. Frogs and toads can live in it. The only thing that BTI does to water is to prevent mosquitoes from growing up in it. How cool is that?
A company called “Summit” is the leading producer of BTI for the retail garden center market.

Their products include long-lasting mosquito “dunks” (recommended for large water sources) and fast-acting BTI granules (better for areas of your property that stay wet after rains).

BTI: Better Trapping Invention!

The old advice for fighting off mosquitoes was to “empty all the standing water on your property.” That was good advice decades ago, but it won’t stop the first generation of the newer menace — the day-flying Asian tiger mosquito — from hatching.

That why the new advice is to deliberately surround your property with a lot of standing water: Fill up wheelbarrows, buckets, cat food cans, whatever you got. Treat that water now with BTI, and you’ll wipe out that all-important first generation.

Cut to Azaleas

Powell in Burke, Virginia, writes:

“My azalea bushes are glorious when they’re in bloom, but they’re badly overgrown and in need of aggressive trimming. What is the best way to do so without damaging them?”

It’s not so much “how,” as “when.” Luckily, your timing is perfect. Spring bloomers, such as azalea, rhododendron, forsythia, lilacs and the like, should be pruned right after they finish blooming.

If the plants are still small, just prune off the faded flower heads to encourage new growth and vigorous bloom next season. If they’re overgrown, you can remove up to one-third of the plant, and no more. If you need to do more than that, spread the work out over several springs.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.

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