Q: Our town is not one of those being sprayed for mosquitoes, but I wish it were. It’s absolutely impossible to work outside in the evening without spraying myself with repellent — and even with long sleeves and long pants, they absolutely swarm around. How can I make gardening and other activities more enjoyable? How long is this bug invasion going to last? And even if I can keep my population down, what good will it do if all my neighbors don’t do the same thing?
A: Mosquito season won’t be over until a hard freeze. Mosquitoes live until first frost in October — and that’s more than six weeks in the future. Here are some precautions you can take:
Without water, mosquitoes can’t breed and multiply.
What can you do? Remove all still or standing water from your garden — this means in saucers under plants, children’s wading pools, pets’ water dishes (if they are changed every day or two, don’t worry about them — mosquitoes take about a week in still water to lay eggs and hatch).
Remove toys such as trucks and all other junk such as tires and tarps and plastic bags and tin cans — anything that can hold water for even a few weeks. Fix that leaky faucet — mosquitoes can breed in wet soil where it drips. Fix the screens, too. Turn over wheelbarrows at the end of the day — don’t let them accumulate stagnant water while you’re on vacation. Don’t forget to clean the gutters. Clogged and leaf-filled gutters can be a perfect breeding pool for mosquitoes — and they’re close to your windows.
What about artificial fish and lily ponds in the yard that can’t be drained every two days? Buy inexpensive goldfish that will eat the larva and break the breeding cycle. Aerate water with a solar fountain or a “water wiggler,” which constantly agitates water so mosquitoes won’t breed there.
Treat water you can’t eliminate: Use a deterrent such as Mosquito Dunks, which are doughnut-shaped rings made of BTI, a safe natural compound that interrupts the breeding cycle. BTI is safe around wildlife, pets and kids who might drink from birdbaths. For larger areas, there are Mosquito Bits, a product that is sprinkled on wet areas from a shaker can. Both types must be replaced or reapplied every 30 days and are available at garden centers.
Scientists say this is the worst season because of weather for West Nile virus since 2004. So don’t garden during the twilight hours when mosquitoes are most active. And don’t use scented cosmetics in the garden — scents attract bugs.
Cleaning out every drop of standing water will help your yard and your neighborhood. Mosquitoes have a range of one to three miles — but you can make a difference by cleaning out standing water.
Q: I’ll be going to be on vacation over Labor Day, and my dog sitter says she doesn’t know enough to look after my garden, too. I have a small garden but don’t want to lose a thing, also about a dozen houseplants that are outside the porch that dry out very quickly and just one hanging basket. How do I save them? I’ll be gone about 10 days.
A: Ten days is too long to completely ignore a garden and houseplants. Hopefully, your dog sitter — or a neighbor — will be able to help you out.
Make it simple for them:
Try using a soaker hose on a timer for the garden area. Could the dog sitter just turn the hose on when she cares for the dog, then turn it off when she leaves? Or how about the neighbor? Then you wouldn’t even need the timer. Houseplants will need almost daily watering, but many plant-waterers, especially if they’re inexperienced, are afraid they are overwatering. Group them together to make watering easy, and set them on the grass or deck so they can be watered at the same time. Just ask them to dump standing water every day or so. Try standing them on a deck or grassy surface or place them in the garden — overwatering won’t hurt them if the plants can drain excess water onto the ground. Plan to take an hour before you leave to show them how to water, and your plants will be in good condition when you get home.
This week’s dirt
As the sun angle changes from day to day, check your houseplants living outside. They may need to be moved to a shadier — or sunnier — spot.
Deadhead, deadhead and deadhead some more, between the weeding and watering! Summer’s not over yet, and you’ll want to direct plant energy to another 6
0 days of bloom by deadheading and keeping gardens as weed-free as possible.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara by email at email@example.com or write to her c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.