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The Iowa Gardener | Don't let mosquitoes keep you from garden

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mosquito
Thinkstock mosquito

With all the recent heavy rains and flooding lately here in Iowa, we’re having a record year for mosquitoes.

There are a number of ways to make them bug off, but first, let’s dispel a few myths. Again and again, university research has shown that citronella candles do not work, though they are great for evening ambience. Citronella oil dabbed on the skin also doesn’t work. Bug zappers do kill the little varmints, of course, but research also shows that there are so many mosquitoes that as soon as you thin out the population in your yard, they’ll just come over from the neighbors’. And those electronic gizmos that promise they’ll drive them away? They also don’t work.

So let’s focus on what does work. The most effective way (next to a screened porch), hands down, is a good mosquito repellent.

Despite concerns, DEET remains the most effective ingredient in sprays and creams that repel mosquitoes. (And it’s been extensively researched for decades with little evidence of ill effects.) If you are still concerned, check out the new formulas with oil of eucalyptus and picaridin, which also are shown to work. Forget about other repellents (including using Skin So Soft) since there’s little evidence that they are effective.

The higher the active ingredient concentration, the longer the formulation will work. Off! Deep Woods! has a DEET concentration of 23.8 and has been found in a University of Florida study to repel insects for five hours. Compare that to OFF! Skintastic for Kids with a DEET concentration of just 4.7 percent and a protection time cited at 1.5 hours. (Most insect repellents are not recommended for children under 2. Read package directions carefully.)

It’s critical that you cover as much of your skin as possible, including the back of your neck and ears. They’ll bite any places you missed. Also don’t be afraid to put a light mist over any tight clothing, assuming it won’t stain the fabric, so they won’t bite through.

And go for a variety of ways to apply. Sprays are good for arms and legs and on top of clothing. Creams are better for faces and necks. The new towelettes are good for packing for picnics or hikes.

If you’re in a situation where you’re sweating heavily or are getting wet, just as with sunblock, reapply frequently.

Other ways to keep skeeters from biting:

• Avoid being out at dawn and dusk, mosquitoes’ most active time.

• Wear loose, light clothing that covers. The movement of the fabric makes it tough for them to land on you and take a nip. Avoid tight, dark clothing — many a mosquito has bitten right through a pair of tight jeans or fitted black T-shirt.

• Seek out a breeze. Mosquitoes don’t like wind. Time gardening for breezier spells. Or if sitting on a porch or deck, consider using a fan. A ceiling fan is ideal. If you choose to use a traditional fan, make sure it’s plugged into a GFCI outlet to avoid electrical shock. And never use it when it’s wet out.

Once you’re bit, there are some things you can do to ease the itch. The most effective way to ease the itch of a mosquito bite is to use a commercial preparation made specifically for mosquito bites. Look for those containing histamines for the fastest, most complete relief.

Those with hydrocortisone also are effective. With all formulations, look for the convenient “stick” types, which put just a dab precisely where you need it. I use one called After Bite.

For a quick, handy home remedy, put an ice cube on the bite. It doesn’t have a long-term effect, but it numbs the bite and it can be a great way to placate a complaining child. Teach them to scratch in a circle around the bite rather than the bite itself, which can become raw and open with scratching.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of the Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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