You often do not see or hear them, but mosquitoes are making their presence known in the backyards of Brooklyn.
“It’s an issue a lot of my clients are dealing with,” says Katherine Aul, founder and principal of Staghorn NYC, a landscape and garden design firm based in the borough. “They either have just moved in and have heard how bad mosquitoes can be here and want to know how to eradicate them, or they already have a yard and a mosquito problem and want to know how to eradicate them.”
While there are some 70 species of the flying insect in New York State, it’s two biters that are bugging residents from Bed Stuy to Bay Ridge. The common house mosquito, the Culex pipiens, has been sucking the fun out of summer for hundreds of years. But the Asian tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus, is a newcomer.
“We started seeing them on the Gulf Coast in the ’80s,” Janet McAllister, research entomologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Brownstoner. “They have recently moved into the area and their population is growing.”
The Asian tiger makes the common house mosquito seem like a pussycat in comparison. It will feed indiscriminately — targeting, say, squirrels, cats, dogs or humans — it will feed during the day, and it will come back for more. “It’s an aggressive biter,” McAllister said. “It doesn’t have a limiting factor in terms of blood meals.”
It also finds both the relatively predator-free natural — and unnatural — shallow-water sources that are abundant in the urban area fitting for reproduction.
These qualities have placed the pest under the scrutiny of the CDC as a possible vector for the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. For most homeowners, however, it’s the outbreak of itchy bumps that have them fleeing indoors and plotting revenge.
But eradication of mosquitoes isn’t the solution, McAllister cautions. Instead, it’s about managing the population of biters while having less impact on the overall species. Here’s how:
6. Get rid of stagnant water.
All mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, but the thrifty Asian tiger only needs that H2O to be about a quarter-inch deep to complete its life cycle. That means even a single bottle cap left out in the rain can be a source for reproduction, as can untended plastic cups, children’s toys, kiddie pools, pool covers, garbage cans, bends in gutters, broken tree limbs, and flowerpot trays.
5. Tidy often.
Not up to the daily task of tidying your yard? Weekly inspections are just as effective, as water has to be still for five to seven days to suit the Asian tiger’s eggs. If receptacles cannot be removed or overturned, scrub them to remove any trace of the eggs that may be present.
“If you are vigilant when the weather starts to warm up and get a jump on mosquitoes early, then later in the year you can do less control,” says McAllister, adding that the insects begin reproducing when the temperatures reach the upper 50s and 60s.
4. Think about drainage.
“The issue is wet and damp conditions,” said Alice S. Marcus Krieg, principal of Brooklyn-based garden design firm Groundworks. To discourage these conditions when she plans a client’s backyard, she thinks about drainage to keep condensation at a minimum.
If a patio is incorporated, she ensures it has a pitch that directs water away from the house. She favors materials such as stone or hard woods such as ipe and teak that take a long time to get wet and then dry quickly. She also sets the patio into a concrete bed as opposed to a moisture-loving gravel or grass one.
3. Encourage air circulation.
A privacy fence may keep the neighbors out; it may also encourage mosquitoes to stay in. A better option is a perimeter that is low and has slats about two inches apart — or other gaps — to allow air to flow freely and to keep your backyard ventilated and dry.
This same principle applies to your garden plants. “Overcrowded or overgrown garden beds are mosquito magnets,” Aul said. She recommends keeping plants pruned so they are not touching and obstructing those beneficial summer breezes.
2. While you’re at it, add a fan.
For natural ways to repel the pesky critters, DEET-free insect repellents, spreadable mosquito-beating granules, and citronella candles help. But Marcus Krieg swears by another go-to. “The best preventative is a fan,” she explains. “Bugs hate wind.” She suggests plugging in a fan about an hour prior to spending time on your patio, and then keeping it on as you enjoy the space. If possible, even consider installing a permanent fan into the ceiling of a pergola or other built-in element.
1. Join forces.
Still swarmed every time you step outside? It may be time to talk to your neighbors about making mosquito management a community effort. “Mosquitoes don’t respect property lines,” McAllister explained. “If you clean your yard, but your neighbor doesn’t, you won’t see an impact. Everyone needs to do their individual part.”