Your early summer gardening and landscaping projects are all done and you are looking forward to enjoying the fruits of your labor with relaxation and recreation in your backyard only to discover that the insects got there first! Mosquitos crashing your barbecue? Beetles in your garden? Bees at the hummingbird feeder? More than any other in Northeast Ohio, August is the month of bugs!
So, are there ways of combating these backyard party crashers without interfering with the natural environment you have been working so hard to create? Of course! With a combination of science and a little human ingenuity, we can use nature to help overcome these backyard invaders.
With the early summer rains and humidity that we have experienced this season, Wildlife Garden customers have reported high levels of mosquito activity so far this year. Also contributing to the rise of mosquito populations is the decline of their most effective natural predator–bats. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, declines in Ohio’s most abundant species, Little Brown Bats, have reached as high 99% in some areas of our state. Much of this decline is linked to a disease known as White Nose Syndrome that is affecting bats throughout a wide portion of the country. Professional biologists hoping to reverse this decline are faced with a difficult challenge due to the relatively low birth-rate of just one pup per year exhibited by these bats. One of the ways that you can help this endeavor is by participating in their citizen scientist bat survey project. You can find details and sign up at Bat Roost Monitoring. Another way that you can encourage bats to feast on your backyard mosquito crop is to mount bat roosting boxes. While increasing bat populations may provide better mosquito control over the long term, a more immediate remedy may be to provide natural chemical deterrents. Mosquitos and some other night flying insects have a highly developed olfactory system (sense of smell) and can be repelled by certain naturally occurring scents. You can check out both bat houses and new natural mosquito repellent products the next time you stop at the Wildlife Garden.
Bees at the hummingbird feeder? Some hummingbird feeder designs are much better than others at excluding bees and other flying insects. We prefer horizontal reservoir designs (i.e. flat disk-shaped feeders) and feeders with no colors other than red on them. Ask us why!
Finally, what can you do about beetles and other insect garden pests? Praying Mantises are probably the most effective natural control for a wide range of garden insect pests. Praying Mantis populations can be supplemented by purchasing egg masses containing up to 200 mantis eggs. It is too late for this approach this year, but, according to our recent seminar presenter, Dr. Laurel Symes, it’s not too late for sticks! Explaining this low-tech, natural technique that she witnessed in practice in Costa Rican agriculture, gardeners installed sticks throughout their garden area, providing birds with convenient roosting areas. In return, the birds helped themselves to the insects on their vegetables!