No methods foolproof against nature's pests
Keeping mosquitoes and all of their unpleasant friends away from outdoor spaces can be a job as frustrating as warding deer away from gardens.
The individual fight against bugs can lead to roll- or spray-on applications or even a new clip-on fan from Off!. But when the effort is aimed at keeping a patio or deck bug-free, it takes a different strategy.
Repellent companies such as Off!'s S.C. Johnson or the makers of ThermaCELL devices constantly are searching for effective methods. Meanwhile, horticulture experts ponder reports about plants that supposedly do the job, and end up throwing up their hands.
It is similar, they say, to dealing with deer-resistant plants, the ones that eventually become part of the animals' steady diet.
Sandy Feather, an educator from the Allegheny County office of the Penn State Extension Service, talks about the reputation scented geraniums have for chasing away insects.
"Do they really work?" she says, "You really can't say." She talks about the citrosa geranium getting credit for having the same effect as citronella candles. But she has her doubts about both.
"I think it's the smoke that keeps the insects away," she says about the candles.
It is a constant war that seems to have no easy truces.
A call to arms
When Pauline O'Keefe considers trying to keep an area bug-free, she looks at the popularity of zappers that kill bugs with a dash of electricity, carbon dioxide producers and the ever-popular citronella candles.
They all have their drawbacks, contends the communications director of the Schwebel Corp., which makes ThermaCELL products.
"Citronella can be a bit smelly, which is a real problem around food," she says from her Massachusetts office. "And with the other ones, you have to get the bugs to them, so it can be a real problem if you are standing in the way."
That is why her company has put together the Outdoor Lantern ($29.99), which disperses allethrin, a derivative of a chemical found in a chrysanthemum. It is effective fighting mosquitoes, black flies and the nasty biting bugs called no-see-ums, she contends.
It works through a pad filed with allethrin that is released through a heater in the base of the lantern, she says. But one of the best features of the product is that it serves as a lantern that can be used at home or while camping.
It services a 15- by 15-foot area, with the pad lasting about four hours and the burner about 12 before they need to be replaced.
It is quite similar to the Off! PowerPad Lamp and Lantern ($9.49 and $11.49, respectively), which the company contends will protect the same area in the same way.
Helen Lukas from the Wisconsin-based firm says that price and effectiveness make the lamp much more practical and less costly than candles. But candles still are popular ways of fighting the battle, says Sean Meyercheck, garden manager at the Home Depot outlet on Camp Horne Road in Ohio Township.
He contends one of the big sellers this season has been a Yankee Candle product with linalool, an alcohol substance found in many plants,
He didn't seem too sure of the overall effectiveness of any of the products, though, hinting bugs seem to have a way of dealing with these matters eventually. Some firms contend sprays will last one or two months on a 5,000-square-foot area, while others tout the anti-bug strength of foggers, he says. Those products can cost only around $10, but moisture, humidity and heat all can play a part in their success.
"Sometimes it just seems like it would be better avoiding the bugs late in the day or wearing light-colored clothing," he says.
No easy natural solution
Horticulture experts such as Feather or Margie Radebaugh agree there seem to be few natural ways of controlling insects.
Radebaugh, director of horticulture and education at the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Oakland, says she knows of no plant that can be used effectively here in bug wars.
Feather points to the great reputation the neem tree has in insect control. One problem: It is a tropical or sub-tropical plant, making it not too good for Western Pennsylvania or the rest of North America.
They agree substances such as citronella, pyrethrum from chrysanthemums and allethrin all are components in insecticides. But in their natural state, they are not strong enough to do the job.
Ken Heese, vice president of Laurel Nursery in Latrobe, says you might find any of those elements in one part per billion in a plant, while it would take something like 50 parts per million to be effective in keeping bugs away.
It leads to a never-ending battle.
Kristen Nordlund from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta warns it is not a fight to overlook.
"Insect repellents can help reduce exposure to mosquito bites that may carry viruses such as West Nile that can cause serious illness and even death," she says.
To help in the fight, she points to an website by the federal Environmental Protection Agency with a fill-in area to determine what insecticides to use. It also can provide information on specific products and types.
It can be found on the Web .
If you are not inclined to repel bugs from your entire backyard, these products will take care of you and you alone:
OFF! Clip-On Mosquito Repellent has a built-in, battery-operated fan that circulates an odorless repellent all around you. Clip it on a belt, your chair or set it next to you for up to 12 hours of protection per disc. A green bar indicates when the disc need to be replaced. The starter kit, including two discs, sells for $8.99 — the refill is $3.99 — at stores such as CVS and Target.
BugBand Insect Repelling Band is designed with a break-away strap that snaps if it become entangled. The active ingredient is Geraniol that's extracted from geranium oil. The band offers up to 120 hours of protection. In between uses, replace in its plastic case to keep it fresh for your next outing. It sells for $4.95, or $14.95 for a family pack of four. Find them at Target, REI and Bass Pro Shops or www.bugband.net .
Bug Bam! Insect Repelling Wristband's ingredients — citronella, geranium and lemongrass — emit plant odors that mask the natural body odors that entice mosquitoes. It is effective for as long as 100 hours and comes in a zipper-seal package for storage between uses. Bug Bam! comes in children's and adult sizes and sells for $3.99 to $4.99 at Wal-Mart, Walgreens and www.bugbam.com .
Bug Off! Bug Wipes comes from Sunfeather Natural Soap Co. and are made with essential oils of rosemary, citronella, geranium and lemongrass in a refreshing herbal wipe. A container of 35 wipes sells for $15.99 at www.sunfeather.com .
BugBand towelettes are available in 15- or 40-count containers priced at $6.79 and $11.95, respectively. A handy two-count foil pack selling for 99 cents is great for tossing in a backpack or picnic basket.