The Environmental Gardener: Creating ecologically mosquito-free gardens in June

June is here and Mother Nature is turning up the heat. With plenty of rain in May, there should be plenty of green in the garden. May showers create a major growth spurt in healthy established plants. This also creates more habitat for huge growth of other living things, including mosquitoes. 

To enjoy your garden during warm months, managing mosquitos is important. Spraying mosquitoes kills more than the intended targets, including pollinators and beneficial insects that eat damaging pests. Instead, there are other ways to reduce the mosquito population without spraying chemicals. 

  • Be diligent to eliminate standing water, make sure pipes and gutters drain, and use mosquito dunks for standing water in tanks and birdbaths. Dunks contain BTI (a bacteria) that kill the mosquito larvae with little or no collateral damage to other living things. Replenish dunks monthly.

A famous entomologist once suggested to me that my neighbors could create a system of buckets with rainwater, a bit of wheat straw, and the dunks. Mosquito larvae that form in the buckets with the dunks are neutered from reproducing future generations. The theory is, if you can keep the system going throughout summer, you’ll significantly reduce the mosquito population while not harming other living things. 

  • Bluebird and bat houses can also help. Bats eat between 6,000 and 8,000 insects a night.

Most plants don’t eat mosquitoes, but if you’re really looking for a challenge, try to grow some pitcher plants. Sarracenia species are extremely cool plants, and they really do eat bugs. Kids and adults alike love them, but they need special growing conditions to live. 

Pitcher plants need full sun, constant moisture from regular watering (best to use collected rainwater), and a specific sand and peat mixture to grow in. This sounds a bit more difficult than it is. Once you get your bog set up, easy maintenance becomes a habit and pays dividends in the pleasure it brings.

  • Remove your English ivy. Thickets of ivy become mosquito habitats. 
Indian Pink- Spigelia marilandica

Replace ivy with other June-blooming plants, such as shade loving Indian pink (Spigelia marylandica). On a good day, it is my favorite perennial. Hummingbirds love its red tubular flowers with a yellow star gracing the top. Indian pink is pretty tough and long-lived, and it can grow in shady areas and in almost full sun, if the soil stays moist. 

In the fourth grade, I saved an Indian pink plant from a new subdivision and its imminent death. It lived under pine shade for 18 years. It moved with me to two of my homes, sadly dying after 23 years after I planted it in really dry shade.

As long as I am talking favorites, I’ll add to this month’s list of plants my favorite native shrub that blooms in May and June. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) puts on a show for about nine months, some might say even longer. Their flower “panicles,” loose, branching clusters of flowers, go from white to pink and dry very nicely on the plant or in a vase to extend the show.

They don’t like heavy clay and are not tolerant of wet, poorly drained soil.  They can take light shade and morning-to-early afternoon sun.  There are many excellent cultivars, including many so-called dwarfs, but as I was taught by Michael Dirr, the famous horticulturist, plants don’t read books and dwarf cultivars like ‘Pee Wee’ can still grow to 6 feet tall.  A couple of favorite oak leafs include ‘Ruby Slippers,’ with its sturdy blooms fading to a dark pink, and the double-flowering ‘Snowflake’.

Sourwood

Dirr also said that the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum) is the south’s second-most beautiful flowering tree. It has white flowering panicles or racemes that are favorites of bees, a beautiful winter silhouette, and striking red to orange fall color.

Like the number one flowering native tree, dogwood (Cornus florida), they are a challenge to grow.  They need moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, similar to what native azaleas need. 

Once you implement your mosquito plan, there is plenty to love about gardening in June.

Greg Levine

Greg Levine, co-executive director of Trees Atlanta, describes himself as happiest when his hands are in the dirt.