The Gentle Gardener: Bugs & kisses to you

It’s that time of year when we all love to venture outside in the evening to enjoy the beautiful sunsets – only to be chased back inside by those pesky no-see-ums. It’s infuriating enough to make this gentle gardener want to break out a napalm bazooka.

But there are several steps we can take to take the bite out of bugs. Many naturalists promote the use of fragrant plants such as citronella, lemongrass and catnip to naturally deter these little pests. Unfortunately, the CDC has confirmed that these plants do as little to repel mosquitoes and no-see-ums as the sign on my refrigerator reminding me that I have to get into ‘that’ dress in two weeks’ time. So, what can we do?

Depending on your environmental tolerance, I’ve listed the most natural all the way to the deadliest (for the bugs that is) ….

1. Install an outdoor fan. These little guys, like my husband, are extremely lazy and do not want to fight a strong breeze to get a bite at you.

2. Avoid alcohol. Studies have shown that no see’ums are as attracted to alcohol (and the scent it creates on our skin when ingested) as a college student. Not willing to give up your cocktail? See number 1.

3. Use cedar mulch in the gardens around your patio or deck. It can be purchased by the bag at the large box stores and its wonderful scent keeps the bugs at bay. Once the odor dissipates, see number 1.

4. Burn, baby burn. Any type of candle or fire will do – they simply do not like smoke. Once the fire dies out, see number 1.

5. Wear loose clothing (long sleeves, long pants) so the bugs bite air, not you. If you eat too much and your clothes become tight, see number 1.

6. Tuck a dryer cloth in your collar and hat. My grandmother taught me this years ago and I have no idea why, but it actually works. If you’re unwilling to look ridiculous, see number 1.

7. Purchase a Thermacell Mosquito Repellent device. It creates a 15-foot protection zone through the use of heated mosquito repellent mats. Widely available, very affordable and they actually work. Be aware however, the repellent, allethrin, (a synthetic copy of a natural repellent found in chrysanthemum plants) might cause health hazards and complications in pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, see number 1.

8. Use a spray with DEET or picaridin. According to experts, Picaridin is a little more effective than DEET. Concentrations of DEET range from 10 percent for about two hours of protection to 100 percent for up to 10 hours. Maximum protection is achieved at 30 percent DEET formulations — higher concentration levels simply make your protection last longer. Picaridin, effective against the greatest range of insects, is a synthetic version of a repellent found in pepper plants. Maximum protection is provided in formulations with 20 percent picaridin.

By following these guidelines, you should be well prepared for your next evening soiree. If not, I’ll happily lend you my flame thrower.

Ask & Answer


My once beautiful gardenia is now looking rather sad and a number of the leaves are turning yellow! What’s going on?! — Watchful in Wexford


Gardenias truly are one of the best ambassadors of the Lowcountry. Your yellowing leaves may be caused by several factors – too much sun, not enough water but without soil samples, I’d guess they are anemic. This condition, common to gardenias here, is easily remedied. Purchase some chelated iron and follow the instructions. Keep in mind that you will need to water the plant well before using and make sure you apply it late in the day or on an overcast day when the sun won’t hit the leaves. Spray a generous amount on both sides of all the foliage. Your plants yellow leaves should return to green in no time at all.

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