By the end of the summer, my legs are dotted with scars from the mosquito bites that I’ve furiously scratched. Yeah, it’s not a good look. Plus mosquitoes can carry diseases. I know I should cover up more or apply a personal insect repellent; I just get lazy.

While I’m careful not to leave standing water anywhere on my property, I can’t strong-arm my lackadaisical next-door neighbors to do the same—or remedy the standing water in the creek that borders my backyard. Hence, mosquitoes.

An Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is on human skin and is just about to feed.
Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) just about to feed.
My neighbor's hired service. The fogging chemicals also drift

into my airspace where many beneficial invertebrates live.

Do. Not. Spray. (Please?)

A few nearby residents looking for “mosquito control” hire pesticide companies to fog their yards. This spraying is known to be a futile, harmful and money-wasting endeavor. It’s also stressful for those of us nurturing wildlife gardens.

There are two critical points we all need to digest: 1) spraying is ineffective against controlling adult mosquitos and 2) spraying pyrethroid-based insecticides is harmful to all flying, hopping and crawling arthropods that come into contact with the product. Lightning bugs, moths, caterpillars, beetles, bees, butterflies, spiders… whether you find them repulsive or delightful, they are all at risk. Organically derived sprays can be just as lethal. If it kills mosquitoes, it does not discriminate.

The same is true for those bug-zappers. Two studies showed that only about 4 – 6% of the insects they electrocuted were mosquitoes while many other charred victims were beneficial. I only mention these devices because it’s been estimated that 1.75 million zappers are purchased annually in the United States. (Seriously, who’s buying these? I’d love to see the demographics.)

A large bumble bee, wet from morning dew, rests on some pink flower buds. Even bees that are not actively flying can be killed by pesticides.
Pesticide companies may tell customers that they only treat areas when bees are not active. Bumble bees, like this one still at rest in the early morning, are very much susceptible to mosquito sprays.
A large, brown inch worm caterpillar makes a "U" shape while clinging to a pointy tree leaf.
Caterpillars are an important food source for breeding birds. It’s easy for these non-target insects to be harmed by pesticide fogging and drift.
A firefly (or lightning bug) rests on the tip of a rounded green leaf. The firefly is colors of peach and black.
There's nothing more magical than fireflies twinkling in my backyard. But firefly populations are in decline for many reasons — pesticides are one of them.
A Carolina chickadee sits on a tree limb with a beak full of spiders that it will feed to its young.
Arachnophobes may rejoice in the annihilation of spiders but they probably haven’t watched

Carolina chickadee parents feed a bazillion spiders to their hungry young.

Let Nature Do the Heavy Lifting

Should we even wage war on mosquitoes? If you rarely get bitten, then probably not. But if you do possess more mosquitoes than you can tolerate, it’s smarter to combat them without chemicals. Indisputably, the most effective mosquito controls are their natural predators. Nature itself is a mighty equalizer.

We habitat gardeners regularly enjoy a delirious amount of animal species that other olde-timey yard caretakers do not. For us, mosquito predators abound! These predators can be vertebrates and invertebrates: fascinating creatures such as hummingbirds, toads, salamanders, dragon- and damselflies as well as other insects and spiders (ahhh, here they are again).

A tiny white ambush bug has captured a mosquito on bright orange flowers.
This teeny white ambush bug is doing his part to control invasive mosquitoes. Oorah!
A primarily green-hued Ruby-throated Hummingbird rests on the end of a tree branch that is devoid of leaves. The humminbird's body is arched back like he's looking up.
The majority of a ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet is protein-rich insects. Entice these enchanting birds into your garden by planting their favorite native flowers.
A small green spider sits on a large leaf with a black ant in its mandibles.
Spiders are excellent predators that also make nutritious meals for other critters. A two-fer.
A damselfly of greens and yellows holds onto a stalk of native grass. The areas around the delicate insect are a soft focus, helping it to stand out.
Damselflies (and dragonflies) consume small flying insects, including mosquitoes and gnats.

Keep Your Enemies Closer

Because I can’t stop mosquitos from breeding in every pocket of standing water in my immediate vicinity, what I aim to do is limit their numbers near my house. Anecdotally, my easy bucket-and-weed system appears to be effective and I’ve seen fewer mosquitoes since its implementation many years ago. It’s essentially a no-cost option that’s simple to construct. And it meets the objective of interrupting the mosquitoes’ lifecycle without harming other animals.

The trap, which I conveniently place near the backyard water spigot, lures in the egg-laying mosquitoes and prevents them from procreating in nearby unattended standing water. The American Mosquito Control Association writes, “Mosquito species preferring to breed around the house, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito, have limited flight ranges of about 300 feet.” That means I have a good chance of “trapping” some of these invasive pests.

Fun Facts?: In the United States, there are 176 species of mosquitoes. “Most of the mosquito vectors responsible for transmitting diseases are invasive species.” — Wilke et al.

A dirty, algae-lined bucket with water and decaying plant material makes a perfect mosquito trap.
My small larva trap bucket, all algae'd up at the end of the season, is still attracting breeding mosquitoes. (Can you spot the egg raft?)

Easy Instructions

I usually put the trap out when I see my first mosquito (which is typically May in Northern Virginia).

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 small bucket or container (purportedly the Asian Tiger mosquito is attracted to the color black).
  • Add some roots, stalks and leaves of weedy herbaceous plants, including some dried foliage. (Straw is highly recommended but it’s not a material that’s usually handy.)
  • Add about 4 inches of tap or collected rain water.

Place bucket trap in a shady area and commence monitoring:

  • In a few days, any chlorine (if you use tap water) should evaporate and the water will begin to stagnate from the rotting organic material. Look closely for any egg rafts that appear on the surface. It may be many days before eggs are laid.
  • After eggs appear, tap the bucket every couple of days to see if any larvae have hatched. The “wigglers” will swim to the bottom of the container.
  • Wigglers signal that it’s time to change the water!
  • Empty and flush out the inside of the bucket and all the foliage if you plan to reuse the rotting stems (reuse; that’s what I do). I rinse everything thoroughly because I’ve had some wigglers stick to the plant material. You can also add or replace the weedy foliage and dried leaves.
  • Continue this routine throughout the summer.

If you’d rather be slightly more hands-off then you can peek into the trap weekly. Don’t forget, though! You don’t want to inadvertently make more bitey mosquitoes. However, daily monitoring is super fun! For me, anyway.

If you’re not going to be home for an extended period, just bring the emptied bucket inside.

Many mosquito egg rafts float in an easy to make trap bucket filled with stagnant water.
Many mosquito egg rafts laid in my trap in late May. Some wigglers have emerged.

What About Mosquito Dunks?

There’s no need to spend money on dunks (larvicides) for this trapping method because you have full control of monitoring and changing the water once the eggs hatch (or even earlier, when they’re laid). For those places that are hard to reach or that have standing water too difficult to remove, dunks are necessary. 

Because I roam about my garden daily, checking my trap becomes a habit. I’m out there cleaning out the critter water dishes and pulling out the weeds anyway. Besides, I find joy in experiencing the habitat I’ve created and seeing what’s a shakin’. It’s usually lots!

Maybe this brilliant bucket-and-weed method isn’t for you if you rarely wander outside? I invite you to investigate other types of homemade mosquito traps. There are also traps that are available commercially. You might even decide that dunks are the way to go… Anything but spraying, yes?

Just keep in mind that the objective is to break the mosquito’s lifecycle without affecting other living creatures.

Additional Resources:

UNC Charlotte Urban Institute: Try the ‘Bucket of Doom’ to Eliminate Mosquitoes Without Harmful Pesticides

Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control & Wetlands Management District: Mosquito Life Cycle

National Wildlife Federation: What You Need to Know Before Spraying for Mosquitoes

The Maryland Department of Agriculture:  The Asian Tiger Mosquito in Maryland

National Wildlife Federation: Meet the Squad of Mosquito-Eating Species

The Guardian: The insect apocalypse: ‘Our world will grind to a halt without them’

Three Billion Birds: 7 Simple Actions To Help Birds