Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying and irritating, they also can be dangerous. In the worst cases, mosquitoes can spread diseases such as West Nile Virus. But more than likely, mosquito bites can simply ruin an evening outdoors if you’re not prepared. But before you spray chemicals that can be toxic to you and the environment, you should know that there are natural, safe solutions that will keep these bloodsucking pests away.

Prevention. The best way to keep mosquitoes away is to prevent them from showing up in the first place. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Without standing water, there’s no place for new mosquitoes to hatch. Mosquito eggs grow from larvae to adults in just seven days so it’s important to check for standing water in and around our yards after every rain. Forgotten toys, clogged gutters and planter saucers are just a few of the sources of standing water in our yards. If you have standing water in a rain barrel or other water feature, you can kill mosquito larvae by using naturally occurring bacteria that is safe for people, pets, fish or wildlife. It’s called bacillus thuringiensis israelensis or Bti for short. It comes in pellets or small bagel shaped discs called mosquito dunks and is carried by most garden centers.

Predators. Bats are natural predators of mosquitoes and can devour hundreds of mosquitoes a night. Invite bats to your yard by hanging a bat house in your yard. You can find bat houses at local garden or hardware centers.

Deterrents. Citronella oil, cedar oil and even catnip oil have been shown to help keep mosquitoes at bay. Lemon eucalyptus oil is also effective and is endorsed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as an effective alternative to products containing 10 percent or less DEET, the active chemical ingredient of most insect repellants. While lemon eucalyptus oil alone will be effective, you can now find many store-bought repellents that contain the natural oil instead of DEET.

It’s also important to know that mosquitoes are not strong fliers. Use a fan to create a breeze that will keep the biting pests away.

Medicine. If you do get bitten, a simple paste of baking soda and water applied to the area will reduce itching. Over-the-ounter products like Caladryl or Calamine lotion work well, too.

Mosquitoes are a pain (literally) and they can be carriers of dangerous blood borne illnesses. Protecting yourself from these annoying pests is important. Do your part to minimize your exposure without running for a can of chemicals.