Summertime means picnics, barbecue parties and a general preference for spending more time outdoors than in. Unfortunately, summertime also means an uptick in something that could dampen the spirits of even the most ardent outdoors-lover – bugs.
Some carry disease, some sting painfully, and some are outright annoying – but they’re all pesky little pests we feel we’d be better off without. Insecticides and a healthy spraying of DEET might deter mosquitoes, gnats and other critters, but in the long-run we have to question the effectiveness and consequences of these methods, especially when the debate of how harmful these chemicals are to us and to plant and animal life continues unresolved.
But there are alternatives – a couple of life-hacks you can apply to your backyard routines that’ll organically reduce the likelihood of insect infestations in the first place.
Still waters run deep
Still and stagnant water are all but open invitations to mosquitoes – even a little bit of water trapped in your roof gutters gives these pesky bloodsuckers a breeding ground to rally their numbers. Make sure you periodically and methodically clear out your rain gutters to keep water from gathering – this also helps in keeping them from being jammed up or clogged when it does rain.
If you’re a bird-watcher and have a bath standing around in your yard, either clear the water out routinely, or opt for a birdbath fountain – this keeps the water moving, preventing the likelihood of mosquitoes getting a chance to make home there. Fill in depressions in your yard to keep puddles from forming, not leaving behind any empty flower-pots or other containers into which water can seep in and stagnate.
Birds of a feather
We mentioned bird baths in the previous section – but even if you don’t have one, investing in one of these charming backyard fountains might be a good idea. Birds feed off insects, and having more of them visit and hang around your yard means inviting a bunch of natural predators who will clear out these pests for you. Installing a couple of bird-feeders or bird baths could do the trick, giving you hours of entertainment watching a diverse bunch of birds stop by, while also slashing down the bug population in your garden.
A little light
No one wants to walk into a spiderweb in the middle of an evening soiree and get that stuff in their mouth or hair, or find one of these creepy eight-legged fiends drowning in our drink – and one simple way of keeping them well out of our property is to change up the lighting.
The kinds of bugs spiders feed on tend to be attracted to bright lights, so switch out for low-powered, energy-saving low-pressure sodium (LPS) lightbulbs for day-to-day yard-lighting – these don’t act as a homing beacon for the types of insects spiders prefer in their diets, and the unavailability of food will naturally divert these arachnids elsewhere.
Candle in the darkness
A derivative of lemongrass, citronella oil is a natural insect repellent used widely in sprays, cosmetics and yes, in scented candles. Essentially, the oil masks the scents that attract insects, such as carbon dioxide – inevitable wherever a group of people are gathering. Light up a few of these for your backyard barbecue, and you get to keep the critters at bay while enhancing the ambience of the place at the same time.
Keep calm and trim on
A well-tended, regularly trimmed garden reduces the likelihood of insects building up their headquarters in your yard in the first place. The disturbance that occurs when you prune branches or trim up your hedges, regularly pluck off fruits, veggies or flowers and so on makes it difficult for insects to settle, especially long enough to start nesting.
In fact, some types of plants naturally ward off insects. Flowers like lavender and chrysanthemums and herbs like sage, rosemary, basil and peppermint are all known to naturally ward off bugs – all the while leaving you with a nice selection in your garden for floral arrangements and fresh greens to toss into your salads and pot roasts for an outdoor dinner party.
Gardening aesthetics also weigh in on the matter. Ensure none of your hedges or outdoor plants are directly outside of or touching your porch or the walls of your house – these are gateways for insects swarming around the greenery to find a way inside. Also avoid planting fruits or flowers likely to attract bugs anywhere you plan to lay out your dinner tables or barbecue grills, or otherwise have people hanging around. Wasps, bees and hornets, for instance, are attracted to the sweet scents of ripe fruits – make sure you keep your seating arrangements well away from any such fruit trees in your yard, even if you’re diligently tending to them to make sure insects don’t get a chance to settle in.
Spray it, don’t say it
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, an insect infestation may happen anyway – maybe a hidden anthill we have not been able to locate, a wasps’ nest under the eaves of our house, or an invasion of ticks and mosquitoes from nearby wooded areas or lakes. Regular spray sessions by your local pest control contractor – or by yourself, armed with a DEET-containing insecticide – can help keep bug populations under control, especially if you’re trying to get rid of an infestation in a short amount of time.
If you’re worried about spraying chemicals around your garden and about their potential toxic effects on people and wildlife, there are several organic, natural insect repellents you can whip up in your kitchen, too, which function as DIY insect traps to keep your home and backyard bug-free.
However, if the situation is too serious – for instance a case of carpenter ants burrowed deep inside your deck or a bee-hive making it impossible for you to get at your trees, we highly recommend getting professional help to safely break into the nest and kill the insect “queen” to break up the network.