It’s the season for outdoor entertainment. Here’s how to keep bugs at bay
With vaccinations underway and warmer weather arriving, you might be looking forward to some outdoor fun.
Before welcoming guests, you need to prepare your backyard. Clean the lawn. Clean patio furniture. Prepare the grill. Check, verify and verify. But what’s your plan for dealing with uninvited guests? Not that eccentric neighbor who shows up the moment you start eating. I’m talking about annoying pests such as mosquitoes, wasps, yellow jackets, and flies. How do you make sure they don’t ruin the party?
Keeping insects away from your home is easy. It’s harder to keep insects at bay without harming “good” insects, let alone pets and humans. Biting pests can cause obvious injuries; others, such as flies and mosquitoes, can carry pathogens. However, not all bugs are bad bugs. “Just because you can see it doesn’t mean it’s a problem,” says Angela Tucker, entomologist for pest control company Terminix.
Many insects serve the environment – including ladybugs, bees, and other pollinators – and predatory insects, such as thieving flies, eat other insects. “Good bugs control bad bugs. If you kill all the natural predators, the bad ones will get out of hand, ”says Ryan Smith, a biological control expert in Beaverton, Oregon.
You don’t know how to say who is what? The website pestworld.org helps consumers identify pests and insects, and provides advice for pest protection and control. To find out which insects are native to your area, contact your county extension office. Usually run by universities or state agriculture departments, these offices offer free advice on gardening, pests, and more.
For those who want to take the time, targeted pest control is effective and relatively easy to do yourself (with a few exceptions, like hornet nests). It can also save you money.
Joe LaBrie and his family own Bug & Weed Mart, a business with five stores in the Phoenix area that is dedicated to DIY pest control. He says that before purchasing any product, you should inspect your yard or entertainment space to see what can be done reasonably without chemicals. Is there any garbage or dog feces that needs to be removed? Are there any nests under construction that you can safely knock down? Can you store garbage and recycling bins elsewhere? Are there any areas prone to standing water that you can drain?
Once you’ve assessed your garden, it’s time to focus on a specific pest. Each insect has different behaviors, likes and dislikes that should guide your approach.
The organic material is catnip for flies, which are attracted to the scent. For family dinners, keep dishes covered and only half-fill glasses. You might also want to consider settling inside and then hauling your meal outside for dinner, Tucker says.
A simple solution can be found in your pantry. Fill the cups with vinegar (any variety) and place them every few feet around the perimeter of your space, Smith says. Flies are attracted to the scent, but vinegar is denser than water, so when pests touch it, they get caught and drown. Another option: LaBrie suggests Fly Spot, an effective bait that attracts and kills flies in 60 seconds or less. Mix the product with water and spray flower pots, the backs of patio furniture and the bases of garbage cans.
Stagnant water is your biggest challenge, says Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association. Any container or object – toys, birdbaths, kiddie pools, flower pots, tire swings, downspouts – that collects water should be discarded at least every five days, so that mosquitoes do not ‘have no breeding ground. For those who live in rainy places, Smith recommends sprinkling Mosquito Bits in any standing water. These corn cob granules are coated with bacteria that quickly kill mosquito larvae, but harmless to pets, birds and wildlife.
Considering insect zappers, torches or citronella candles? Most are pretty random. Tiki torches can deter mosquitoes because of the smoke, which rejects odor patterns, and the lemongrass scent can act as a deterrent. But it’s also not an effective method of control, says Tucker. When it comes to insect zappers, remember that the insect world electric chair is blind in what it attracts, so both bad and good flying insects can be killed. And, as Tucker says, “Placement is important, so when the insect is zapped, no insect parts fly off at you or your food.”
An alternative to a traditional zapper is the DynaTrap Ultralight, which uses a motor and fan instead of an electric current to do the deed. A fluorescent UV bulb and a titanium dioxide coated surface that releases CO2 attracts flying insects, and the fan pulls them inside the basket, where they die of dehydration. Then you just empty the trap as needed, says LaBrie. DynaTrap will not harm bees, bumblebees or other beneficial insects because they are not attracted to carbon dioxide.
Forget about chemical sprays and powders, which can be toxic to humans and pets. According to Smith, you can eradicate ants with a simple recipe. Mix a tablespoon of a mixture of peanut butter and honey with 1/4 teaspoon of boric acid. Place drops around your entertainment area about a week before your event and the ants should be gone. Not only is this preparation cheap to make – a bottle of boric acid should last a lifetime – but it’s also safe for wildlife and pets, he says.
Yellow jackets, wasps and hornets
“Despite the instinct to do it yourself, removing biting insects isn’t a DIY project,” says Fredericks. “Without protective gear and training, you could be in trouble. This is a time when you might want to bring in a professional. “
Tucker agrees. “If you leave most of the biting insects alone, they’ll leave you alone. Still, if they nest, have someone remove it. “For very small nests, LaBrie suggests using Wasp-Freeze. The spray can travel about 15 feet, keeping you out of harm’s way while the residual insecticide kills the rest of the nest. Most paper wasps will move out if you destroy their nests at an early stage.