When I was a kid vacationing every summer with my family in Southern Pines, North Carolina, my brothers and cousins and I would play a game in the yard. We’d walk out, see how long it took for swarms of gnats to descend upon us, then sprint away and wait. Whoever it took the gnats the longest to find again was the winner. When you don’t have cable or smart phones, this passes for entertainment.
But the fun didn’t stop there. At night, to kill all the gnats and mosquitoes, tank trucks would drive down each street spewing clouds of insecticide that inexorably enveloped entire yards and houses. You couldn’t see a thing, so we did what any kid would do in that situation. We dashed headlong into the fog for a joyous game of hide-and-seek. The fog was DDT. Decades later, I do not know if tumors are growing as a result. However, if and when the surgeons cut me open, I am certain they won’t find gnats.
DDT is banned now and cities don’t generally fog entire neighborhoods without advance warning. That being the case, how can you avoid being plagued by gnats this summer? Well, you can do a couple of things.
First–and this is so obvious, I’m embarrassed to write it–never go outside in summer. If this proves difficult, do the next best thing. Wear insect repellent containing DEET.
Second, make your yard less hospitable to gnats, so they’ll torment your neighbors instead of you. Gnats love moisture, which is why waves of them descend on you following a heavy rain. So help your yard dry out quickly in summer. Mow the grass regularly so the lawn dries speedily. Water flower beds in early morning, so the heat of the day dries the surface by noon. Remove large piles of moist, decaying organic matter, such as grass clippings and tree leaves, where gnat larvae breed. Trim overgrown shrubbery. Reduce the amount of shade. Keep the air moving. Use fences that allow breezes to easily pass through. Avoid tall hedges that block the wind. Use ceiling fans to stir the air on the deck. Hide inside screened porches.
Of course, if you live near a swamp, pond, or lake where you can’t control water and vegetation, making your environment less gnat-happy will be problematical. Forget about bug zappers. Sure, they light up moths like torches, but they do nothing to control gnats and mosquitoes. In this case, wearing a hat and insect repellent becomes your best option. Do not fog the yard. Not only will the effects be temporary, but also you don’t need the entertainment. Remember, people today have cable and smart phones.