Ah, the great outdoors! Just as you're settling into your favorite patio chair, a silent all-wings-on-deck command sweeps the insect world. Before you know it, you're fresh meat for biting and stinging pests that reduce your time outside to misery. Is there a way to sock it to summer critters? Yes, as long as you pick your weapons wisely.
To shed some light on this topic, we consulted our very own Senior Writer Steve Bender for pointers. As expected, he didn't disappoint.
"Plants such as peppermint, rosemary, sage, and scented geraniums are often touted as having certain properties––smell, color, and texture––that repel insects," says Steve. "Frankly, none of these makes much of a difference. In fact, I have seen mosquitoes land on plants that were meant to deter them." Instead, Steve recommends that you clear underbrush around trees and shrubs and avoid planting thick vegetation.
- Citronella candles and smoke coils: Derived from plants, citronella is so-so in discouraging pests. "Generally, you need to sit close to these candles to experience any effect," says Kelly Rutherford, who operates his own pest-and-termite-control business in Pinson, Alabama. Plus, the debate continues about whether it's the smell or the smoke that works. These repellents have about a two-hour time frame of usefulness.
- Sprays, solutions, and towelettes: These products are best for warding off pests, especially mosquitoes and ticks. In particular, products containing DEET (N-diethyl-m toluamide), offer the longest and most effective protection. The concentration of DEET in repellents ranges from less than 10% to more than 30%. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the maximum concentration currently recommended for infants and children is 30%. DEET should never be used on children under two months of age. The AAP also recommends that you not apply DEET to the hands of young children or around their eyes and mouths, do not use it under clothing or near food, and only apply the chemical once a day. Always follow manufacturers' labels closely.
- Mosquito Magnet: This machine discharges carbon dioxide, heat, moisture, and a chemical attractant called octenol to lure mosquitoes, and then it vacuums them into a net, where they perish. Depending on the size of the yard you need to protect, the Mosquito Magnet ranges from around $270 for 1/2-acre coverage to $1,000 for 1-acre coverage. You must have a propane tank (not included), and some also require an electrical outlet to power the device. You will need to replace the attractant cartridge and refill the propane tank every 21 days. For more information visit www.mosquitomagnetdepot.com.
- Bug sprays and foggers: Sprays are usually pump-controlled or distributed by aerosol, and they're made specifically for certain pests. Be sure to purchase ant-killing spray to zap ants, wasp-killing spray to snub out wasps, etc. Foggers, on the other hand, emit a smokelike residue that's activated by a portable butane tank. Both methods work best when they actually come in contact with the pests. When using these products, zero in on swarms of bugs either in the air, in shrubs, or around water (it's best not to coat foliage or spray near fish). A handheld fogger from a local home-supply store costs about $50 (butane tank sold separately).
More Ways to Win the Bug War
- Repair any holes in screens and seal off insect entry points, particularly around windows, doors, and foundation cracks. (Likewise, don't leave food out; unattended morsels are irresistible to flies, yellow jackets, and wasps.)
- Airflow makes a big difference, whether it's a natural breeze or one created by a ceiling or portable fan. Mosquitoes are lousy pilots in turbulence.
- Regularly mow your yard to control grass height. Keep weeds pulled, and remove any fallen fruit from trees.
- Nip mosquitoes in the bud by reducing standing water around your house. This includes emptying any pails and containers, keeping gutters free of debris, and examining planters and tree holes. Use biological mosquito control dunks in water features such as birdbaths and ponds. Dunks will not make the water harmful to fish, birds, pets, or wildlife.