By T.K. Wismer, Blue Oak
Photographs courtesy of Blue Oak
After two weekends in a row of great weather I am officially in full-blown outdoor entertainment mode, and have since been reminded that it only takes one tiny guest to ruin a party. I'm not talking about the usual suspects, an unruly toddler or a friend who has a perfect record of spilling drinks. I'm talking about the tiny winged terrors that can make even the most Martha Stewart-esque gathering feel like an episode of Naked and Afraid.
The word "mosquito" is Spanish for "little fly." As diminutive as they might be, mosquitos are a big nuisance and pose a serious threat, so it's no wonder that the market for deterrents and repellents is thriving. A search on Amazon alone returns over 9000 results all with varied effectiveness, duration, and levels of safety. From zappers to traps to candles to sprays, there is no shortage of strategies to fight back. I have tried my fair share and have found sprays to be the most effective, but let's be honest, none of the sprays smell "good" and do you really want to ask your guests to spray themselves down for a backyard gathering? I reserve the heavy artillery for when we plan to be in the woods or out for the day, but for casual gatherings or impromptu al fresco dining situations, I prefer a less intrusive approach.
Here are a few incognito ways to fight mosquitos outdoors that I have personally found effective:
Before investing in any other methods, it is important to first tackle any outdoor maintenance issues that may be contributing to insect invasions. Standing water is one of the most important issues to tackle to reduce mosquito populations because they like to lay eggs in and around water. Empty and scrub, turn over, or cover areas that may hold water like pet bowls, flowerpots and saucers, trash cans, birdbaths, and pool and furniture covers. Toys can also have crevasses and pits that hold water. Lawn and tree debris can also hold water and provide cover for nests so be sure to clean up all areas of build-up often.
Mosquitos are notoriously weak flyers so creating a bit of breeze across your outdoor gathering spaces can provide an easy deterrent. Ceiling fans are ideal but if your space is wide open, simply creating a cross breeze with a few inconspicuously placed fans can serve double duty for keeping guests cool and comfortable.
The idea behind using plants as a deterrent is to really "cover" the area. Multiple pots and different varieties grouped throughout your space can provide a decent amount of coverage and are actually quite effective – not to mention attractive – for outdoor settings. I was late to adopt this approach, but am now a firm believer in the power of plants and lemongrass in particular. I introduced a few stalks of the tender tropical grass in my vertical garden and can tell a huge difference between this season and last. Sage and lavender are also popular plants for their repellent qualities. Also worth noting are rosemary, mint, basil and catnip. Again, I find a multi-layered approach to work best here. We have also developed the habit of running our hands over the plants as we walk outside, to transfer the natural oils to our skin.
We recently tested a mosquito trap or "eradicator" and it seems to be working and is minimally invasive. The important thing to remember when using these is that they attract the mosquitos before eradicating so you want to place them in an area away from your gathering spaces. Most take a number of days to go into effect, so this is not a last-minute fix before an event. Check the manufacturer's suggestions for proper set-up and placement.
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