Ants, Wasps, & Mosquitoes: Do-No-Harm Defense or All-Out War?

A citronella candle on a home patioA citronella candle is one way to keep mosquitoes away. The smoke will repel them. Image: slinscot/iStockphoto

This week we’ve been helping you make patios and decks more comfortable during hot and humid days. Today, we’re focusing on how to prevent ants (try Cream of Wheat), yellow jackets, and mosquitoes from ruining your outdoor fun this summer.

Would you rather shoo bugs away naturally? Or take no prisoners with warfare?

We’ll help you do both (depending on your mood). That way, when you eat hot dogs, the bugs don’t eat you.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes have graduated from whining pests to West Nile disease-carrying stalkers. So getting rid of mosquitoes, and preventing them from hatching, should be a top priority. Try these tips.

Do-no-harm defense:

  • Eliminate standing water—empty buckets and watering pails—where mosquitoes breed. Reduce puddles with a push broom.
  • Attract bug-eating wild birds by growing sunflowers or filling bird feeders and birdbaths.
  • Clean birdbaths and keep water moving with battery- or solar-powered wigglers.
  • Spray oil of eucalyptus, which repels mosquitoes.
  • Don’t wear perfume—it attracts mosquitoes.
  • Light torches or citronella candles. Smoke repels mosquitoes.

Warfare:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is trying to protect you from the West Nile virus, recommends applying insect repellent whenever you work or play outdoors. The CDC recommends:

  • DEET: Still the most widely used and effective mosquito repellent, though not recommended for young children, and must be reapplied throughout the day. It also eats plastic, like your sunglasses or water bottle. (Ben’s 30% DEET Spray: $4)
  • Picaridin: An ordorless DEET alternative that is less irritating and obnoxious, but not as long-lasting (8 hours vs. 11 hours). (Cutter Advanced Sport: $8)

Ants

Ants want to enjoy your barbecue, too. Here’s how to get rid of these uninvited guests.

Do-no-harm defense:

  • Ants won’t cross lines made of chalk, salt, talc, baby powder, or cinnamon. They also shy away from bay leaves. 

Warfare:

  • Spread borax around ant hills and patio/deck perimeters. Ants will eat it, causing them to dry up.
  • Try feeding them Cream of Wheat (while not a chemical, it does have the same effect), or another food that expands. It will explode their stomachs.

Bees and yellow jackets

Most bees won’t harm you unless you accidentally stumble over their nest. They’re good for your landscaping and the planet in general, so leave the bees be.

Yellow jackets, on the other hand, are stinger missiles. These common wasps can sting the same person or animal several times. They leave telltale pheromones that mark the victim for a mass attack from hive-mates.

Do-no-harm defense:

  • Yellow jackets love protein foods, so cover your meal during prep time, and wrap or throw out leftovers.
  • Cover garbage cans and quickly clean up after raccoons or dogs that get into your trash.
  • Wasps won’t invade other wasps’ territory, so trick them into thinking your patio is already claimed: Fill a paper bag with newspaper and hang it from a tree.
  • Make a trap with a soda bottle and fruit juice.
  • Avoid wearing bright, flower-like colors that make you look like a giant flower.

Warfare:

  • Chemically controlling yellow jackets requires finding the nest, which is risky. Baits, which wasps bring back to nests so you don’t have to visit, are a better bet. Mix protein—tuna, chicken, cat food—with insecticides such as fipronil

Which is your favorite bug eradication method? Do-no-harm defense or all-out war?