Nothing says summer down under quite like balmy nights on the verandah – with a frosty brew in hand and something delicious on the barbie.
But these stunning al fresco spaces often suffer from one fatal flaw: a lack of deterrents and defences to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay.
Here’s how to keep the little bloodsuckers from ruining your next summer dinner party, without dousing yourself in chemicals.
1. Screen your verandah
The surest way to keep mosquitos at bay is to place a physical barrier between yourself and them. If you’re lucky enough to have a fully-screened verandah, then you’re in an ideal situation, as this ensures complete protection, without sacrificing that cool, after-dark breeze.
If your verandah isn’t fully screened, though, and you’re after a fast and cheap solution, curtains are a great alternative. While they won’t block out insects completely, light, delicate drapes will deter most mozzies while allowing a fair bit of sunlight in during the day.
2. Keep your outdoor area dry
Mosquitoes actually begin their lives underwater and their natural habitats are wetlands. Females will lay their eggs in just about any pool of water they come across. And so another natural defence against mosquitoes can be found in keeping rain gutters clear and unused bird baths empty.
Favouring drought-resistant native plants will give mosquitoes less reason to come-a-buzzing, too, as you won’t need to water your garden quite as often.
3. Light up the backyard (in yellow)
Mosquitoes tend to be drawn to conventional light sources in ultraviolet or blue wavelengths. So, by using bug lights coated in an opaque yellow finish instead of regular lights, you can deter mosquitoes and other bugs from joining that al fresco family dinner.
The only problem is everything in your garden will be bathed in a somewhat harsh yellow glow – including your guests.
4. Install a ceiling fan
The wetlands where mosquitoes thrive are balmy, sticky places, and so your backyard needs to be the complete opposite: dry and cool.
Which is why ceiling fans are a multi-value proposition for taming mozzies. Not only do they waft insects away from your lovely deck, they also keep your skin (and your guests’ skin) cooler and less attractive to mosquitoes as a result.
The circulation of air will also disperse heat from your barbecue or wood-fired oven, keeping the area where you’re likely to be cooking food a relative no-fly zone.
Pro tip: Don’t install your ceiling fan directly above your outdoor cooking appliance, as that would divert the heat away from the food while it’s meant to be cooking.
5. Enlist Mother Nature
Commercial repellents definitely work, but they can leave you smelling like a campsite, and many contain nasty chemicals.
Fortunately, certain plants are natural mosquito deterrents. Plant these around mozzie-prone areas, and you’ll eliminate the need to douse yourself in chemical-ridden sprays every time you want to entertain outdoors.
Get your gardening gloves on and plant any or all of the following:
- Citronella – It’s a common ingredient in mosquito repellents, so why not just get the real thing? The beautiful, perennial clumping grass emits an aroma that’s stronger than mosquito repellents containing citronella, so it’s a smart and economic choice.
- Rosemary – Perhaps better known as a great herb to flavour a lamb roast, rosemary is a flowering plant with vertical leaves that also deters mosquitos. It’s very easy to grow, and while it deters mosquitoes, it’s also attractive to butterflies – win-win!
- Mint – The fresh-smelling herb is a natural insect repellent, so rubbing the leaves together to release the oils and patting over your skin is an easy way to fend of mosquitoes. Mint does grow quickly and can be an invasive plant though, so plant the herb in a large canister with the bottom cut out to keep it from taking over your garden.
- Garlic – No, overdoing it on the chicken Kiev won’t deter mosquitoes, but it may have that effect on your significant other. Growing garlic bulbs in your garden, however, will deter mosquitoes, as well as other sap-sucking pests like aphids. So, plant some near your best roses and fruit trees, so that they have a friendly bodyguard to protect them.
- Lavender – The gorgeous purple plant is known for its sweet scent, but mosquitoes don’t like it as much as we do. Also easy to grow, lavender has a cottage charm that ties in well with most native gardens.
Treating mosquito bites naturally
Incessantly buzzing around our face, tickling our arms and legs when they land, mosquitoes aren’t a whole lot of fun. But we could probably just about tolerate them if they didn’t leave such nasty reminders of their existence.
Fortunately, there are a number of natural ways to make their infuriatingly itchy bites a little less terrible. Here are some of them.
1. Stop itching
Without wanting to sound like a nagging parent, refraining from itching really is your first line of defence – even if itching them does provide some temporary relief.
This is because itching your bites causes your body to release histamine, which is the same organic compound that caused your bites to become itchy in the first place.
2. Apply ice
This home remedy is as natural as they come.
Applying an ice pack or wet cloth to the bite reduces itchiness as it causes the dilated blood vessels near the surface of your skin to narrow, which serves to reduce swelling.
3. Use an oatmeal paste – or take an oat bath
Oats contain special compounds called avenanthramides that reduce inflammation and soothe itching. You can exploit these benefits either by applying an oatmeal paste to your skin or by throwing in a cup of ground oats to your next bath.
To make the oatmeal paste, mix equal amounts of oats and water in a bowl until the mixture takes on plaster-like texture. Then, spoon the paste onto a washcloth and then apply this, paste-side down, onto the affected area for 10 minutes.
4. Apply a drop of honey
What would a home remedy list be without honey?
Nature’s gold contains many antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and one or two drops of the stuff should be enough to soothe an itchy bite.
5. Use a basil rub
Containing a chemical compound called eugenol, basil is another kitchen mainstay thought to relieve itchy skin.
Steep roughly 30g of dried basil leaves in half a litre of boiling water, let the mixture cool, and then dip a washcloth in the mixture and gently rub it on your bites.
6. Dab on some vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is another stalwart of the homoeopathic community, having first been touted as a natural remedy by the Ancient Greeks.
A drop or two of vinegar on a bite should be enough to provide some relief – although it’s best to steer clear of the stuff if you’ve already itched your bites, as applying vinegar to open wounds is never a great idea.
7. Try something less natural
If none of the above work, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and oral antihistamines are your best non-natural bets, with the latter especially good if you’re having trouble sleeping, as many variants cause drowsiness.