I’m the first to admit that my backyard and back porch become something of a leafless lifeless underwhelming location over the cooler winter months. The patio becomes a homesteader’s paradise for all manner of spider webs and critters taking shelter from the weather. The pillows on the patio chairs start to show their age. Flower pots that once had vibrant florals now look like containers for post-apocalyptic fauna. It doesn’t look like a great place even to let the dog out, much less kick off your shoes, sip some lemonade and dive into a great book.

As the days grow longer and warmer, I’m drawn once again to being outside. This year, I had a little help, hiring someone to get the cobwebs power-washed from the eaves and to repaint the backdoor. I’ve spent a little time and effort getting those flower pots replanted and replacing patio furniture cushions. It’s coming together, I have to say. But the cleaning and the decorating will only get you so far because there are other things afoot to consider.

Literally afoot. As in, all the things coming to feast on your ankles and scorch the top of your toes

Sure, the weather is inviting. It also means that we’ve got bugs to avoid, new pests to conquer, and UVA rays bouncing off every surface.

As you head into the upcoming three-day Memorial Day weekend, what are some ways you can get your place ready for some long summer nights on the back porch or apartment balcony? As it turns out, Memorial Day weekend not only reminds us that summer is just around the corner, it’s also a time filled with various sales and discounts for many things related to the open air. Be sure to check out possible sales in your area on patio furniture, grills and BBQ items, and more. Here are some tips I’ve learned are essential for hitting the great outdoors, especially the outdoors just outside my door

Spray it up, safely: I’m a mosquito magnet. I wish I weren’t. When people talk about a superpower they wish they had, like being able to fly or being able to make themselves invisible, I always say that I wish I had the ability to be indetectable to mosquitos, ants, wasps, and all their other evil biting, stinging cousins. There’s just something about me that signals Mosquito Buffet, and my histamine levels whine all summer long at the aftereffects.

While I’ve certainly had times where I’ve been more than tempted to dip myself in a vat of whatever noxious, toxic chemical might get me some mosquito relief, I’m trying to stick to bug sprays and strategies that are healthy and as natural as possible. My particular blood type seems of particular appeal to the bugs, and there’s not much I can do about that. But I do try to avoid wearing dark clothing when I’m in mosquito-prone environments, as scientists say that’s a factor. I also avoid wearing perfume, especially ones I favor with fruit and floral scents. I’ve also been using botanically-based mosquito repellents. These repellents are developed with an eye to plants that seem to hold off a mosquito-fueled appetite for my skin. So far, the Off brand botanicals are working for me. We’ll see how that holds through the summer, but I feel better using these types of products than ones with a more questionable chemical base.

Not just your typical patio plant: Sure, there’s the classic citronella candle. But did you know that, depending on where you live, you can stick some citronella plants in your flower pots to double up on your patio mosquito shield? Citronella can also be planted in your landscaping. It’s a perennial, which means that it comes back year after year, and its natural oils are repellent to a variety of bugs, without being toxic. You can check to see what planting zone you live in and what grows best in your area, at this U.S. Department of Agriculture link.

A little song for the soul: I’m building it into the backyard budget this year, lots of bird feeders and bird seed for my winged friends. Why? It’s not just for watching pretty things fly around. As it turns out, listening to birdsong for just six minutes a day is incredible for your mental health. Studies show that listening to birds lowers stress and cortisol levels, and it helps you pay attention in the moment to your surroundings, instead of being distracted by the next deadline or worry. You can explore what birds frequent your area, and you can also take a look at migration patterns. There are great apps for helping you identify the birds you see, and you can also discover types of birds through their songs with apps that use your microphone on your smartphone. While you might not yet be ready to go full birder, a cup of morning coffee on the porch with a little birdsong for the soundtrack might be just the thing to destress this summer. 

Gimme that filtered, safe sunshine: In my neck of the woods, the summer sun isn’t playing. Check your area for your UV index, which can help you track days with higher UV rays and allow you to become more strategic and savvy about your sun exposure. One change I’ve made in my sun and skin approach is choosing mineral-based sunscreens instead of chemical-based ones. Mineral-based sunscreens reflect the sun’s rays, rather than chemical-based, which absorb the UV rays and then release them as heat. While some medical professionals believe mineral-based sunscreens are safer than chemical-based ones, there are recommendations that chemical-based sunscreens provide better protection if you are sweating a lot or are in the water. Talk with your medical provider about the best choice for your lifestyle and your skin.

As you bring your outdoor life out of hibernation this spring and summer, a few small steps can help you enjoy all the benefits of the season without some of the typical itch, burn, and pesky side effects. Plan ahead, do a little research on upgrades to skincare and pest management. Take a minute to smell the roses and to listen to the birds. You might just find that this year makes you fall in love all over again with warmer days.


  1. https://www.goodrx.com/health-topic/dermatology/why-mosquitoes-bite-some-people-more
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/interactive/2023/birds-song-nature-mental-health-benefits/