How do I turn a concrete cube full of bugs into something beautiful?
May 12, 2017 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I have a patio attached to my condo! Great, except it doesn't get much light and for some reason attracts swarms of insects. How do I turn this into an enjoyable outdoor space?

I live in the Northwest near the Rocky Mountains, where non-winter only really lasts from May-October, so I would love to enjoy my patio while the weather's nice! It's a rectangular patio, about 6 feet long by 10 feet wide, exposed on the North and East sides and attached to the condo on the South and West sides. There is very little direct sunlight that actually hits the patio, though, as the walls are 6 feet tall and solid concrete, and there is about a four foot overhang that comes off the building. Maybe an hour and a half of sunlight around noon at the maximum in the summer.

Right now, we have a small BBQ underneath the overhang which we use frequently, and an air conditioner unit under the overhang. There is an outdoor faucet and hose, and a drain in the center of the concrete patio floor.

Without much direct sunlight, the patio stays cool and dark. It gets quite dusty and attracts TONS of insects in its current state, lots of mosquitoes and little flies and spiders. In an attempt to quiet the insect population I've previously put out an OFF Mosquito Lamp, but that didn't do much.

Currently, I have a potted hydrangea tree out there that I installed in a previous attempt to make the space pleasant. It is about 8 feet tall and, even though I have neglected it horribly, it has bloomed around August for two consecutive summers (though only about the top third of the tree blooms because of the whole no-sun thing). We're in hardiness zone 4a.

We would want to use the space as a place to sit for a few hours at a time, maybe even eating a meal out there if we can subdue the swarms of bugs. We don't have a huge budget for this but could invest around $500. I like to garden but don't have a lot of time for it, so plant upkeep would ideally be minimal, and ideally we wouldn't have to spend longer than a half a day or so setting up and taking down anything at the beginning and end of the season.

Is there hope for my cold, dark, bug infested patio? How can I make this into a pleasant space? Thanks in advance!
posted by rodneyaug to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What about hanging a mosquito net around the area in bug season? One of those meant for patios or patio-like spaces while camping? There are many options and they are great for preventing flying insects.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:21 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

A large fan would greatly minimize or even eliminate the bugs. For $100 or so you can get a decent one that you can move outside when you want to use the patio; for $200+ you can get one that you can leave outside.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:29 AM on May 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you had an exterminator out to see it? That would be my first step.

Is it possible to take down the walls? If so, that might give you lots more light and air.
posted by Cranialtorque at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2017

Some ideas for you:

1. I'd put down some sort of flooring that improves the warmth of the space - ie. wood. This kind of thing..

2. If possible, I'd paint the concrete with a neutral warm color. This image - note warm color and wood floor.

3. Get some comfy seating - really important to your enjoyment. Something you can relax in and a little table for your stuff.

4. Plants add a lot, but if you don't want to garden, just buy a few pre-made pots full each season. You can get a thing to put on railing, or a shelf on wall, or hang them.

5. You can cover up unsightly items, like an AC unit, with a little bit of lattice. That can stay year 'round.

6. Bluetooth a little music out there!

7. Since you are north facing, it might help to add a light - something to shed some warm glow. Or maybe a string of bistro lights.

8. Here's an article I ran across.

I'm sitting on my patio now enjoying a beautiful day.... wishing you the same!
posted by ecorrocio at 12:43 PM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Maximize what light you have by hanging an
outdoor mirror. Ecorrocio's bistro lights idea or some other patio light source would also help.

The brighter you can make the area, the less the bugs will be attracted to it.

I would absolutely hate looking at concrete walls. Hang a brightly colored tapestry, rug, canvas, or some type of large artwork on one of the walls. Mirror and a couple plants for the other.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:02 PM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd use a sprayer and a mild bleach solution on walls, ceiling, floor, rinse thoroughly, then use a fan to dry it out. Bugs like dampness, and if there's any rotten wood, it will attract even more. A fan will also discourage mosquitoes if you want to sit out there.

Solar string lights are easy - you should be able to mount the little solar panel where it will get adequate sun. Mixing tiny wire lights with other sizes looks nice.

In addition to the existing plant, how about a window box of herbs? And some kind of nicer flooring, like an outdoor rug.
posted by theora55 at 2:32 PM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

You guys are the best. I'm spending my Saturday afternoon cleaning up using theora55's recommendation. Next I'll install some flooring, splurge on an outdoor fan (thanks Mr.Know-it-some!) and some cozy furniture, cover the AC with a lattice per ecorrocio's genius idea, and get an outdoor mirror thanks to BlueHorse's brilliant suggestion. And a string of twinkly bistro lights to complete the look!

As soon as I'm settled in on my cozy patio with a glass of wine, I'll toast to the brilliant folks of MeFi. Cheers!
posted by rodneyaug at 1:54 PM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about a before and after photo?

(And an invite to share the wine!)
posted by BlueHorse at 8:20 PM on May 13, 2017

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