More than almost any other creature, mosquitoes can ruin our enjoyment of the outdoors. If chemical repellents aren’t your bag, consider growing garden plants that repel mosquitoes naturally due to the scent of their natural oils.
Merely growing these mosquito-repelling plants isn’t a standalone way to deter pests. You need to increase the insect-repelling power of the plants by releasing their essential oils. Add some cuttings from the plants to the grill (most relevant when the plants are known for their culinary value). Chop the leaves and stems of the plants and scatter them on your lawn and around the outdoor living areas. If you’re pressed for time before going outdoors, just add some stems of the plants to areas with foot traffic to release some mosquito-repelling oils with every step you take.
The tiny white flowers of Callicarpa americana aren’t much to look at, but the vibrant magenta berry clusters make this small shrub stand out in the landscape. Beautyberry plants are a member of the Lamiaceae family, which includes many mints. The fragrant oils released by crushing the leaves of the beautyberry repel mosquitoes, and the berries often last long into the winter to attract and feed songbirds and small mammals.
The same plants that drive your cat to distraction can simultaneously protect Felix from mosquito bites. Join the kitty for a romp through the Nepeta plants, often called catmint, whose leaves are edible for your human guests as well. Spread some clippings around the pool and patio for a more bite-free relaxation zone. Try the ‘Walker’s Low’ cultivar, which tolerates dry soils and blooms from late spring to mid-summer.
Somehow, the natural oils in Cymbopogon citratus manage to smell like real lemons, only better. Lemongrass is a staple in some Asian cultures’ cooking, and its delicate fragrance lends a citrus note to some perfumes as well. Lemongrass is a tender plant, and won’t survive the winter below zone 9, but it grows quickly in container culture. Coarsely chop the strappy leaves of this plant and strew them around your deck during your next gathering, both for mosquito-repelling power and for the pleasing aroma.
Marigold plants have a unique odor that can only be described as pungent. These mosquito-repelling annuals are easy to grow from seed and make a handsome addition to the flowering vegetable garden, where they might even repel other insect pests like nematodes. The substance in marigolds that gives them their insect-repelling power is pyrethrum, the same substance used in many organic insecticides.
Grow mint (Mentha spp.) and you can achieve that perfect mint mojito, and then sip it outdoors without the buzzkill of mosquitoes. All types of mint plants repel mosquitoes, and there are more varieties than you thought. Explore the subtle differences between spearmint and peppermint, or marvel at just how much the chocolate mint plant smells like a candy dish. All mint varieties grow and spread like wildfire, so harvest them with abandon in your pursuit to banish mosquitoes.
Although lavender growers covet the purple flower spikes for their fragrance, the sweet soapy perfume of lavender permeates the foliage as well, not just the flowers. It’s a fact that mosquitoes do not like this smell, and the pleasing nature of lavender fragrance means you can rub the plants on your skin as a kind of natural repellent.
People have used rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, as natural pest control for years, as insects shy away from its piny scent. Rosemary-laden smoke from a grill is particularly effective at banishing mosquitoes from an outdoor area, and it will do double-duty in flavoring your meats as well. Rosemary does need full sun to prevent needle drop, but it prefers to dry out between waterings.
Fennel plants (Foeniculum vulgare) are often left out of the herb garden in favor of more compact plants, but fennel plants have multiple uses in addition to their mosquito-repellent properties: The feathery plants are as ornamental as any tall garden grass, the chopped leaves are delicious in salads and soups, and the leaves host swallowtail butterfly caterpillars in the garden. Bronze fennel is especially lovely and will self-seed to produce a handsome colony for the following season.
As a native tree in Australia, the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus cinerea) can soar to 60 feet tall after several years. Because it’s a tender plant that won’t survive a hard freeze, the better alternative for many gardeners is to grow the eucalyptus as a potted plant. For short-term potting, choose a quick-growing species like E. globulus subsp. bicostata, which will give you many fragrant leaves to harvest for mosquito repelling. For a plant that will live for several years in a pot, choose a slow-growing eucalyptus like E. vernicosa. Eucalyptus plants like full sun and rich soil.
The fast-growing leaves of the basil plant are as repugnant to mosquitoes as they are a delicious addition to our pestos and salads. Not all basil types are created equal when it comes to repelling mosquitoes, and the extra-spicy Thai basil, with its narrow foliage and cinnamon scent, has the best ability to fend off the insects. All basil plants need full sun and warm growing temperatures, which make them great companion plants for tomatoes.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial herb with a semi-shrubby growth habit. It has a pungent yet pleasant odor that mosquitoes avoid. Leaves tossed into a fire pit will keep bugs away for hours. Over time, garden plants can become woody and sparse; prevent this by dividing the plants every few years.