What Are The Best Mosquito-Repellent Plants for the Garden?
Are mosquitoes bugging you in the garden? You need mosquito-repelling plants. Gardening expert Kaleigh Brillon will show you the best choices you can put in your garden.
Mosquitoes will damper your gardening experience, especially if you prefer to go out in the evening after a hot summer day. Everything seems fine until your ankles start itching! Chemical repellents are usually reliable, but they aren’t the most environmentally friendly solution, and the feel and smell can irritate many people. Luckily, you can fight nature with nature with mosquito-repellent plants.
Some plants are aromatic enough to interfere with a mosquito’s ability to find you. It’s like a scent camouflage you can keep right there in your garden. Most plants are more effective when the leaves are crushed, but they can still help you out to some extent by just sitting pretty.
Let’s look at some of the best plants you can plant to keep mosquitoes at bay. Plenty of them are useful outside of the garden, too!
The Short Answer
Some plants repel mosquitoes because of the components that make up the plant, while others are aromatic enough to cover up your scent. The best mosquito-repelling plants are basil, catnip, chrysanthemums, citronella, garlic, lantana, lavender, lemon balm, lemon thyme, marigolds, peppermint, rosemary, rue, and sage. Plant these throughout your garden to reduce the number of mosquitoes around, and crush the leaves when you need extra potency.
The Long Answer
What makes some plants effective mosquito repellents? It has a lot to do with their composition and smell. Let’s discuss why they’re effective and which plants you should choose.
Why Plants Repel Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are attracted to you and your smell, including body odor and the carbon dioxide you release when you breathe. An easy way to repel them is to cover up your scent. Aromatic herbs, garlic, and flowers can help mask your smell while you’re in the garden.
Aromatic plants work best when crushed because that’s when they release the most potent scent. If you don’t notice much difference with them just sitting around, try crushing a leaf and rubbing it on your skin, as long as you know you’re not allergic or won’t develop any skin irritation.
Some plants are effective because of phytochemicals, which help plants fight against diseases since it’s part of their immune system. Some of these compounds are specifically meant to repel insects, including mosquitoes. You can even find plant oils that contain these phytochemicals as ingredients in chemical mosquito repellents.
Marigolds are the most well-known bug-repelling flower. They stave off nematodes, cabbage worms, and mosquitoes, among other critters. They also work as a trap crop for aphids, attracting ladybugs and other pest-eating insects. It’s undoubtedly a good plant to keep around.
This is one of the flowers that contain phytochemicals that allow them to deter pests naturally. In many cases, they deposit these phytochemicals into the soil via their root system, but they naturally contain smaller levels in their foliage as well. As a result, French, Mexican, and African marigolds can be useful in repelling mosquitoes and many other pests that bother you in the garden. Marigolds are drought and heat-tolerant, making them easy to please anywhere in your garden.
Catnip might attract some cats, but at least they’ll deter mosquitoes. This plant has pest-deterring capabilities in its genes, but it’s also quite aromatic, making it a double-whammy for nearby pests. Some studies suggest that catnip’s repelling power may be just as good as DEET, but there’s still some research needed before that can be said. Plus, it’s likely most potent in oil form, as many herbs are.
Catnip isn’t effective against every mosquito, however. The plant affects the TRPA1 sensor, which responds to powerful irritants like wasabi; animals and people have these sensors, but some mosquitoes don’t. The mosquitoes that lack it won’t be bothered by catnip, so at least a few mosquitoes may still bug you.
If you don’t already have this heavily scented herb in your garden, add it to your list. You’ll enjoy the sweet smell while working in the garden with the added benefit of no mosquitoes. Lavender will help camouflage your natural odors, making it difficult for mosquitoes to find you.
Though lavender has an elegant vibe, it’s quite a sturdy plant. It can handle drought conditions, so you don’t have to water it too often. The dry conditions will reduce mosquitoes enough as is, but lavender will really help keep them at bay.
Peppermint will go wild if you let it, but that might not be the worst thing in mosquito-prone areas. It’s a super aromatic plant; just rubbing your hand across it will release that minty goodness. Mosquitoes hate that smell, and peppermint oil is often the main ingredient in naturally-derived pest repellent sprays.
Don’t underestimate a peppermint plant’s ability to move throughout your garden. I could still smell it the year after I thought I removed it all from my raised bed, where I thought I could prune it enough to keep it contained. (Nope!)
The plant will spread underground through rhizomes and send up new stems. Keep this plant in a container near the rest of the garden to utilize it while still keeping it under control.
Rosemary is another pungent herb that mosquitoes don’t like. It’s as beautiful as it is useful and will fit in wherever you need it in your garden or landscape. While you trim the plant, you’ll help it release its scent, keeping mosquitoes away. Try trimming the plant a little at a time while you’re outside to keep the good smells going, but never remove more than a third of the plant within a short period of time to ensure it still can thrive!
For a short-term, non-pruning solution, run your hand along one of the woody stems, bruising a few leaves to release some of its essential oils. The leaves will regenerate faster than the stem tissues will, and the essential oils are perfect to keep mosquitos at bay.
This tough herb is tolerant of dry conditions and is an evergreen plant, providing your garden with color all year long. It has shrub-like tendencies that become woody over time, making it a reliable and hardy perennial you can expect to provide every year.
Lemon thyme, Thymus x citriodorus, is a delightful lemony shrub that works well for seasoning many foods. Like other herbs, it thrives in dry, warm weather and doesn’t need to be watered often. This shrub will look great in ornamental flower beds, or you can keep it in your edible garden.
Crushed lemon thyme leaves have been found to have 62% of the repelling power of DEET, according to Iowa State University. It won’t be effective without releasing some of its natural essential oils, so pick a sprig, crush the leaves, and rub them on your skin periodically while you work in the garden.
If you add lemon balm to the garden, consider confining it to a pot. It’s part of the Lamiaceae family, making it cousins with mint. As we all know, mint is a wild spreader! Keep this crazy family under control to prevent it from taking over your garden.
Lemon balm will help repel bugs, making it worth keeping up with. Mosquitoes (and other pests) don’t like citrus scents, so sun-warmed lemon balm blowing in a breeze may help keep them away. As I mentioned with other plants, it’s more effective when the leaves are crushed because they release the most scent and oil.
Basil’s scent is as strong as its flavor, making it a powerful repellent in the garden. Just rustling the leaves may be enough movement to get the scent working. Basil essential oil repels mosquitoes, showing that it’s a promising plant for the kitchen and for keeping pests away.
Established basil plants can tolerate some drought, but they’ll need more water than other herbs I’ve mentioned. They make great potted plants, so plant them wherever mosquitoes congregate and pester you.
This aromatic herb is another great one to add to your mosquito-repelling garden. You can crush up the leaves and rub them on your skin for a powerful effect. If you need the entire patio free from pests, try burning it. Burn dry or fresh sage leaves to release their aroma and keep mosquitoes away; just be sure to burn in a safe environment, like in a supervised fire pit.
Sage is a hardy shrub that can withstand dry conditions. It will work well in a rocky landscape like xeriscaping in areas where water conservation is necessary. It’s a perennial plant that can be grown in zones 4-10, making it a viable mosquito-repelling option for almost any garden.
Much has been said about garlic’s ability to keep mosquitoes away, like the theory that eating it will act as a repellent. It’s thought that it works because your body releases garlic compounds through your breath and skin after consumption. It hasn’t been proven in studies yet, but eating a meal with garlic before stepping outside wouldn’t hurt.
What’s certain, though, is that garlic is useful against mosquitoes directly. The strong scent will help hide your scent, making it harder for mosquitoes to find you. It can be utilized whether it’s planted in your garden or harvested and turned into a mosquito spray.
Sun-warmed garlic greens also tend to produce that garlic aroma we’re all familiar with in the kitchen, making them one of the few viable options for plant-and-deter without any interaction with the plant.
A 2008 study in Tanzania revealed that lantana has some power against mosquitoes. It was planted around houses with lots of mosquitoes. The study showed that houses with lantana around them had fewer mosquitoes than those without.
While it may not be a problem in most of the US, lantana is weedy in tropical climates and can take over an area. Keep it contained in pots if you’re in a tropical area. In the United States, it thrives in zones 8-11, though I see it growing as a perennial in many yards in zone 7b. It will only grow as an annual in cooler climates.
Citronella is the plant associated with fighting off mosquitoes. How many times have you sat on a patio with a citronella candle burning? Like other herbs, the plant itself can help repel them with its scent, but burning it or using its oil is far more effective.
Pelargonium citrosum, or citronella geranium, is a flowering plant often called the citrosa plant or mosquito plant. It’s hardy in zones 10-11 but can be grown in zones 5-9 in containers brought indoors during winter. Some plants may be sold as “citronella,” so check the scientific name or learn how to identify Pelargonium citrosum to know what you’re getting.
Cymbopogon nardus is citronella grass, not to be confused with the other one. It’s hardy in zones 10-12 but can be grown as an annual everywhere else. It’s often called lemongrass, but it’s not the same plant, even though it’s in the same family.
Ironically, while citronella is known far and wide as a mosquito repellent, it still needs a little help from you. Crush some leaves and rub them on your skin while gardening (provided that you’re not sensitive to the oils); this will keep mosquitos from munching on you.
Chrysanthemums are a gorgeous addition to any landscape. You wouldn’t expect these brightly-colored beauties to be insect destroyers, would you? They contain pyrethrins, natural chemicals deadly to mosquitoes and other insects, including fleas and ticks.
Dried chrysanthemum flower heads are ground up to create pyrethrin, which is used as a natural insect killer. The flowers are more useful as an insect killer than a repellent, but they still have some repelling power that makes them worth keeping around. (Side note: Don’t confuse natural pyrethrum with artificial pyrethroids, toxic chemicals made to mimic what chrysanthemums do, but on a stronger level.)
Rue is a bushy flowering plant that has long been used in traditional medicine, often believed to be able to cure many things that might ail you. Whether or not that’s accurate, one thing’s for sure, though: it has a good ability to repel insects. This aromatic plant will help hide your body odors, making it difficult for mosquitoes and other insects to find you. You can plant it in your garden and harvest some foliage to hang up to dry.
If you want to take a step further and get rid of mosquitoes altogether, rue can be used to kill mosquito larvae. A study used concentrated rue and sprayed it on larvae, and many of them died within 24 hours.
You don’t have to let mosquitoes keep you out of your yard. You can fill your space with gorgeous plants to keep those buzzing pests away. Some will be effective enough as they sit in your garden, but all will work best when the leaves are crushed. If you’re not allergic to the plants, you can rub crushed leaves on your skin for a few itch-free hours of peace.