Growing These Plants Will Mosquito-Proof Your Outdoor Space
Outsmart biting bugs and beautify your garden by cultivating these herbs, flowers, and veggies that mosquitoes positively detest.
The joys of warm weather are many: splashing in the swimming pool, entertaining outdoors, sitting on your patio while watching the sunset. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are out to spoil your fun—and then some. According to Climate Central, the number of mosquito “disease danger days” is increasing across much of the country as temperatures rise, representing a greater risk for transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.
There are more than 170 species of mosquito in the United States, all of which need standing water to breed and prefer humid conditions. While males feed mostly on plant nectar, females are notorious biters, using our blood for the protein required for egg development.
Battling these bugs is such big business, with numerous mosquito sprays, bracelets, candles, bug zappers, and chemical repellents on the market, that lots of folks might not realize a natural alternative: mosquito-repelling plants. In your quest for an itch- and illness-free summer, try cultivating some of the following plants that keep mosquitoes away around your yard and near your favorite outdoor seating areas.
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Nepetalactone, the chemical in Nepeta (catnip and catmint) leaves that attracts felines, has the opposite effect on mosquitoes. In fact, studies have shown that nepetalactone is a more effective mosquito repellent than the commercial chemical DEET. As a bonus, both nepetas put up pretty spikes of flowers from spring until fall (white on catnip, and lavender on catmint). The plant, a perennial bound to return year after year, does best in full sun; allow soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
You’re probably familiar with citronella candles, but might not realize that their strong fragrance, which is very objectionable to mosquitoes, is extracted from the leaves of the citronella plant, also called mosquito plant. The mosquito repellent citronella plant has a grassy appearance, is fairly drought resistant, likes afternoon shade and grows well in rich, fast-draining soil. It’s generally considered an annual because it won’t come back after frosty weather.
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While most people love the relaxation-inducing aroma of lavender, this beautiful purple-bloomed perennial is one of the best plants for mosquito control. There are several varieties of lavender, but all prefer full sun, somewhat dry soil, and some deadheading to promote even more blooms.
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4. Lemon Balm
Related to mint, lemon balm has a citrusy smell that mosquitoes abhor. Its leaves, allowed to dry, can be brewed into a wonderfully lemon-tasting herb tea that helps induce sleep. Grow these anti mosquito plants in a partially shaded spot, and keep soil moist but not soggy for the best growth.
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The many varieties of marigold, those cheerful yellow, gold, white, or orange summer blooms, all tell mosquitoes to bug off. They’re quite easy to grow, and do especially well in containers when planted in a sunny spot. Let the soil dry out slightly before watering, and clip away spent flowers to encourage more flowers all the way through fall.
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Not for pesto only, basil is a powerful natural mosquito repellent. All of the many varieties of this warm-weather herb discourage mosquitoes from lingering, so choose your favorites and plant them in a sunny spot. Basil is also a companion plant, so it can help other nearby plants (like tomatoes) in your garden grow and might even enhance their taste. Keep the soil moist, feed monthly with an all-purpose fertilizer, and pinch away any flower buds that develop, as once basil flowers, it stops producing new leaves.
A member of the mint family, pennyroyal has a strong fragrance that mosquitoes and other insects detest, making it among the most effective herbs that repel mosquitoes. Caution: The herb can be toxic to people and animals, so grow it in a container to keep it under control, away from kids and pets. Pennyroyal thrives with plenty of sun and soil that’s moist but not saturated.
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If you’re looking for mosquito-repellent herbs to add to your garden, give peppermint a try. Like most members of the mint family, peppermint’s fragrance is a natural mosquito turnoff. This versatile perennial herb has many culinary uses: dry the leaves for tea, drop a few fresh leaves into lemonade or cocktails, shred leaves for Asian dishes and salads, or give fruit salad extra punch with a few chopped leaves. Peppermint can be invasive, so corral it in a container, set it in a partially shaded spot, and water regularly so soil won’t dry out.
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9. Scented Geraniums
While most varieties of the pelargonium family are grown for their colorful flowers, scented geraniums are valued primarily for the pleasant fragrances of their leaves. There are many varieties of this annual, but lemon, lime, orange, and peppermint geraniums are some of the most effective flowers that repel mosquitoes. Grow them in a sunny spot, let the soil go dry before watering, and don’t bother fertilizing because scented geraniums do best in somewhat poor soil.
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Rosemary does it all: adds pretty purple flowers to your garden, is a versatile herb in the kitchen, and discourages mosquitoes with its potent fragrance. Grown as an annual in all but the most mild-winter areas, these mosquito repellent plants thrive in full sun as long as you plant them in sandy soil that drains quickly, and you only water when the soil dries out.
Popular in Asian cooking, lemongrass, as its name suggests, looks like a tall clump of grass, and has a strong lemon fragrance and taste. You’ll appreciate its flavor in the kitchen, but mosquitoes hate the citrus scent. Grow this annual in a warm, full-sun spot, fertilize every few weeks with a fish emulsion or general fertilizer, and keep the soil moist.
Commonly called bee balm, Monarda is a beautiful flowering perennial that attracts desirable pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but repels mosquitoes with its minty-herbal scent. Bee balm prefers a full sun location, although afternoon shade is appreciated in the hottest areas. Keep the soil moist and deadhead regularly to keep the flowers coming until fall.
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Known by its common name of floss flower, ageratum produces clusters of fuzzy, small purple blooms. A low-growing annual especially well suited to containers, floss flower secretes coumarin, a chemical that mosquitoes hate. Plant it in a part-sun location in soil that drains well, watering regularly so the soil won’t dry out.
14. American Beautyberry
Not only will the American beautyberry shrub keep mosquitoes away, it will also add some visual appeal to your garden space and attract songbirds with its gorgeous purple berry clusters. Like mint, this plant is a member of the Lamiaceae family and mosquitoes do not like the aroma of the oils it releases. American beautyberries grow best in well-draining soil in light shade.
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15. Lantana Camara
If you’re looking at how to keep mosquitoes away, you might also want to consider planting Lantana camara (common lantana). These anti-mosquito plants are also very popular with pollinators, for the added benefit of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden space. While lantana can thrive as a perennial in warmer zones, it is most commonly grown as an annual. It does best in full-sun locations and in arid or semi-arid soil, though it will adapt to different soil types.
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Fennel’s wide, fern-like shoots that can add texture and definition to a garden space. While mosquitoes don’t like this herb, it can serve as a host for swallowtail butterfly larvae. Fennel is a perennial that does best when grown in areas that get at least 6 hours of sun and have fertile soil.
Eucalyptus plants repel mosquitoes and can be a welcome, fragrant addition to your yard, deck, or patio. Native to Australia, eucalyptus plants are not suited for cold weather. If you live in a climate with colder winters, grow your eucalyptus plant in a pot and bring it indoors when the temperatures drop. This plant thrives when placed in rich soil and full sun.