Establish a natural defense against mosquito bites.
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 them needing standing water to breed and preferring humid conditions. While males mostly feed 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 sprays, bracelets, candles, bug zappers, and chemical repellents on the market, lots of folks may not realize there are quite a few plants that deter mosquitoes, too. In your quest for an itch- and illness-free summer, try cultivating some of the following 13 plants around your yard and near your favorite outdoor seating areas.
Nepetalactone, the chemical in catnip leaves that attracts felines, has the opposite effect on mosquitoes. In fact, studies have shown that nepetalactone is a more effective mosquito repellant than the commercial chemical DEET. As a bonus, catnip puts up pretty spikes of white or purple flowers from spring until fall. Plant, a perennial bound to return year after year, does best in full sun; allow soil 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. Citronella has a grassy appearance, is fairly drought resistant, and likes afternoon shade and rich, fast-draining soil. It’s generally considered an annual because it won’t come back after frosty weather.
While most humans love the relaxation-inducing aroma of lavender, mosquitoes shun this beautiful purple-bloomed perennial. There are several varieties of lavender, but all prefer full sun, somewhat dry soil, and periodic deadheading to promote even more blooms.
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 lemon balm in a partially shaded spot, and keep soil moist but not soggy for the best growth.
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.
Not for pesto only, basil is a powerful natural mosquito repellant. 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. 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 pest-repelling plants. Caution: The herb can be toxic to humans 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.
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.
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 most effective at repelling 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.
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, rosemary thrives in full sun as long as you plant it in sandy soil that drains quickly, and you only water it 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.
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 secrets 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.
Plant the right things, and you can outwit those mosquitoes.
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