I live in a one bedroom “garden” apartment, which means that I get to have my own front door, porch, and small strip of flower bed. The only downside? The flower bed is under the porch roof, which means it’s constantly damp and shady, and also an ideal mosquito habitat.
So this year, after frantically trying to squash a few rogue mosquitoes that snuck indoors while I was carrying in groceries, I’ve decided to get myself some mosquito-repelling plants.
Yes, there are some plants that mosquitoes don’t like, due to their potent smell. The oils of some of these plants are used to formulate natural mosquito repellents, but there’s also some preliminary research to suggest that some live plants can also help keep at least some mosquitoes away.
I’m not expecting my mosquito-repelling plants to work miracles, but hopefully they’ll discourage a few of those blood-suckers from coming too close. If you’re out doing a bit of weeding, or flipping burgers on the grill, try crushing the leaves of these plants and rubbing the oils on your skin to get the most protection.
Want to try growing your own mosquito-resistant garden? Here’s what you should plant.
The essential oil from citronella grass is used to make those insect-repellent candles you’ve probably come across at a summer barbecue. Make sure you’re buying the tall spiky grass Cymbopogon nardus, not “citronella plant” (Pelargonium citrosum), which is actually a type of geranium that smells similar to citronella but doesn’t contain the same mosquito-repelling oils. Citronella grass prefers partial sun and moist, loamy soil, so water every day if you’re growing it in a container. It is a perennial in tropical climates but can be grown as an annual in colder places.
Basil essential oil is being studied for its mosquito-fighting properties, and anecdotal evidence says just growing it helps keep mosquitoes at bay. But even if it doesn’t have any impact on mosquitoes, you’ll still be able to make fresh homemade pesto, so why not give it a try? Basil likes full sun and moist soil, so water daily during the height of summer, especially if planting in a pot.
This member of the mint family gets its distinctive scent from citronellal, an oil that contains some of the same properties as citronella, including an ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s incredibly easy to grow—almost too easy. Lemon balm is a perennial that can quickly become invasive and take over your whole plot, so it’s best planted in a container. Give it full sun to part shade and don’t forget to water.
Peppermint essential oil has been shown to repel mosquitoes. A cousin of lemon balm, peppermint has essentially the same care requirements: give it lots of sun and water and contain it in a pot unless you want to grow lots of mint and nothing else in your flower bed. You can also use the leaves of both peppermint and lemon balm to brew tea.
I absolutely love the scent of lavender, but anecdotal evidence and some tests on lavender essential oil suggests that mosquitoes do not. Some natural living gurus even suggest drying the lavender flowers and making sachets to ward off mosquitoes. Either way, you really can’t go wrong growing lavender because it’s so gorgeous. It prefers full sun and drier soil; water once or twice a week during the growing season. Lavender is a perennial, so expect it to come back yearly.
Nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives catnip its distinctive smell, has mosquito-repelling properties. Catnip (another member of the mint family) grows best in full sun and well-draining soil, but it will put up with partial sun and just about any type of soil. Once established, the only thing you really need to do to care for it is to pinch off the flower heads when they appear, since catnip spreads quickly by seed and can easily take over.