7 Plants That are Natural Insect Repellents
Make your time outside a bit more pleasant by planting some of these strongly scented plants that keep pesky bugs like flies and mosquitoes at bay.
In order to bring out the insect-repelling qualities in these plants, you’ll need to crush their leaves to release the oils. These oils are what keep the bugs away. Simply crush a few leaves between your fingers as you walk by the plant, or rub the broken leaves on your exposed skin or clothing for prolonged insect repellent. (Note: Be sure to test a small patch of skin for allergies before rubbing leaves on larger skin areas.)
The smell of mint is repugnant to insects like flies, ants and mosquitos, as well as rodents like rats and mice. Mint, whether in the form of oils, sprays, crushed leaves, or even mint gum can be used to keep these pests away. If you choose to grow mint in your garden, be aware that it spreads aggressively and is best kept contained. Mint thrives in zones 3-10 and can get up to 2 feet tall. It prefers light conditions that are full-sun to partial shade, and should be planted in moist, well-drained soil.
Because of its beauty and mosquito-repellent properties, potted basil makes a great centerpiece for a patio table. Since it’s also a culinary herb, it can be planted in an edible garden bed as well. There are many varieties of basil — all repellent to insects — so simply choose one that suits your particular needs. An easy plant to grow from both seed and transplants, basil can get up to 2 feet tall. For best results, position it in full sun or partial shade. Basil prefers soil that is evenly moist and well drained.
Another plant that works well in both a container and the garden, lemongrass features attractive bright green foliage and a graceful upright appearance. In addition to being a natural repellent to bugs, the stems and leaves of lemongrass are popular ingredients in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. To release the plant’s insect-repellent oils, simply cut a few inches off the leaf tips. As a tender perennial, lemongrass is relatively easy to grow but does not tolerate cold temperatures. However, if grown in a pot, the plant can be brought inside during the winter months for year-round enjoyment. Lemongrass is an aggressive spreader, so growing it in a container in warmer regions is recommended. The plant thrives in zones 9-11 and can get up to 4 feet tall. Keep it in full sun with well-drained, evenly moist soil.
Humans may enjoy the fresh scent of lavender, but flies, moths and mosquitoes stay far away from it. While simply having a lavender plant nearby will serve as a deterrent, the most effective way to use it is to rub the plant on yourself and nearby surfaces so that the oils are released. Lavender comes in more than 400 varieties and thrives in zones 5-10, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one that works for your particular situation. Depending on the variety, lavender can get up to 3 feet tall. While it prefers full sun and well-drained soil, it is tolerant to drought.
5. Lemon Thyme
A creeping herb that thrives in zones 5-8, lemon thyme features a rich citrus scent that repels many types of bugs. One way to make the most of this pungent culinary herb is to use it as a groundcover so that its bug-repelling characteristics are released every time you walk on it. A popular herb for cooking, harvest lemon thyme before it flowers for the best flavor. The plant can get up to 12 inches tall and prefers well-drained soil and full sun. It is drought resistant.
Another edible plant that repels insects is garlic. It also makes a good companion for other food crops, such as carrots, tomatoes, and members of the cabbage family like broccoli and kale. A plant for zones 4-9, garlic can get up to 18 inches tall. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil that is evenly moist. Garlic is planted from single cloves. Simply plant the cloves in the fall and look for shoots to appear the following spring.
Catnip is a lovely perennial herb that is related to mint. While it is usually marketed to cat owners, catnip actually has strong mosquito-repelling capabilities that are comparable to some commercial bug sprays. To plant catnip in your garden, start it from transplants, as the seed is tiny and quite difficult to germinate. Be sure to give catnip full sun and well-drained soil that is evenly moist. It thrives in zones 3-9 and can grow up to 3 feet tall.