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10 Mosquito-Repelling Plants You Need in Your Backyard ASAP

Why invest in pesticides or bug sprays to control mosquitoes when you can repel them naturally with plants?

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Lavender plant in a flowerpot.Kinnaree1/Getty Images

Do mosquito-repellent plants work?

Buzzing past your ear as you lounge on the patio, leaving welts on your kids’ ankles as they play in the grass, preventing you from sleeping with their high-pitched whine … mosquitoes make for the antithesis of a backyard oasis. Many people prefer to deter pests without chemicals or pesticides, but what are the alternatives if you want to keep mosquitoes and other pests from buzzing around your outdoor furniture? Those candles don’t really work, and the patches and bracelets are ineffective for a lot of people, but there’s one thing that humans have been using for hundreds of years to keep the summer itchies to a minimum: mosquito-repellent plants.

What is the best plant to keep mosquitoes away?

Planting certain types of pest-controlling herbs and flowers is a tried and true solution for the eternal question of how to keep mosquitoes away. As a bonus, plants that smell terrible to mosquitoes smell great to humans, so your patio will be enhanced by both a lack of mosquitoes and the sweet scent of flowers. These are the best mosquito-repelling plants for a swat-free summer (and spring and fall too). Psst, did you know you can buy plants online?

Young rosemary plantKirill Rudenko/Getty Images

Rosemary

If you have a dry corner of your garden or windowsill that gets full sun, a rosemary bush will be very happy there. Just let it dry out between waterings, and it will reward you as an edible herb and a mosquito-repellent plant, driving insects away with its distinctive scent. Rubbing a few sprigs over exposed arms or legs will help keep mosquitoes away from those areas, and rosemary smoke from a grill or fire pit will be an extra repellent. Rosemary is also a deterrent to cats, if you’ve got strays poking around your yard.

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fresh basil leaves mosquito repellentOlgaMiltsova/Getty Images

Basil

Basil is not just for pizza toppings and pesto. This pretty herb also has major gardening benefits, like attracting bees, enhancing the flavor of other plants, and perhaps most important, serving as a mosquito-repellent plant! (Wondering how long mosquitoes live? Too long!) Matteo Grader, a pest-control specialist for London-based Panther Pest Control, says gardeners highly recommend planting basil in the garden; thanks to its strong scent, it’s a mosquito deterrent.

Grader also recommends using basil to make a natural mosquito repellent that won’t harm your other plants. To do this, mix about 3.5 ounces of fresh basil leaves with a half cup of boiling water and a half cup of vodka. Stir thoroughly and transfer the mixture to a clean spray bottle. Spray your natural, basil-based repellent in your outdoor area to keep mosquitoes at bay.

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Lemon Balm PlantNicholas Kostin/Getty Images

Lemon balm

Lemon balm contains a compound called citronellal, which has an effect similar to the mosquito repellent citronella. The lemony scent of lemon balm is also one that mosquitoes don’t love, which makes it a perfect addition to your mosquito-repellent plant collection. Juan J. Rocha, vice president of DynaTrap, suggests caution when planting lemon balm in the garden, though, because of its invasive properties. It can spread quickly once planted, so it’s best to plant this one in pots, keeping them near the areas in your yard where you want to control the mosquito population—like the porch. In case you’re wondering, this is the U.S. city with the most mosquitoes.

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Closeup of fresh catnip leaves growing in a gardenAkchamczuk/Getty Images

Catnip

Your cat may go crazy for it, but mosquitoes will do anything to stay away from it. In fact, studies have shown that the essential oil in catnip, known as nepetalactone, is much more effective at repelling mosquitoes than store-bought bug sprays. The essential oil of catnip is so strong that you need about one-tenth as much of it as you’d need of the insect repellant DEET for the same effectiveness. Catnip plants grow tall, so if you’re planting them directly in your garden, do so in an area where they won’t block your desired views. And be prepared to become the primary hangout for all the neighborhood kitties. Dog owners and people allergic to cats might need to look elsewhere on this list for the best mosquito-repellent plants. (But be aware, dog owners, these are the plants that are toxic to dogs.)

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Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)Valter Jacinto/Getty Images

Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal is an extremely potent species of mint. If too much of its oil gets absorbed into the skin or consumed, it can be toxic to humans and animals. But when grown and used carefully, pennyroyal is one of the most effective mosquito-repellent plants. You can plant a few pennyroyal plants close to the main gathering area of your outdoor space, like a seating area. Grader says that, for extra protection against mosquitoes, some people prefer to crush pennyroyal leaves and place them inside their pockets, where the strong odor still helps repel the pests. If you can’t find pennyroyal, mint plants, in general, are very effective against mosquitoes, including peppermint.

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Citronella Plant Close UpAwakenedEye/Getty Images

Citronella

Citronella has long been favored as one of the most effective plants that repel mosquitoes, which is why outdoor candles and bug sprays are often made with its oils. You can plant citronella grass right in your garden or optimize its efficiency by planting it near other mosquito-repellent plants, like lavender. Citronella thrives in a variety of climates and soils, so it’s also one of the easiest plants to grow and maintain.

If you see another plant with citronella on the label, citronella geranium, you’re in luck: It’s a geranium that produces an oil very similar to citronella’s and has similar mosquito-repelling effects. Citronella is often confused with lemongrass, which is similar in appearance—the difference is the base stems, which are red or magenta on citronella and green on lemongrass. But they both have intense mosquito-repelling properties, so plant either one with abandon!

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American Beautyberry also known as Callicarpa Americana in the bright sun.McKinneMike/Getty Images

American beautyberry

Native to the southern United States, this gorgeous shrub produces small white flowers and clusters of bright purple berries in the fall. The berries can be made into jellies and wine, and birds love them, too, but the real magic of this mosquito-repellent plant is in its leaves. They’ve long been used as a folk remedy, and scientific studies have proven that a particular chemical compound in the plant’s leaves, callicarpenal, is effective at repelling mosquitoes. And as a bonus, it’s a great tick deterrent! Simply crush the leaves and rub them over your exposed skin (or your dog’s fur), and mosquitoes will want nothing to do with you. It’s also possible to purchase various bug sprays containing beautyberry essence, or you can make your own.

We know where they are in the summer, but where do mosquitoes go during the winter?

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Bouquet of lavenderFrancesco Carta/Getty Images

Lavender

Who knew such a sweet-smelling flower would also be one of the best mosquito-repellent plants? Fortunately, mosquitoes dislike most of the scents humans find pleasing, and lavender is one of them. Rocha explains that carbon dioxide is one of the most pleasant scents for female mosquitoes because their main sources of blood, like humans and animals, emit the scent every time they breathe. The calming scent of lavender, however, is pretty far from CO2, and mosquitoes hate it.

If you want to get your lavender doing double duty, use it as a natural mosquito repellent, placing a few drops of lavender essential oil on your wrists or ankles. If you can find it, the lavandin variety is particularly effective, as it’s high in camphor. Bonus: It also repels moths and flies!

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Bright autumn flowers marigoldsLeliaSpb/Getty Images

Marigolds

One of the most beautifully simple flowers, marigolds bring more than just dashes of bright reds, oranges, and yellows to the garden. Their scent is also attractive to the human nose but highly unattractive to mosquitoes. Amy Lawhorne, vice president of the tick and mosquito control company Mosquito Squad, suggests planting marigolds in pots to place near common mosquito entry points of the home, like windows and doorways. Or place several pots of marigolds on your deck or main outdoor gathering area to keep mosquitoes away.

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Patch of wild garlic flowersAL Hedderly/Getty Images

Garlic

Garlic is one of the oldest remedies for repelling bad things. From vampires to mosquitoes, anything that wants to suck your blood will rapidly change its mind if you eat a few cloves a day. Most people don’t want to do that, however, but it’s easy to plant garlic instead. The strong scent of this mosquito-repelling plant will keep your yard pest-free (and vampire-free too). If you do happen to fall victim, though, here are some natural remedies for mosquito bites.

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potted plants in line mosquito resistantSteiner Wolfgang/shutterstock

How to make mosquito-repellent plants work better

Often, the best way to prevent mosquitoes from invading your space is to plant several repellent plants in a small area or plant them in pots, which can be easily moved to where you need them. “If you enjoy working in your garden, you may get some relief from mosquitoes by interspersing your repellent plants among your other plants to keep the mosquitoes off you while you garden,” Lawhorne suggests.

Rocha stresses the importance of reducing the environmental factors that mosquitoes need to breed. He notes that you can do this by “getting rid of any sources of water where they may be able to hatch, including in wheelbarrows, buckets, dishes under flower pots, children’s wading pools, clogged rain gutters, over-irrigated lawns, used tires, and any other items that may collect water and thus [become] a place for mosquitoes to thrive.” So, with adequate drainage and a few new and attractive plantings, your summer evenings will become balmy instead of buggy.

Another pesky bug that may be irritating you? Fruit flies. Here’s how to get rid of them.

Sources:

Amy Boyington
Amy Boyington is a former preschool teacher based in Ohio and regularly contributes parenting, special needs, and family lifestyle articles to Reader’s Digest. Her work has also appeared in The Old Schoolhouse, Niche, MSN, and other publications. She has a BA in English and elementary education from the University of Phoenix and is a nominee for induction into The National Society of Leadership and Success.