Shoo those mosquitoes away with plants that repel insects

I recently had a note from my gardening pen pal about his success repelling mosquitoes from outdoor patios. His choice of plants and container locations has made a difference in his family’s outside enjoyment.

A buggy afternoon or evening outside is no fun. 

Ending the evening with red welts that sting and itch are enough of a reason to stay indoors, but maybe careful plant placement can help.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the smells we produce. Perfumes, sweat, body order, and even the carbon dioxide we exhale can attract those pesky pests. Plants can help.

When a plant is said to be an insect repellant, it is often not the plant leaves or stems but the oil produced when the leaves are crushed that blocks the human scent and repels insects.

Lemongrass and citronella grass are two tropical plants that, although tall and bush, can be grown in containers. They are perennials in warmer climates, but in our area, they should be moved indoors before the first frost. 

The citronella plant is a member of the geranium family, and the leaves have a citrus smell. I keep pots of these near my outside seating areas. I like them sitting low where people and pups bump into them, releasing the scent. Although this may help, to get the full benefit of the oil, the leaves should be crushed, and the oil rubbed directly on the skin.

Releasing the oil and putting it on your skin is effective, but do so very cautiously in case of an allergic reaction to the oils. Also, remember, once the fragrance fades, and you have trouble smelling it, so will the mosquitoes, and you should reapply.

When cooking outdoors, placing a spring of rosemary or lemon thyme on the grill will produce a fragrant smoke that will deter mosquitoes. 

Both are perennials in my garden, grown in containers and reappearing year after year.

Basil is another herb with a strong smell that acts as a repellant. Seriously, hats off to basil – it works as a culinary treat, a pollinator, and insect repellant. That is a hard-working herb.

Lemon balm is in the mint family, which means it will spread like crazy if not managed. I suggest planting it in a container and watching that it doesn’t pop up nearby where it is not wanted. I like to add springs of this to my bouquets and bruise the leaves to release the oils before guests arrive.

Marigolds are also beneficial when planted in vegetable gardens. They release a scent that will repel several different types of insects. I have them planted around the borders of my raised beds.

Lavender not only smells good, it will keep moths away. Try hanging fresh stems in the closet or adding dried sachets to your drawers. 

After being surprised with lavender sachets tucked into pillow shams during an overnight stay at a friend’s house, I use my lavender this way too. Well, to be honest, sometimes the sachets are enhanced by essential oil, but the effect is the same, a calm relaxing way to drift off to sweet dreams.

Just like my pen pal, Larry, I plant to discourage mosquitoes from outdoor entertaining areas. I also know to eliminate areas of standing water where mosquitoes lay larvae and keep the lawn mowed and leaves tidy. Yes, I use store-bought bug spray when out in the “wild” because it works, but I hope my garden tactics make spending time outdoors a more enjoyable experience for my guests and for me.