The best plants for natural mosquito repellents

We love so many things about summer, but mosquitos aren’t one of them. Unfortunately, they’re sort of a summer rite of passage here in Indiana.

That used to mean we’d reach for the bug spray. But more and more people are looking for natural ways to ward off mosquitos. Luckily, there are beautiful, fragrant, even delicious plants for your yard and garden that double as excellent mosquito repellents.

Here are 10 easy to grow favorites:

1. Catnip

Sometimes called catmint, catwort, field balm or nepeta cataria, this perennial is a member of the mint family and the same one that cats go crazy for. Luckily for us, it has the opposite effect on mosquitos. Research shows that catnip can even be more effective than chemical DEET, especially within close proximity and for short periods of time.

It’s the oil in the leaves of the catnip plant that hold the key to repelling mosquitos. You can even try crushing some leaves in your hands and rubbing the oil over your skin for a little added protection. A word of caution if you have cats: you will be like a walking, talking temptation the same way a catnip toy or treat would be, reason enough for cat owners to consider another natural repellent from our list.

Growing Tip: Catnip is an aggressive self-sower, which means it will spread quickly on its own. We recommend growing in a container or two so it doesn’t invade your beds and other plantings. This also allows you to move your natural mosquito repellents closer to you and your guests.

2. Marigolds

Seems we keep discovering more and more benefits of the garden-variety marigold we grew up with. You’ve probably seen people interplant this annual with tomatoes. Turns out the same strong, distinctive scent that repels insects which prey on tomatoes also works to ward off mosquitos. The magic in the plant? Pyrethrum, a compound commonly used in insect repellents. One reason to keep them at arm’s length: the bright blooms can attract wasps.

Growing Tip: Marigolds do best when deadheaded (i.e. spent blooms removed).

3. Lavender

As fragrant as lavender is to us, mosquitos don’t like the scent. And because lavender is such an attractive, mild-scented plant, it’s a great choice for containers on and around areas where you eat and relax outside. You’ll also find lavender and lavender essential oils as one of the main ingredients in many natural, homemade insect repellents.

Growing Tip:  This shrub-like perennial is known for its drought resistance, so give it plenty of drainage and good air circulation. This may mean adding small pebbles or sand to your containers and slightly thinning your plants to avoid humidity.

4. Scented Geraniums

There are dozens of scented geraniums with a variety of fragrances. And where most mosquito-repellent plants on this list have scented blooms, scented geraniums carry their scent in their lacy green foliage. This includes the citronella scented mosquito plant. It just takes a brush against its leaves to release its lemony citronella scent, a natural compound found in insect repellents, candles and oils.

Growing Tip: Mosquito plants are moderately tolerant of summer stress and will thrive in the sun. Their dense, fragrant branches respond well to pruning, which is good news if you appreciate pretty mosquito repellent bouquets.

5. Citronella

Better known as mosquito-repelling candles and sprays, citronella got its start in the garden as a tropical perennial grass. In Indiana, citronella grass often needs to be replanted as an annual each spring or overwintered indoors, especially after a harsh winter.

We love citronella grasses as the thriller or focal point of our containers, which makes them easy to move around our porches and patios and to bring inside over winter.

Growing Tip: Citronella grasses prefer full sun and these fast-growing plants can reach up to a few feet tall in one growing season.

6. Basil

This aromatic herb emits an aroma without crushing or even brushing its leaves. It’s this smell that repels mosquitos, especially the strong scents of specific basil varieties such as lemon and cinnamon basil. Because basil can be used fresh in so many recipes, it’s the perfect plant for outdoor dining areas, both to pluck fresh for garnish and shoo away pesky mosquitos.

Growing Tip: Basil is an annual that thrives in the sun and prefers well-drained soil. It also does well in containers. Always pinch off the leaves from the top of the stems to crush for mosquito-repelling oils or to use in the kitchen. Never cut the woody part of the stems or the plant won’t grow back.

7. Rosemary

Mosquito repellent with benefits. Rosemary smells and tastes delicious in a variety of dishes. We’ve even learned that throwing a little on the grill as it heats up is a great way to shoo away mosquitos and spread the scent. Any lingering taste can only make your veggies or burgers better.

Growing Tip: This woody perennial can be planted in a protected area to stick out a mild winter, but it would probably do best planted in a container and brought indoors for the winter. Rosemary prefers full sun and light and can be cut any time, just be sure to cut off the top third of the plant and never the woody stems.

8. Lemongrass

Another choice with citronella, the natural oil that repels mosquitos. This ornamental grass is grown as an annual in Indiana and makes an excellent container plant. It can also acclimate to and thrive in a warm indoor climate through the winter. Its fragrant, narrow green leaves can grow 2-4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide in just one growing season. Brush leaves gently to release their lemony scent.

Lemongrass is also a staple of many Asian, Mexican and Caribbean dishes and makes an excellent tea.

Growing Tip: This lemon-citrus herb prefers six full hours of direct sunlight per day and does well in the nutrient-rich soil of containers.

9. Garlic

Great for people, vampires and mosquitos. In fact, eating raw garlic or cooking with it can ward off mosquitoes for up to 6 hours. Apparently, the oil in garlic masks our natural scent, making it possible to fly under the radar of most mosquitos.

Interestingly, garlic not only protects our skin, it protects trees, shrubs, vegetables and roses from harmful insects. We recommend planting the bulbs or plants around the perimeter of your patio or deck to start. Or you could plant them in containers with a companion veggie like tomatoes.

Growing Tip: You’ll see a lot of conflicting information about when to plant garlic, especially if you talk to people across the country. In and around Indianapolis, you should ideally plant garlic plants between March 15 and April 15. For more information and advice on growing garlic, just ask in the garden center.

10. Lemon Balm

And last but not least, lemon balm, also known as horsemint, is grown as an annual in Indiana. Its strong incense-like scent repels mosquitos much like citronella. The nice thing about lemon balm is that it is bee and butterfly friendly.

This is a plant that is at its best fresh, so crush some gently for a fresh lemon scent, a great mosquito repellent and a delicious garnish for fruit, salad or fish. We also love to throw some on the grill as it heats up to release the scent and ward off mosquitos.

Growing Tip: Lemon balm is very drought resistant and fast growing. Because it is so aggressive and reseeds itself easily, we recommend planting in a container. This also makes it easier to move with you for mosquito relief and indoors over the winter.