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5 Easy to Grow Mosquito-Repelling Plants

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Before reaching for the chemical sprays, try planting these easy-to-grow plants which have natural mosquito-repelling properties…

By Posted Apr 28, 2011

mosquito repelling plantsAs the outdoor season approaches, many homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts look for ways to control mosquitoes. With all the publicity about the West Nile virus, mosquito repelling products are gaining in popularity. But many commercial insect repellents contain from 5% to 25% DEET. There are concerns about the potential toxic effects of DEET, especially when used by children. Children who absorb high amounts of DEET through insect repellents have developed seizures, slurred speech, hypotension and bradycardia.

There are new DEET-free mosquito repellents on the market today which offer some relief to those venturing outdoors in mosquito season. But there are also certain plants which are easy to grow and will have some effect in repelling mosquitoes from areas of your home and garden.

Here are five of the most effective mosquito repelling plants which are easy to grow in most regions of the US:

1. Citronella

CitronellaCitronella is the most common natural ingredient used in formulating mosquito repellents. The distinctive citronella aroma is a strong smell which masks other attractants to mosquitoes, making it harder for them to find you. Although citronella is used in many forms, such as scented candles, torches and citronella ‘scented’ plants, the living plant is more effective because it has a stronger smell.

Citronella is a perennial ‘clumping’ grass which grows to a height of 5 – 6 feet. It can be grown directly in the ground in climate zones where frost does not occur. If grown in the garden or near the patio, it should be planted in the ‘background’, behind small decorative flowers and shrubs. In northern climate zones citronella can be grown in a large pot or planter, ideally with casters, so it can be rolled indoors during winter.

Gardening centers usually sell citronella as small plants in pots, ready to transplant to a larger pot or into raised garden beds on the ground. Once established, new plants can be propagated in early spring by splitting large clumps into smaller sections and replanting the new ‘starts’ in pots or other areas of the garden. Citronella plants are considered low maintenance, like most grasses, and they do best in full sun and well-drained locations. Periodic applications of nitrogen-rich fertilizers will ensure vigorous growth, but this treatment only needs to be applied once a year, preferably in early spring.

When purchasing citronella, look for the true varieties, Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Other plants may be sold as ‘citronella scented’, but these do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella.

2. Horsemint

HorsemintAlso known as Beebalm, Horsemint is an adaptable perennial plant which repels mosquitoes much the same as citronella. It gives off a strong incense-like odor which confuses mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts.

Horsemint is a fast growing, shade-tolerant and drought-resistant plant which reaches a height and width of 2 – 3 feet. It does well in dry, sandy soil and can tolerate salty conditions, which is why it is often found in coastal and beach areas. Horsemint seeds can be sown indoors in trays for later transplanting, or sown directly into the ground in late summer in colder climate zones. Midwest and Eastern growing zones are favoured for growing horsemint.

Mature horsemint plants can be divided in spring and fall by dividing into small sections and transplanting into permanent locations. Horsemint can also be planted in pots for moving indoors in cold climate zones.

Horsemint leaves can be dried and used to make herbal tea. Its flowers will also attract bees and butterflies to your garden.

3. Marigolds

MarigoldsCommonly grown as ornamental border plants, marigolds are hardy annual plants which have a distinctive smell which mosquitoes, and some gardeners, find particularly offensive. Marigolds contain Pyrethrum, a compound used in many insect repellents.

Marigolds prefer full sunlight and reasonably fertile soil. Although marigolds can be planted from seed, starter plants are inexpensive and readily available at most garden centers. Although an annual, marigold will often reseed itself in favourable conditions, or the gardener can easily collect seeds for future germination. Established plants will need to be thinned, and flowers should be dead-headed to promote additional blooms.

Potted marigolds can be positioned near entrances to your home and any common mosquito entry points, such as open windows. The smell may deter mosquitoes from going past this barrier. While marigolds can be used as border plants around the patio, we do not advise putting marigolds on the patio table since the bright blooms may attract wasps.

Besides repelling mosquitoes, marigolds repel insects which prey on tomato plants, so you may want to plant a few marigolds in your tomato bed for added protection.

4. Ageratum

AgeratumAlso known as Flossflowers, Ageratum emits a smell which mosquitos find particularly offensive. Ageratum secretes coumarin, which is widely used in commercial mosquito repellents.

Ageratum is a low-lying annual ornamental plant which reaches heights of 8 – 18”, and is easily recognized by its blue flowers, although there are varieties with pink, white and violet blooms. This plant will thrive in full or partial sun and does not require rich soil. It is often displayed in rock gardens where low-lying plants are favoured.

Although the leaves of Ageratum can be crushed to increase the emitted odor, it is not advisable to rub the crushed leaves directly on the skin.

5. Catnip

CatnipCatnip is a natural mosquito repellent. In August 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University reported to the American Chemical Society that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial insect repellents. According to Iowa State researcher Chris Peterson, the reason for its effectiveness is still unknown. “It might simply be acting as an irritant or they don’t like the smell. But nobody really knows why insect repellents work.”

In the laboratory, Peterson put groups of 20 mosquitoes in a two-foot glass tube, half of which was treated with nepetalactone, a biologically active characteristic constituent of catnip. After 10 minutes, only an average of 20 percent – about four mosquitoes – remained on the side of the tube treated with a high dose (1.0%) of the oil. In the low dose test (0.1%) an average of 25% – five mosquitoes – stayed on the treated side. When the same tests were conducted using DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide), approximately 40 to 45% – eight to nine mosquitoes – remained on the treated side. A ten-fold higher concentration of DEET was required to obtain results similar to those of the Catnip.

Catnip, Nepeta cateria, is very easy to grow. This perennial herb is related to mint, and grows readily both as a weed and a commercially cultivated plant in most areas of the US.

While catnip will repel mosquitoes in close proximity to the plant, some people apply crushed catnip leaves or catnip oil for more robust protection. Bear in mind, however, that cats will respond to you similarly as they would respond to the plant itself. Cat owners may want to choose an alternative plant for repelling mosquitoes.

While the plants mentioned in this article have been shown to have mosquito-repelling properties, there are environmental variables that can mitigate their effectiveness. A breeze may direct odors in the opposite direction if advancing mosquitoes, reducing the plant’s effectiveness. New formulations of non-toxic mosquito repellents are commercially available, and are advised for people who want to enjoy the outdoors without the annoyance of persistent mosquitoes.

Visit Eartheasy’s online store to buy non-toxic pest control and mosquito repellent products.

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  • Melissa Madrigal

    Wheres the neem tree on your site for mosquito repellant plants. thats the best and covers more area

  • Andrea Byrne-Gul

    Items needed:
    1 cup of water
    1/4 cup of brown sugar
    1 gram of yeast
    1 2-liter bottle

    1. Cut the plastic bottle in half.
    2. Mix brown sugar with hot water. Let cool. When cold, pour in the bottom half of the bottle.
    3. Add the yeast. No need to mix. It creates carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes.
    4. Place the funnel part, upside down, into the other half of the bottle, taping them together if desired.
    5. Wrap the bottle with something black, leaving the top uncovered, and place it outside in an area away from your normal gathering area. (Mosquitoes are also drawn to the color black.)

    Change the solution every 2 weeks for continuous control.

    • Passionate Lee

      Thanks for sharing the recipe :)

      There is also another item you can buy that cuts down the breeding cycle.

      It only attracts the females tho. But that’s all you need to attract in order to break the breeding cycle.

      It has a light in it with a tank of water in the bottom, with a small fan in the back of it. The light attracts the females, then as they come closer the fan pushes them down into the water and they drown. The trick tho is to have some detergent in the water to break the water tension. Works wonders, we had it here, we were lucky enough to pick one up for next to nothing as a friend was getting a newer version :) We were nearly getting sucked dry from all the mosquito’s where we live. Especially having a dam in our property … but the light cut the cycle in no time flat. Works wonders. :)

      Everyone should have one I think. You only have to run it say an hour before dark and maybe a couple of hours after, then again in the morning prior to sunrise just to be on the safe side. Cheap and does the trick quickly and effortlessly :)

      Of course you have to keep the water solution up to it and not let it dry out, as well as empty the tray. Gets all sorts of moths and bugs at the same time too :)

      • Tina

        Hi Passionate Lee. Do you have the name of this item. I am desperate, just bought a house near a lake and family getting eaten alive. help we will try anything.

      • Patty

        Want to find name of product that attracts female mosquitoes and drowns them. Any info would be great. Thanks in Atlantic Beach, FL.

  • Pamela Rold

    I don’t understand why people are afraid of bats, leave them be they won’t hurt you we also have a bat house

  • Mary Saunders

    Catnip would be easy to grow except for ….. cats. They seriously mess the plant up unless you plant enough for them to tear it up and have some recover. Maybe you can find a place to hang it where they can’t get it.

  • Mary Saunders

    Neem is toxic to fish. So watch out for this.

  • Contrary Mary

    I planted the marigolds all over. Now to find citronella plants.

  • Rex Dullit

    Great! All the above plants are just weeds in my place.
    Thanks for the info.

  • Brian Thompson

    I need easy growing shade plants & ground cover. Any suggestions?

  • WagTheDawg

    Mice and rats also hate catnip.

  • Martha copeland

    I recently bought a Mosquito Plant. How much to water ?
    Martha Copeland

  • luciej04

    After planting, cover the dirt with pine cones. Cats won’t dig, the points on the ends of the pine cones will hurt their paws. They also make a mat, almost like outdoor grass but the “grass” is hard plastic and spread out a bit. Again, cats won’t dig, it hurts their paws

    • Greg Seaman

      Good one!

  • David

    If you think the plants above are not tough enough, try Pinguicula gigantea; It catches and hold mosquitoes like an opportunist, and then consume them. This plant is extreme

  • Greg Seaman

    Good one Linda, I’m going to try this!

  • Deborah Campen

    The plant in that picture looks nothing like the Citronella plant I have.

    • Greg Seaman

      Your “citronella” plant is a likely a member of the geranium family and marketed as “Pelargonium citrosum”. This plant is also referred to as “mosquito plant” to further the confusion. It is not effective at repelling mosquitoes.
      The insect-repelling citronella is a member of the lemongrass species, as pictured here.

  • Veronica Solomon

    Thanks. I’m rushing out to the garden center. These mosquitoes are killing me

  • Connie DeNoon

    I have 2 cats and love them dearly, do I want them crapping in my planters, uh NO. i have mine trained to go to the door to go outside to the restroom because I don’t want them crappin in my house either. I just put pine cones on top of the soil, my seedlings still come up and the cats will not use them. They cannot scratch the pine cones, I guess it hurts their paws. I also use them for my indoor plants. works like a charm.

    • Greg Seaman

      Great idea Connie. So simple. Thanks!

  • PeggyKay Karper

    I will have to try some of the plants except for the marigolds, as I could die from marigolds , My throat closes up and I can’t breathe around them, I never use to be allergic to them until about 10 years ago while planting them I couldn’t breathe my husband helped me in the house , once away from them I was okay, went back to try to replant them and the same thing happened, my kids went to where they bought them and asked their cousin Drew if they could exchange them . and too this day I still can not walk by marigolds, they are deadly for me, they are a beautiful flower I just can not be around them.

    • Greg Seaman

      What a strange affliction. Marigolds do have an unusual and strong fragrance. I don’t like the smell either.

  • Greg Seaman

    Good suggestion. Thanks!

  • earlboy17

    your welcome. I also have some basil and rosemary + thme planted in pots out there as well. no skeeters for a good 20 ft

  • Sherry

    Two part question…. 1. How safe with dogs, meaning are they poisonous to them? 2. Does any of these draw snakes in to your yard? I know Hostas (sp) does they are a snake haven & breeding area. I HATE SNAKE!!!! Yes I know they serve their purpose, but I don’t want them to at my house or they find a hoe real fast. LOL

    As a bonus question…. What can I use or do to keep Squirrels out of all my flowers that are potted?

    • Greg Seaman

      These plants are harmless to dogs. They do not attract snakes to your yard, although any brushy. wooded or rocky cover will provide habitat for snakes which they can be drawn to.
      Squirrels can be kept from plants by using smell deterrents (coffee grounds are supposed to deter ground pests but we have not tried this). Or you could put in a ScareCrow motion detector which will spray a bit of water at them. These work pretty well and also deter deer, crows amd other animal visitors to your garden. You can learn more about Scare Crow at this link:

      • Sherry

        I tried the hot pepper flakes I was told, heck I think they loved them. I’m not a coffee drinker in the summer but I beat my local QT might give me some from there. I even covered with wire and the buggers ate the steaks I used and lifted the wire…. I’ll be nice what I was calling them…. LOL I bought some of them little wind fan thing and they don’t bother them either.
        Thanks I’ll keep you posted.

  • tesmith47

    heat and smell is what the little devils use

  • Jennifer Pooler

    Thank you for this information! The area behind my house is also an old bog which has tunnels of water hence mosquitoes breeding grounds. I have 2 kids and 2 dogs. I will be buying all this lol!

  • Lisa Kay

    For the past 3 years I have grown citronelle plants in pots on my deck and have had no mosquitos whatsoever ( I live in southern Alabama if that tells you how well they work), but the plant above looks like lemongrass…which is also wonderful for mosquito control. Citronelle plants are actually ugly but they bloom really pretty purple flowers in the spring and gives you a nice lemony scent all year. I lost one of mine due to the severe cold weather this year but plan on replacing it and hopefully I can find some lemongrass.

  • Greg Seaman

    Good tip, thanks!

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