Mosquitos are a nuisance and a potential health risk, as they carry viruses like West Nile, Zika, Chikungunya, dengue, and malaria in some countries and areas of the U.S. DEET, picaridin, or other chemical repellents are the best way to prevent illness, but you can also repel mosquitoes with plants in your outdoor space.
What Plants Repel Mosquitoes?
Before the invention of chemical repellents, people used plants as a natural mosquito repellent. Plants release natural chemicals, like essential oils, as a defense tool to protect themselves against insects, viruses, and bacteria. These chemicals make plants smell.
People have been using these plants in gardens and as herbal remedies against mosquitoes and insects for a long time. Modern research shows that lots of the chemicals in these plants help deter mosquitoes, but they won’t work just sitting in your garden or a pot.
You need to force the plant to release those chemicals for the best results. You can do this by trimming your plant, crushing the leaves, or rubbing a crushed leaf on your skin.
Lemongrass. The lemongrass plant, species Cymbopogon citratus, is a grassy plant and a cousin to citronella. It contains an essential oil rich in two active chemicals called geranial and citral. These chemicals are known to repel mosquitoes.
Lemon balm. Known as Melissa officinalis, lemon balm is a common herb in the mint family. Regularly trimming your lemon balm plants encourages growth. These new leaves are very fragrant and can help deter insects and mosquitoes.
Geranium. The geranium plant, Pelargonium graveolens, is an annual plant with pretty, vibrant blooms. It’s rich in geraniol, citronellol, and linalool chemicals, which have repellent activity. Studies show that geranium oil on the skin at a 20% concentration can protect against mosquitos for up to eight hours.
Citronella. Citronella, Cymbopogon nardus, is a classic natural mosquito repellent. It has a strong lemony smell and is rich in plant chemicals that mask other aromas and repel mosquitoes. These include citronellol, citronellal, geraniol, and others.
Catnip. Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is a perennial plant that belongs to the mint family. It’s rich in a chemical called nepetalactone that repels mosquitoes. It grows and spreads quickly and can take over your garden, but be careful with this plant. Cats love it, so you might attract neighborhood cats to your garden.
Neem. The neem tree, Azadirachta indica, is an evergreen native to India. The seeds are rich in volatile oils that traditional cultures have used for a long time for mosquito repellents and other purposes.
Recent studies suggest 2% neem oil mixed with coconut oil applied to the skin can repel mosquitoes. Neem trees do best in hot, dry climates and grow best in the U.S. in southern Florida, Arizona, and California.
Mosquito Plant Care
Some yard and plant care tips will help keep mosquitoes at bay and get the most from your plants.
Empty water in pots. Standing or still water is a breeding site for mosquitoes. Even one ounce of still water can help an entire population of mosquito larvae grow in your yard. Empty pots holding water and store them upside down to stop mosquitoes from laying eggs. Install covers on rain barrels and empty out rain gutters.
Don’t overwater. Overwatering can lead to standing water in your garden and yard and promote mosquito growth. Water only as needed.
Install a fountain. Ponds, reservoirs, or pools in your garden or around your yard are other breeding grounds for mosquitos, especially if it’s still or stagnant. Install a fountain to help move and recycle water and stop mosquitoes from laying eggs. If you have birdbaths, switch to one with a fountain feature.
Clear debris. Get rid of extra vegetation and dead leaves or plants around your garden or yard. Water collects in these areas and can encourage mosquitoes.
Plant herbs in common areas. Install plants that repel mosquitoes along the edges of your garden near companion plants and in areas where you sit out. You can also install them in moveable pots and place them on your back deck or around your barbecue area or fire pit. You’ll smell these fresh plants while you’re outside, enjoy the view, and repel mosquitoes.
How to Prevent Mosquito Bites Without Repellent
Plants can help make your yard an enjoyable experience, but you can try other things to avoid mosquito bites without using repellent.
Wear long shirts and pants. One of the best things you can do to protect your skin is to cover up. Wear long shirts and pants outside and a hat with netting to protect your face and neck.
Clean up your yard. Clearing debris from your garden is essential, but don’t forget the rest of your belongings. Check your yard for toys, planters, buckets, trash bins, tires, or anything else that might collect water and put it away or get rid of it. This will stop mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Stay inside. Mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and evening. If possible, time your activities so you’re not out when the mosquitoes are out.
Spray outdoor insecticides. You can use aerosols or foggers to kill mosquitoes in the air and surface sprays to kill mosquitoes. These insects rest in dark, humid, and cool areas, like playhouses, sheds, and under decks and furniture. They’ll die once they touch these surfaces.
Outdoor insecticides won’t completely kill all mosquitoes, but they can help lower the population. Follow the instructions on the label for safe application. These products are unlikely to cause health problems once they dry.
Burn citronella coils. Citronella candles and coils are affordable options to enjoy your yard mosquito-free. Light a few while you barbecue or sit out for a campfire. The citronella oil will help repel bugs.
Consider DEET or Picardin
While plants might be helpful in your garden, they don’t necessarily protect against mosquito-borne illness. Natural mosquito repellents and other non-EPA-registered products might not work very well. The best options are often DEET, picaridin, and 2-undecanone.
You might hear about the dangers of repellent chemicals, but these are safe and effective when you use them as directed. They’re even safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. You can try a natural product if you want, but confirm it’s registered with the Environmental Protection Agency first.