More than almost any other creature, mosquitoes can ruin our enjoyment of the outdoors. If chemical repellents aren’t your bag, consider growing garden plants that repel mosquitoes naturally due to the scent of their natural oils. One plant you will not find on this list is the citronella plant Pelargonium x citrosum, which was debunked as a mosquito buster by a Florida A&M study.1
Merely growing these mosquito-repelling plants isn’t a standalone way to deter pests. You need to increase the insect-repelling power of the plants by releasing their essential oils. Add some cuttings from the plants to the grill (most relevant when the plants are known for their culinary value). Chop the leaves and stems of the plants and scatter them on your lawn and around the outdoor living areas. If you’re pressed for time before going outdoors, just add some stems of the plants to areas with foot traffic to release some mosquito-repelling oils with every step you take.
Do Mosquito-Repelling Plants Actually Work?
Biting insects that feed on blood (such as mosquitoes and ticks) locate their targets by sensing the odors and gases given off by warm-blooded creatures. Sweat and the carbon dioxide given off by breathing are key attractors. Garden plants that have strong scents can help to camouflage the scents that these insects use to target their victims, thereby confusing the bugs and protecting us from bites.
But it’s rarely enough to simply fill your landscape with growing plants of these types and hope that mosquitoes will vanish. In most cases, you’ll need a more concentrated form of the plant’s scent, which can be obtained by burning or crushing the leaves to release the essential oils that produce the odor.
- 01 of 19 American Beautyberry cstar55/Getty Images The tiny white flowers of Callicarpa americana aren’t much to look at, but the vibrant magenta berry clusters make this small shrub stand out in the landscape. Beautyberry plants are a member of the Lamiaceae family, which includes many mints. The fragrant oils released by crushing the leaves of the beautyberry repel mosquitoes, and the berries often last long into the winter to attract and feed songbirds and small mammals.
- 02 of 19 Catnip AlpamayoPhoto/Getty Images The same plants that drive your cat to distraction can simultaneously protect Felix from mosquito bites. Join the kitty for a romp through the Nepeta plants, often called catmint, whose leaves are edible for your human guests as well. Spread some clippings around the pool and patio for a more bite-free relaxation zone. Try the ‘Walker’s Low’ cultivar, which tolerates dry soils and blooms from late spring to mid-summer.
- 03 of 19 Lemongrass Jeremy Villasis/Getty Images Somehow, the natural oils in Cymbopogon citratus manage to smell like real lemons, only better. Lemongrass is a staple in some Asian cultures’ cooking, and its delicate fragrance lends a citrus note to some perfumes as well. Lemongrass is a tender plant, and won’t survive the winter below zone 9, but it grows quickly in container culture. Coarsely chop the strappy leaves of this plant and strew them around your deck during your next gathering, both for mosquito-repelling power and for the pleasing aroma.
- 04 of 19 Marigold The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova Marigold plants have a unique odor that can only be described as pungent. These mosquito-repelling annuals are easy to grow from seed and make a handsome addition to the flowering vegetable garden, where they might even repel other insect pests like nematodes. The substance in marigolds that gives them their insect-repelling power is pyrethrum, the same substance used in many organic insecticides.
- 05 of 19 Mint Aniko Hobel/Getty Images Grow mint (Mentha spp.) and you can achieve that perfect mint mojito, and then sip it outdoors without the buzzkill of mosquitoes. All types of mint plants repel mosquitoes, and there are more varieties than you thought. Explore the subtle differences between spearmint and peppermint, or marvel at just how much the chocolate mint plant smells like a candy dish. All mint varieties grow and spread like wildfire, so harvest them with abandon in your pursuit to banish mosquitoes.
- 06 of 19 Lavender Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images Although lavender growers covet the purple flower spikes for their fragrance, the sweet soapy perfume of lavender permeates the foliage as well, not just the flowers. It’s a fact that mosquitoes do not like this smell, and the pleasing nature of lavender fragrance means you can rub the plants on your skin as a kind of natural repellent.
- 07 of 19 Rosemary Niyada Chaiyos/Getty Images People have used rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, as natural pest control for years, as insects shy away from its piny scent. Rosemary-laden smoke from a grill is particularly effective at banishing mosquitoes from an outdoor area, and it will do double-duty in flavoring your meats as well. Rosemary does need full sun to prevent needle drop, but it prefers to dry out between waterings.
- 08 of 19 Lantana The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova Lantana (Lantana camara) flowers have such a potent effect against mosquitoes a scholarly journal published a report about it. The Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association (yes, there is such a journal) shares that “lantana flower extract in coconut oil provided 94.5 percent protection from Aedes albopictus and Ae. aegypti” mosquitoes.2 In fact, the study found this oil preparation protected the users from mosquitoes for an average of two hours. What a bonus that lantana flowers are so easy to grow in warm sunny locales, and attract butterflies as well.
- 09 of 19 Fennel GomezDavid/Getty Images Fennel plants (Foeniculum vulgare) are often left out of the herb garden in favor of more compact plants, but fennel plants have multiple uses in addition to their mosquito-repellent properties: The feathery plants are as ornamental as any tall garden grass, the chopped leaves are delicious in salads and soups, and the leaves host swallowtail butterfly caterpillars in the garden. Bronze fennel is especially lovely and will self-seed to produce a handsome colony for the following season.
- 10 of 19 Eucalyptus Nataniel McIntosh/Getty Images As a native tree in Australia, the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus cinerea) can soar to 60 feet tall after several years. Because it’s a tender plant that won’t survive a hard freeze, the better alternative for many gardeners is to grow the eucalyptus as a potted plant. For short-term potting, choose a quick-growing species like E. globulus subsp. bicostata, which will give you many fragrant leaves to harvest for mosquito repelling. For a plant that will live for several years in a pot, choose a slow-growing eucalyptus like E. vernicosa. Eucalyptus plants like full sun and rich soil.
- 11 of 19 Basil Barbara Rich/Getty Images The fast-growing leaves of the basil plant are as repugnant to mosquitoes as they are a delicious addition to our pestos and salads. Not all basil types are created equal when it comes to repelling mosquitoes, and the extra-spicy Thai basil, with its narrow foliage and cinnamon scent, has the best ability to fend off the insects. All basil plants need full sun and warm growing temperatures, which make them great companion plants for tomatoes.
- 12 of 19 Thyme Luca Vittone/Getty Images Thyme continues the list of savory herbs that repel mosquitoes. Plant thyme between stepping stones in the garden, where your steps will crush some leaves and release the mosquito-repelling oils.
- 13 of 19 Scented Geranium The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova Scented geraniums include many varieties of Pelargonium (garden geranium) bred for their pungent scent. Those with a lemon scent are known to be best for repelling mosquitoes and other insects. Scented geraniums are perennial in warmer climates but are more often grown as annuals. They are especially popular as potted plants.
- 14 of 19 Bee Balm The Spruce / Adrienne Legault It might surprise you to know that this perennial plant, famous for attracting pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, has the opposite effect on mosquitoes and other pesky insects. But that’s the case with bee balm (Monarda spp.) For best results, crush a few leaves to release the scented oils.
- 15 of 19 Ageratum (Floss Flower) The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova Ageratum, commonly known as floss flower, contains a chemical known as coumarin, which can repel mosquitoes just by growing in the garden. Planting ageratum around a patio or in pots on your deck will help discourage mosquitoes. The same chemical makes the plant toxic, though, so be wary if you have pets that like to chew on plants. Ageratum was once primarily a low bedding plant, but there are now cultivars such as ‘Blue Horizon’ that grow to heights of 2 feet or more, giving you more options for using them in your gardening.
- 16 of 19 Sage (Salvia officinalis) The Spruce / Kara Riley Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial herb with a semi-shrubby growth habit. It has a pungent yet pleasant odor that mosquitoes avoid. Leaves tossed into a fire pit will keep bugs away for hours. Over time, garden plants can become woody and sparse; prevent this by dividing the plants every few years.
- 17 of 19 Allium The Spruce / Letícia Almeida Allium, also known as ornamental onion, are perennial bulbs that share a scent similar to table onions, garlic, and chives, which are also members of the same family. Along with repelling mosquitoes and other pests, allium plants add an exotic appeal through their unusual, globe-shaped flower clusters. These plants are mildly toxic, however, so be careful if you have pets that like to gnaw on plants. Allium is among a small handful of plants that repel mosquitoes simply by their presence in the garden.
- 18 of 19 Garlic StockSeller_ukr / Getty Images Another member of the Allium family of plants, garlic works in the same way as ornamental allium, offering some protective value against mosquitoes merely by growing in the garden. Like other members of the allium family, garlic is toxic to animals, so make sure your pets don’t gnaw on the leaves, flowers, or bulbs.
- 19 of 19 Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) The Spruce / Adrienne Legault Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a spreading ground cover plant closely related to spearmint. Its scent is similar to that plant, and is so repugnant to mosquitoes that this species is sometimes called mosquito plant. It is not an especially attractive garden specimen, but it makes for an easy-care, effective ground cover, emitting a bug-repelling scent whenever you step on it. This is one of the most effective of all bug-repelling plants, but avoid growing it where pets might chew on it—the oils are toxic.