What Plants Repel Mosquitoes?

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three mosquitoes on a white flower

Spending summer evenings outdoors enjoying your beautiful yard sounds so relaxing — until mosquitoes start attacking you. If covering your body in chemical-laden sprays every day isn’t your thing, you can kick the blood-sucking insects to the curb with plants that naturally repel mosquitoes.

Why mosquitoes are attracted to your yard

Ever heard the phrase “water is life?” It’s especially true for mosquitoes. These creatures go through four life stages: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Although different varieties of mosquitoes (like the Asian tiger, anopheles, Southern house, and Eastern saltmarsh mosquito) prefer different habitats, they all love stagnant water because that’s where the mosquito larvae and pupae live. 

graphic showing the lifecycle of a mosquito

Any part of your landscape with a lot of moisture can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Tall grass, dense vegetation, drainage ditches, sewers, tree holes, and valleys all encourage mosquitoes. Birdbaths, fountains, out-of-use pools, and ponds are also common mosquito homes.

11 best mosquito-repelling plants

What makes mosquito-repelling plants most effective? The essential oils in their leaves. If you plan to spend time enjoying the outdoors or working in the yard, crush a few leaves between your fingers and rub them over the exposed parts of your skin.

Before we talk about each plant and the best conditions for them to grow, it’s a good idea to get to know your soil type so you can choose the best plant for your yard. 

Here’s how to do a simple soil type test:

  • Grab a handful of your soil when it’s still a little damp from watering.
  • Squeeze it in your fist.
  • If it sticks together and feels slimy, it contains mostly clay.
  • If it crumbles and feels gritty, it contains sand.
  • If it’s a little of both, it’s considered loam.

1. Citronella

If you grew up anywhere warm, you know the familiar, lemony scent of a citronella stick. It doesn’t just come in candles and sprays; you can plant citronella in your backyard. Citronella likes sun, so plant it in a container on top of a deck or somewhere facing south. 

Make sure you’re buying real citronella. A copycat sometimes called the “mosquito plant” is often sold as citronella when they’re actually in totally different families. The mosquito plant has fern-like leaves. Real citronella has light green, grass-like leaves that overflow in a fountain shape, similar to a spider plant. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 9-11 (can be grown as an annual in colder zones)
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Well-draining, moderately rich, moist, loamy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3 feet tall

2. Catnip

You probably know catnip for its entertaining effects on your feline friends. But did you know catnip also deters mosquitoes? The active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, is an essential oil that stimulates a chemical response in mosquitoes (and fleas) that causes pain or itchiness.

Catnip is a whitish-gray color with heart-shaped leaves and a minty fragrance. Like most mint plants, catnip is easy to grow for a beginner gardener. This is a particularly good plant if your soil is on the sandier side because it can tolerate drought. It grows best as a border plant to your lawn or a body of water. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Well-draining, loamy, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 3 feet tall

3. Marigolds

Marigolds are a sunny showstopper in a backyard garden. Their bright yellow and orange flowers open in large domed circles atop stems anywhere from 6 inches to 3 feet tall. Marigolds are known for their insect-repellent properties. On the other hand, they can sometimes attract aphids, so be careful not to plant them next to a plant that can be harmed by an aphid infestation.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 2-11
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Well-draining, loamy, slightly acidic
  • Duration: Mostly grown as annuals, but some perennial species survive in warmer climates
  • Mature height: Up to 3 feet tall

4.  Lemon balm

Lemon balm is another member of the mint family. Like peppermint, its strong scent keeps mosquitoes at bay.

It’s one of the most shade-tolerant of the herbs, and it appreciates some cover from the sun in dry climates. If you choose to grow it in a container, choose a container made of clay or terra cotta to prevent the roots from becoming waterlogged.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy loam, well-drained, fertile
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 2 feet

5. Bee balm

Although lemon balm is sometimes referred to as bee balm, they’re actually different plants. American bee balm, also known as bergamot, is a vibrant native wildflower that sports a spiky-looking purple or fuschia bloom. Native plants like bee balm are great for the environment, are lower maintenance, and attract pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. 

This plant provides all the benefits of a native flower along with mosquito-deterrent qualities. While some plants need to be crushed in order for their insect-repellent scents to be released, bee balm sends out a fragrance as it blooms.

To care for bee balm, just make sure it has some sun and moist soil. It’s a great choice for a container or edging on your flower bed.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade (prefers more sun)
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, clay, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4 feet

6. Geraniums

Geraniums are prized for their delicate, colorful flowers that come in white, pink, red, purple, and orange. They can grow in a range of climates, but if grown in zones 8 or below they’ll need some winter protection. Plant them in a container and move them inside, or use them as annuals and replant in the spring. Geraniums come in scented varieties that are particularly good at warding off mosquitoes. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 7-12
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Slightly acidic, well-draining 
  • Duration: Perennials in zones 9-12, annuals in zones below 9
  • Mature height: Up to 2 feet

7. Lavender

Lavender is a classic, fantastic-smelling herb that is great at discouraging insects. The small purple blooms and tall silver-green stems provide beautiful visual interest to any garden.

Lavender has a high concentration of linalool — a compound that has a smell insects hate. In addition to mosquitoes, the plant repels fleas, ticks, flies, moths, and even mice. Put dried lavender buds in sachets around your house to keep unwanted visitors away. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: Different varieties prefer different zones, but most can thrive in zones 5-8
  • Sun: Full sun to partial sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-draining, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3 feet

8. Basil

Want to repel mosquitoes and have fresh herbs for cooking? Basil might be your answer. You can crush a few leaves and rub them on your skin, scatter some basil on the back porch, or burn some as incense.

Plant basil anywhere that gets 6-8 hours of daily sun. If you live in the hot, humid South, basil will benefit from some afternoon shade. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 5-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial sun 
  • Water needs:
  • Soil: Moist, rich, well-drained 
  • Duration: Perennial in zones 10-11, annual in zones 5-10
  • Mature height: Up to 2 feet

9. Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal is a bushy perennial herb with long stalks, vibrant green leaves, and lilac blooms. Its profuse minty fragrance turns off mosquitoes, but it attracts butterflies.

Pennyroyal prefers a little shade but can be grown in full sunlight as long as it gets plenty of water. It will really thrive in rich soil with some organic matter, but soil that contains clay or sand can actually help keep it in check if you’re worried about it taking over your landscape. Because it likes moisture, it’s a great plant to put near water features or in depressed areas of your landscape that collect rainwater. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 6-9
  • Sun: Full to partial sunlight 
  • Water needs: Medium to high
  • Soil: Rich, clay, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 1 foot

10. Sage

You can’t miss the unique silvery leaves of garden sage. Not only does it make a great tea, but the scent also sends mosquitoes away and attracts beneficial insects. It thrives in a sunny spot at the border of your lawn or in a vegetable garden.

Growing sage from a small plant is the easiest way to grow it. It’s a little particular about water: It dries out quickly and needs frequent watering, but it also doesn’t like to sit in wet soil. Well-draining soil is a must. If you’re putting sage in a garden with other herbs and veggies, use it as a companion plant for rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but plant it away from cucumbers. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Well-draining, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-3 feet

11. American beautyberry

American beautyberry is an American favorite. This shrub sports large, light green leaves that turn yellow in the fall. The real star of the show, though, is the remarkable display of purple berries. Not only will this plant act as a beautiful border to your yard, the leaves also have mosquito-repellent properties. 

This is a great plant if you’re in an area that sometimes has periods without rain, or if you’re often forgetting to water plants. It will tolerate drought once it’s established. To plant it, place the root ball just lower than ground level. Once it settles in, maintenance should be easy. Light pruning is recommended to maintain the shape.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 7-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Rich, well-draining, acidic, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3-6 feet tall

More methods to prevent mosquitoes

To get the best results, use these plants in conjunction with other preventative measures. How do you keep mosquitoes out of your yard? Cut their water supply. Do everything you can to eliminate moist places where mosquitoes like to lay eggs.

Common mosquito breeding sites include: 

  • Playground equipment
  • Buckets
  • Tarps
  • Tires
  • Out-of-use swimming pools
  • Flower pots
  • Bird baths
  • Fountains
  • Tree holes
  • Low areas of yard

Empty any standing water from these areas. If there’s an area of your yard that’s consistently wet due to sloping and poor drainage, consider grading your yard, adding drainage, or rethinking your irrigation techniques. Adding a rain garden is a great way to make use of a spot that’s collecting water. 

If you can’t empty the water, use a larvicide. Larvicides intended for mosquito control have little impact on the environment and are safe for other insects and mammals. They’re usually effective for up to 30 days.

Having trouble getting started with your new landscaping project? A professional in your area can help choose the right plants for your yard and install them.

Main Photo Credit: Ignacio Torres | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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