BONNIE’S GARDEN – Repelling Mosquitoes

I’m getting so many people these days looking for plants that repel mosquitoes, that I thought it was time to repeat this blog.

Swirling cloaks, spooky music, and a voice with a Hungarian accent saying “Good E-e-e-vening.” Or incredibly annoying little insects buzzing around your face and feasting on every square inch of exposed flesh. Both bloodsuckers. One you need garlic and a wooden stake to get rid of, unfortunately, it’s not the mosquito.

Citronella-scented geraniums are pretty lacy-leaved members of the geranium family that contain citronella oil. Their flowers are small but their lemony scent is large. Mosquitoes don’t like it. Other lemon-scented herbs that also contain citronella oil are lemon thyme, lemon balm, and lemongrass.  The lemongrass and citronella-scented geranium are not winter-hardy here while both lemon thyme and lemon balm are.

Most herbs are also quite effective at repelling mosquitoes— catnip, basil, pennyroyal, lavender, rosemary, and most all of your mint family members are all very good at repelling the little pesky things—or at the very least, camouflaging your scent so they have more trouble finding you. The pretty blooming annual flowers marigolds and ageratum are also effective.  By the way, most of these strongly scented plants can help repel fleas, too.

Now for the bad news. Imagine surrounding your deck or patio with some pretty pots of fragrant herbs and not having to worry about mosquitoes at all. It’s a nice dream. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. In order for any of these plants to begin repelling mosquitoes, the leaves must be bruised or crushed to release the essential oils.  For some of the more fragrant herbs, like basil, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, brushing your hands over them will work. You need to release the fragrance.

You can grab a handful of leaves, crush them, and leave them sitting in bowls or you can actually rub them on your skin (I’d probably do a “patch” test first to be sure you’re not allergic.). Lemon Balm is my go-to plant because it is not only perennial but is an extremely vigorous grower which can generally handle donating a handful of leaves from time to time to the cause (and it makes a lovely tea!)

Other things we can do to help control the mosquito population is to not give them any place to live—this works best when you can get your neighbors to join in.  Go through your yard and eliminate any place water can stand.  All it takes is a scant half-inch of water sitting more than 24 hours and a mosquito can find it and lay eggs.

Check under decks for old saucers that could collect rainwater. Check splash guards under downspouts to make sure they don’t have anywhere water can puddle. Also, don’t let water stand in birdbaths more than a day without hitting with the garden hose.  Check saucers under plants and don’t let water stand in them either. Add mosquito “dunks” to ponds or standing water in creeks.  These won’t harm fish but will kill mosquito larvae.

Encourage birds to visit your yard by planting bird-friendly shrubs and flowers, hanging bird feeders, birdhouses, and keeping bird baths filled with fresh water. Speaking of vampires, by the way, one bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in a single evening so appreciate them when they flutter and swoop overhead. Consider hanging one or more “bat houses” to encourage them to hang out.

And instead of hanging garlic around your neck, consider hanging lemon balm!


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