The mosquitoes are out in force and you may have found yourself reaching for the chemical bug spray. Consider there are a number of plants you can add to your yard to naturally repel mosquitoes. In some cases you can even crush or rub these plants on your skin and clothes to keep mosquitoes away, AND use as herbs in teas and cooking!
Here are 8 mosquito-repelling, easy-to-grow plant picks for the Harris and Montgomery county areas:
The lemon-scented oils in lemongrass are frequently used to make natural insect repellent. Lemongrass looks much like a very tall patch of grass that doesn’t often produce flowers, but has a strong flavor and odor of lemon citrus. At the base of each group of leaves there is a fat stalk, similar to a spring onion bulb.
Growing Conditions: Lemon Grass prefers full sun to partial shade, and fertile, well-drained soil. It is treated as an annual in most zones since it is frost-tender. Each plant can grow to between 3 and 6 feet high when grown outdoors, but it can also thrive indoors, though it won't get as big or have as many stalks. While inside, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer (at least 6 hours a day).
Lemon grass can be started by seed or you may even be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stalks you purchase at the regular grocery store, as long as they are still firm and green. Simply cut off an inch or two from the end of the leaves, and put the base end in a glass of water. Leave somewhere sunny, and you should start to see roots sprouting from the bottom of the stalk in about a week or two. Once your stalk has roots at least an inch long, you can either plant it in a container for indoor growing or take it right out into the garden.
TIPS: Brush the Lemon Grass to release more of it's fragrance. The bulb or bottom part of each stalk is used for cooking purposes, but the rest of the leaves are usually brewed as a tea. Not only is the tea very zesty in flavor, it can also help settle upset stomachs and ease a cough.
Citronella is beautiful and can get up to 2-3 feet tall, producing lavender-colored flowers in the summer. It emits a pleasant aroma, which is a much stronger aroma than commercial mosquito repellents containing citronella, so it's a great choice for repelling mosquitoes naturally. The citronella fragrance comes from the plant’s leaves. Rub the leaves to release the scent, or you can rub the leaves directly on your skin to repel mosquitoes.
Growing Conditions: Citronella is relatively drought-hardy, preferring sunny locations and well-drained soil, but it can tolerate partial-shade. Citronella is an evergreen perennial in zones 9 to 11, but it will be a frost-tender annual where freezing temperatures occur. You can grow citronella in pots and place it around a porch or patio, or you can plant it directly in a yard or garden bed.
TIPS: It responds well to pruning, so don’t be afraid to cut branches for inclusion in summer bouquets, especially if you are dining outdoors.
WARNING: Citronella is toxic if ingested, especially to cats.
Another great choice for a mosquito repelling plant is lemon balm. The green leaves of lemon balm have the scent of lemon with a hint of mint, with leaves that look like oversized mint. We love lemon balm because it not only smells great, but it looks great in your garden too. Lemon balm can grow 24 to 36 inches tall and makes a nice green clump of medium-textured leaves.
Growing Conditions: Lemon Balm is a very hardy plant, is drought-resistant, and it grows well even in shade. It is a very fast growing and sometimes aggressive plant, so you might want to contain it to a pot, where you can move it to wherever you like to ensure that it doesn’t take over your garden.
TIPS: The plant looks best when it is cut back periodically, but what's a plus is that you can use the leaves as a wonderful lemony green herbto brew tea, flavor fruit or green salad, season fish, chicken, and veggies; use as a substitute for lemon peel in cooking, or even use in potpourris! Plus you can include stems in bouquets of summer flowers. Rub the leaves to release the scent, or you can rub the leaves directly on your skin to repel mosquitos.
Rosemary is a beautiful flowering plant that is often used as an herb to flavor lamb or fish dishes, but it is also a natural mosquito repellent. It's familiar woody scent is exactly what keeps mosquitoes away.
Growing Conditions: They do best in hot and dry climates and thrive in containers, which may be ideal for areas with winters.
TIPS: Rosemary be pruned into all sorts of shapes and sizes and make great borders or decorations. While the pests stay away you can enjoy the herb’s scent and also use it to season your cooking. Simply snip a few springs off every time you need to add extra flavor to your lamb or steak.
Ageratum (aka Flossflowers)
Ageratum secretes coumarin, which is widely used in commercial mosquito repellents, emitting a smell which mosquitos find particularly offensive. Although the leaves of Ageratum can be crushed to increase the emitted odor, it is notadvisable to rub the crushed leaves directly on the skin.
Growing Conditions: 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.
Horsemint 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. It blooms long, attractive spikes mid-summer through fall (various shades such as Pink, Pale Yellow, Violet/Lavender), attracting pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
Growing Conditions: Horsemint is a very hardy, 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 even tolerate salty conditions, such as beach areas.
TIPS: The flowers and young leaves of this plant add a wonderful herbal/citrus flavor to tea. Note that under favorable growing conditions this fast-growing plant can become invasive because it self-sows freely. Deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season, or plant it in a pot so you can move it to wherever you want and it won't take over your garden.
Catnip (aka Catmint)
Catnip is a sweet herb (part of the Mint family) bearing an odor resembling both Mint and Pennyroyal. Cats have a strange love and fascination with catnip, but in fact it's also a great mosquito repellent as well! In August 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University reported that catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET. While catnip will repel mosquitoes in close proximity to the plant, some people apply crushed catnip leaves or catnip oil directly to skin for a stronger protection.
Growing Conditions: It can be planted in sunny to partial shade conditions, and is actually so easy to grow that it nearly thrives on neglect (lean soil and somewhat dry growing conditions encourage healthier growth). It has a somewhat sprawling growth habit, and it's grey-green foliage is topped with spikes of flowers (white, pink, or lavender-blue) in early summer with repeat blooms throughout the season.
Other Uses of Catnip: Catnip leaves contain considerable quantities of vitamins C and E, both excellent antioxidants, and soothing catnip teas have long been used in traditional herbal medicine to quell digestive disturbances, reduce the pain of menstrual cramp, cure headaches, and induce sleep in humans, just to name a few. Actually catnip flavored with honey was a favorite aromatic tea of early American colonists.
TIP: Cat owners beware of your placement among other flowers or plantings you treasure because cats may very well roll around in the catnip and smash everything nearby!
Basil is another herb that can also double as a pest repellent. The pungent smell the basil leaves give off keep pests like mosquitoes at bay.
Growing Conditions: This herb likes to be kept damp, needs good drainage, and enjoys lots of sun. You can plant basil in containers or in the garden, alone or with other flowers, as long as both plants meet the same requirements.