Tired of mosquitoes and looking for natural deterrent alternatives? Most plants that deter mosquitoes do so because of their natural aromas and chemicals, which – usually in oil form – keep pesky mosquitoes away. If you don’t want to use chemical bug sprays on yourself or your garden, you can cultivate some of these plants to repel mosquitoes organically.
Some of the best plants for repelling mosquitoes the natural way are easy to grow and can be found at a local or online nursery. While a few deter plants just by their presence, most need to be dried or used as essential oils or bug spray. The best plants will leave you and your family feeling safer from mosquito bites.
From marigolds and rosemary to all things lemon-scented, we have curated the research on the best mosquito repellants out there. In this list of plants, we’ll go over the science behind keeping those bloodsuckers at bay!
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Dangers of Mosquitoes
Before we dive into it, let’s have some real talk. Mosquitoes are bad news. My wife and I have a newborn baby girl, so we’re keenly aware of the dangers mosquitoes pose. We also travel a lot in the summers – often to areas in the Ozarks – which have a large mosquito population.
It’s important to remember that mosquitos are distributors of diseases. They move dangerous agents from one organism to another. Here are some of the top dangers of mosquitoes to humans:
- Zika virus – Zika can affect pregnant women by causing severe congenital disabilities in their unborn babies.
- West Nile virus – West Nile, in a low percentage of people, can cause a deadly neurological disease in humans.
- Yellow Fever – In humans, the yellow fever virus can cause liver damage and damage to other organs and can even be fatal.
- Malaria – Malaria can cause high fevers, flu-like symptoms, and death.
- Dengue – Dengue can cause fever, rash, nausea, vomiting, and aches and pain.
Across the world, these diseases kill millions each year, so it’s crucial to find effective repellents to protect ourselves and our families.
Here’s a list of different plants that can give you an edge during mosquito season.
There’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence around which of these beautiful plants do and do not keep mosquitoes at bay. We’re going to primarily focus on the ones that have research-based studies we can use to guide us to keep these pesky bugs in check. But we will also provide some options based on anecdotal evidence.
You can buy these at True Leaf Market Seed Company.
Bee Balm (Monardo)
Looking for a way to keep the mosquitos away while also encouraging bees to grace your garden? Bee Balm, also known as Wild Bergamot, Monardo, Oswego Tea, and Horsemint, is a mint-family flowering plant that can have multiple purposes in your garden.
With Bee Balm, crushing the leaves to release the oils is the most effective approach to repel mosquitoes.
Bee Balm even attracts hummingbirds, pollinating insects like bees and insects that can eliminate garden pests, in addition to being a great mosquito repellant plant. Seriously, this plant is impressive.
Bee Balm thrives in bright sunlight and is a perennial, meaning it will come back year after year. It is drought-resistant and shade-tolerant, making it an excellent option for many growers.
Bee Balm is also a wonderful aromatherapy herb that makes a tasty herbal tea, as well.
— Candace 🌸🐦⚾️🏈⛳️🐶♐️ (@twinsfan3477) August 17, 2020
Fun Fact And Warnings
Most of the time, you need to either rub the oil of the plant/leaf insect repellents on your skin to receive significant benefits. According to Gary Bachman, an extension horticulturist with Mississippi State University, “many plants, if you rub against them, release vital oils…But if you just have those plants sitting in a pot, I don’t think there’s much chance of keeping troublesome insects away. You have to put some effort into it, like rubbing crushed plant material onto your clothing or skin.”
That said, these oils can also irritate your skin in concentrated doses. If you decide to rub the oil of a plant on your skin, first do your research and then test the oil on a small part of your skin. This will help protect you from any allergic and otherwise harmful reactions.
We can’t say this enough – being natural does not inherently mean that it is safe for use. This is going to be especially true when we discuss marigold oil later in the article.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus)
Lemon thyme is a natural mosquito repellent that smells amazing and is easy to care for in a pot or planting bed. You’ll be rewarded with plenty of sprigs for the kitchen and homegrown bug repellent if you give it quick-draining soil and a gravel mulch. Cut a stem or two, crush the leaves in your fingers, and rub them on your skin to repel insects.
According to Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology, crushed lemon thyme has 62% of the mosquito-repelling effectiveness as DEET. Lemon thyme also has lustrous, brilliant green leaves. Zones 5–9 are suitable for growing this herb.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
While nurseries try to promote the citronella plant as a natural deterrent for your garden bed, Lemon Balm contains 400 times more citronella than the Mosquito Plant. Lemon thyme and lemon balm, it turns out, are both less expensive and easier to grow.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip – a member of the mint family- is not just for attracting your feline friends. It has leaves that contain a chemical called nepetalactone, which acts as a feline attractant but repels mosquitoes. Research by Iowa State University revealed that nepetalactone is a more efficient mosquito-repellant than the commercial chemical DEET. This is a massive win, but there are a few caveats we should mention – this research was not done on human subjects; it was a pretty old study (2001); and the doses tested only contained between 1-5% of the essential oil.
Catnip oil in a concentrated form should NOT be applied directly to your skin. The best way to use this natural insect repellent is highly diluted as part of an essential oil.
From spring to fall, catnip produces attractive spikes of white or purple flowers. This perennial prefers full sun and should be let to dry out slightly between waterings.
Growing catnip as a natural insect repellent has one major disadvantage: it can quickly overtake your garden. Catnip can establish root and become weed-like by choking out nearby plants, depending on soil quality, drainage, and sunlight. If you’re using this plant as a source of catnip oil or bug repellents, separate them from the main garden beds or flower beds.
Catnip can also deter cockroaches, although it won’t be as strong against these pests as DEET.
Citronella Plant (Pelargonium ‘Citronella)
Commonly known as the citronella geranium, citronella is sometimes used to make citronella candles and essential oils to ward off the local mosquito population. The pungent smell is fine for deterring pesky mosquitoes. But as we said, it’s not nearly as effective as lemon thyme or lemon balm.
It’s important to point out that citronella geranium is a different plant than citronella grass. Plants other than citronella geranium or citronella grass may be sold as citronella by nurseries and garden centers. This is frequently done because the plant has a perfume that is comparable to actual citronella.
Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus)
Citronella grass is often used as a natural ingredient in insect repellants. It’s typically used outside the home – in outdoor areas or a general seating area – due to its strong scent and the hope that it will deter mosquitoes.
That said, the oils aren’t really usable when they’re in the plant – so just having them in your yard isn’t going to do much. The mosquito-repelling oils must be extracted. To do this, the grass can be crushed or pressed and rubbed directly on clothing or skin. To rule out an allergic reaction, try a tiny patch on your skin first.
Because it cannot tolerate frost, this low-maintenance plant grows best in a large pot. In warmer climates, it can be planted directly in the ground.
Bonus Citronella Fact
Citronella discourages whiteflies and other pests that are attracted to its robust and lemony aroma.
This lovely annual bloom looks beautiful in a vase or as a bedding plant. Ageratum, often known as floss flower, has clusters of fuzzy, tiny purple blossoms. Floss flower is a low-growing annual that is especially well-suited to containers. It contains coumarin, a substance that mosquitoes despise. That said, it is toxic to both humans and pets if ingested. Plant it in a part-sun spot with well-draining soil and water it periodically to prevent the soil from drying out.
Lemon Grass (Melissa officinalis)
Even though citronella grass and lemongrass are often used interchangeably, they are two different plants. Visually, citronella grass has reddish-colored pseudostems, whereas lemongrass is entirely green. Like citronella grass, lemongrass has a lemony smell and repellent properties that can be a reasonably effective way to keep away mosquitoes.
Lemon Basil (Ocimum citriodorum)
Lemon basil is a hybrid between American basil and Hoary basil. Like many other lemon-scented plants, it has at least some effect against mosquitoes in an oil form. Multiple studies in various African countries had a repellency protection rate between 37 and 50%. Studies have also been done around how basil plants and petroleum can be used to kill mosquito larvae. But in that study’s abstract, petroleum is a clear winner at killing them.
Lemon-Scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora)
In its natural habitat, it is a tall, thin, broadleaf evergreen tree that grows 60-100 feet tall: smooth gray bark and lance-shaped yellowish-green leaves (up to 7″ long). Oil from the lemon-scented gum is surprisingly effective against mosquitoes. Similar to lemon basil, the study tested its effectiveness in different African countries. But unlike lemon basil, it has a 90-100% repellency protection rate.
Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica)
The neem tree produces neem oil, which has a wide variety of uses – many of which have scientifically backed benefits.
Neem oil is a naturally occurring pesticide found in seeds and leaves from the neem tree. It is yellow to brown, has a bitter taste, and a strong odor (garlic/sulfur). It has been used for hundreds of years to control pests and diseases. Components of neem oil can be found in many products today, including toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, and pet shampoos. Azadirachtin is the most active component for repelling and killing pests and can be extracted from neem oil. The portion left over is called clarified hydrophobic neem oil.
In terms of efficacy, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. Some studies in India have shown high efficacy using neem oil, while others have only found intermediate repellency.
The Neem tree is tropical, but it can grow outside in the warmest areas of Texas, California, Florida, and Arizona. You could choose to grow it inside, though, as it thrives in a similar indoor environment as a ficus tree.
Lavender Plants (Lavandula angustifolia)
Whether you’re growing lavender plants indoors or in an outdoor space, this beautiful perennial plant has a wide range of uses. Its purple flower buds also have a distinct smell that most people find very relaxing.
The purple blooms are not only beautiful to look at, but the aroma from these little beauties are also known to slightly repel mosquitoes and other biting insects. As an oil, it is an incredible natural alternative to DEET or other options.
Linalool, a chemical found in this essential oil, generates a powerful odor that is attractive to humans but repulsive to mosquitoes. This is primarily because it, like DEET, overloads their sensitive smell organs.
In terms of research, lavender oil has a 93% repellant rate against mosquitoes indoors and a 53% repellent rating against mosquitoes outside, according to a 2009 study. When used as part of a more comprehensive natural repellent program, lavender oil is one of the most efficient natural mosquito repellants.
Lavender requires full sun, dry climates, and dry soil.
Other Mint Options
There are a handful of other mint varieties that you can use to beef up your mosquito-fighting arsenal. Here are our favorites.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Pennyroyal is a member of the mint family that has a potent aroma. It can be hazardous to humans and animals if too much oil is absorbed through the skin or ingested. Pennyroyal is one of a few mosquito-repellent plants that we don’t have much research on. A handful of articles mention its effectiveness, but mainly it’s highlighted as a plant that “might” deter mosquitoes.
While the evidence is anecdotal, some people crush pennyroyal leaves and keep them in their pockets to offer them extra protection from pesky mosquitoes.
Similar to pennyroyal, spearmint has a natural oil that can repel mosquitoes. Its strong fragrance is a great addition, either as an indoor or outdoor plant.
Mosquitoes, flies, spiders, and other insects are known to dislike spearmint and peppermint, making them great for the backyard garden.
Peppermint oil and oils from other members of the mint family act as decent mosquito control options.
In a spray bottle, you can combine water and peppermint oil. Before using, give the bottle a good shake and spray the solution around access points such as window sills and door frames, as well as any other locations where insects might hide. The pungent odor serves as a deterrent.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
The mint family’s common sage herb that produces grayish-green leaves – it’s a good addition for any herb garden. This perennial herb has a strong scent and produces oils that add taste to food while also repelling mosquitoes. Sage grows best in full sunshine and fast-draining soils. It is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. Using sage essential oil or dried sage stems, you may make your own mosquito repellent whether you have a green thumb or not.
According to a 2018 poll, this natural mosquito repellent is mainly used in the United States, implying that it may have originated as folk medicine.
That said, a 2012 study indicated that an essential oil extracted from the leaves of a close relative of common sage known as Salvia microphylla or cherry sage was 60% effective at repelling aphids. This suggests that it has some effect on pests. But there have been no follow-up studies to link these early findings to mosquitoes of any type. Similarly, sage has not been evaluated to determine an effective concentration or any potential hazardous side effects to the skin. So there are a lot of unknowns with this one.
There are some reports of people throwing sage in a fire pit so that the smoke deters the mosquitoes. This seems pretty anecdotal, though, and we can’t give the green light on it at this time.
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Finally, a plant that can repel mosquitoes without being turned into an essential oil first! A 2011 study in Africa showed that houses with lantana had 50% fewer mosquitoes of any kind. That’s incredibly impressive.
When you brush up against lantana, you’ll understand why it repels insects. It has a distinct odor somewhere between fermenting citrus and gasoline. When sunshine warms the plants, fragrant chemicals are released from the leaves. You can create a natural barrier against mosquitoes by planting a few pots of lantana around your outdoor living areas. In pots, give it ample sun and consistent watering. It’s a sturdy plant that doesn’t need rich soil and can survive drought and heat in planting beds.
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Chrysanthemum is one of the many plants that has pyrethrum in their flowers. This oil acts as a powerful insect repellent. In most “all-natural” insect repellents on the market now, pyrethrum is the primary ingredient. It not only kills mosquitoes, but it’s also effective against other insects, like wasps and beetles.
Pyrethrum degrades quickly in comparison to other insecticides. It has a low toxicity level and is entirely biodegradable. That said, if it gets on your skin, it can irritate the sight or even cause numbness. But there has not been any research suggesting that it causes asthma or allergies.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
According to some anecdotal sources, rosemary can help keep flies and mosquitoes away from your home. The most common way to use is in an essential oil or in a spray bottle. A few places online suggested you throw a few sprigs of rosemary on the grill if the bugs are extremely bad, and the aromatic smoke will help keep the mosquitoes away. This doesn’t seem like an effective way to do anything unless you have large amounts of rosemary sitting next to your grill at all times.
To make a basic repellent spray using rosemary:
- Combine one cup dried rosemary with a quart of water and boil for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Pour a quart of cool water into a separate container and filter the rosemary water into it.
- Fill spray bottles with small amounts of the combination to apply directly to the skin and outdoor pets.
- Refrigerate any leftovers until they no longer smell strongly of rosemary and then discard.
Witch Hazel Bush (Hamamelis virginiana)
While the evidence is largely anecdotal, some articles and message boards mention witch hazel bush as a decent repellent.
One report that I found interesting involved a pharmacist who said it worked as an emergency mosquito repellent when he poured it over his legs. He said that while the effects weren’t long-lasting, the mosquitoes immediately stopped biting him.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Like other lemon-scented plants, Lemon Verbena does a good job of deterring mosquitoes as an essential oil. You can use this perennial’s oils on the body to ward off bugs. While there is not a great deal of research pertaining to its effectiveness against mosquitoes, there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence for it as an insecticide.
Because the leaves have such a strong lemon flavor, they are frequently substituted for actual lemon in numerous recipes and drinks. These plants, which are best grown from cuttings, can grow to 14 feet or more in tropical zones, but they frequently stay much smaller in temperate zones, where they require a chilly, but not freezing, the dormant season before sending out new growth.
While our top picks for mosquito deterrents are listed above, we wanted to provide a few other options in case you couldn’t find what you wanted:
- Pineapple Weed
- Incense Cedar
- Cinnamon Basil
- Vanilla Leaf
- Lemon-scented Geranium
- Sweet Fern
- Tea Tree
- Canada Tree
Shop now at True Leaf Market Seed Company.
When using the oil from plants to protect yourself from mosquitoes, it’s crucial that you don’t use enough to hurt yourself – either your lungs from inhaling the fumes or your skin from the application.
See this chart from the Malaria Journal in 2011 on safe applications for various types of plants:
There are so many plants out there that can help you defend yourself from mosquitoes. I know I’ve already said it, but don’t just use an option because it’s considered natural. Some of these options in concentrated forms are much more dangerous than something like DEET.
And while I’m on that soapbox, DEET gets a bad rep, but it’s very safe. DEET has been recommended for use in persons of all ages, including children, by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It seems that a lot of the negative perception around DEET is that people confuse it with DDT, which is an insecticide that’s infamous for its environmental impacts.
But if you’re still looking for a good option in your home or around the house, try the plants listed here. If you have any experiences you want to share, send them to email@example.com.