Spring is in full swing. What better way to spend a warm evening than grilling with friends and family or lazing in your backyard hammock? Sounds perfect, right? It can be, so long as you don’t let warm weather bugs squash your summer buzz.
After all, not only are summer bugs a nuisance to you and your gardens, some also carry harmful diseases. Because of viruses like Zika and West Nile, mosquitoes, in particular, are a bigger concern than ever before.
But fear not – you don’t have to soak yourself in bug spray or engage in garden chemical warfare to stay safe. Start by adding bug-repellant varieties of herbs and flowers to your garden mix. These double-duty plants have strong essential oils with scents that bugs don’t like, making them nature’s best insect repellents, while adding even more beauty to your backyard.
Take a look at the list below. It’s filled with attractive ways to fight back against mosquitoes, gnats, flies, no-see-ums and other pesky bugs. To help you enjoy your outdoor space, strategically place a few of these insect-repelling plants where you spend the most time – in your garden, on your patio, or by the pool.
1. Basil – This herb may be tasty and delightfully fragrant to humans, but not so for insects. Basil’s strong smell is effective at keeping flies and mosquitoes at bay. Plant this hearty herb in a pot and place near your outdoor table, and you won’t have to worry about bugs ruining your picnic.
2. Lemongrass – No doubt you’ve seen citronella candles and torches advertised in stores during the summer season as a method to help keep mosquitoes away. Did you know that citronella is a natural essential oil found in lemongrass? This ornamental herb can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide in one season, and the oil found in the plant itself is much more effective at deterring pests than its commercial counterparts. Lemongrass can tolerate heat and drought, but not frost, so it’s usually best planted in a pot that can be moved indoors when the weather turns cold.
3. Lavender – To most folks, lavender gives off a soothing scent thanks to its leaves’ essential oils, but almost all insects steer clear of the smell (excluding bees, who love lavender’s flowers). This plant is effective at deterring mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and moths. Want an indoor tip? Hang some dried lavender in your closet and you won’t have to worry about moths eating your clothes.
4. Rosemary – Most of us could pick out rosemary in a scent lineup. This hearty, fragrant herb is a favorite of chefs and home cooks alike. When it comes to bugs, the feeling is not mutual. Rosemary works wonders to repel flies and mosquitoes. Its scent also drives away other pests, like cabbage moths. Rosemary thrives in containers, so you can set pots of the herb in various places around your garden.
5. Mint – Who doesn’t love the smell and taste of mint? Ants, mosquitoes, and mice, that’s who. These pests absolutely hate the scent of this herb, and the aromatic properties suffuse the leaves, stems, and flowers, making it a powerful repellant. Because it spreads aggressively, mint is best grown in pots so it doesn’t take over your garden.
6. Catnip – According to some studies, this favorite of our feline friends is ten times more effective at repelling insects than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial products. Catnip grows almost anywhere and is perfect for pot planting. Try rolling up a few leaves and rubbing them on your skin to keep bugs away from you while you enjoy the outdoors.
7. Garlic – Turns out, this herb is as effective at warding off blood-sucking mosquitoes as it is at warding off vampires in the movies. If you place garlic bulbs around your garden, you’ll also deter other types of insects and creepy crawlers. Don’t have planting room to spare? Spray garlic extract in your garden; it’s harmless to plants and still works to keep bugs away.
7. Marigolds – While colorful additions to landscaping, these flowers also boast a distinctive smell that repels mosquitoes, aphids, squash bugs, tomato worms, and even rabbits. The roots of marigolds are well known among farmers to repel nematodes, but these qualities require a year to take effect. Just like lemongrass, marigolds contain a natural compound used in many insect repellents.
8. Petunias – Some people think of petunias as nature’s pesticide. These flowers are popular because they come in a variety of bright colors, require minimal maintenance, and can be grown in garden beds, containers or hanging baskets. The funnel-shaped blossoms have a licorice-like scent that is off-putting to many insects, like aphids, asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, tomato hornworms, and squash bugs. But do keep an eye on these flowers because other crawly garden pests are attracted to petunias, including slugs and caterpillars.