Dreary winter weather is fading into memory as the longer, warmer days draw near, and while this may herald a time of backyard BBQs and beers, it also means bugs. If you have an outdoor space such as a balcony, patio, deck, or yard, you know that as soon as the weather is welcoming, we are not the only ones being beckoned out into the sunshine!
How sweet would it be to be able to read, dine, or visit with a friend al fresco without having to swat away at your neck and ankles, or cover your body in repellent? Well, if you’re open to a bit of simple patio gardening, there could be an easy and effective way to create a mosquito-free (or close to it) zone where you’d be left to sleep, sip, or chat… without the swat!
8 Best Mosquito Repelling Plants
Here are a few key plants and herbs that are not only known to ward off mosquitoes, but will thrive in your patio pots and planters:
1. Citronella grass
Rhis tall ornamental grass has the distinct lemony smell of those citronella candles we’ve all bought at some point as a way to (often ineffectively) keep mosquitoes away, but this living plant does a much better job!
It will do well planted in a large, well-drained containers. Be sure to track down either Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus as these are the most repellant varietals.
This plant has a strong incense-like odor that repels mosquitoes by interfering with their ability to smell, so you may need to rub some leaves together to awaken the oils and amplify the scent. Note that this is an invasive species so it is not to be planted in your garden, however it is safe to keep in a pot or planter on the patio.
This is a great plant when you want to keep the biting bugs away, but know that by planting this you might be inviting in all of the neighborhood cats instead! A study out of Iowa State University found that catnip oil is a very effective mosquito repellent.
The chemical nepetalactone, which is the active ingredient, has been shown to be more effective than DEET in even smaller amounts. The oil is reportedly too strong to rub on human skin, however, so leave that to the cats and stick to using the plant an an environmental deterrent!
What’s better than a flower that smells like the fields of Provence, is perfect for homemade sachets, can be added into batches of summer shortbread (yes, the flowers are edible!), lends a certain je ne c’est quoi when added to summery gin cocktails, AND keeps mosquitoes away?
Gently rub your hands around the flowers to awaken the scented oils to create a stronger buffer. Lavender is a really resilient, drought-resistant plant, making it a great choice for hot, sunny patios (be sure not to overwater!)
Choose a strongly-scented varietal that’s hardy in your zone, as they will vary. For example, I live in Toronto and have planted a lavender that not only survives even our most harsh winters, but brings in the bees in the summer, and really does seem to keep the mosquitoes away.
5. Lemon basil and lemon thyme
Mosquitoes really can’t stand coming near the lemon-scented plants, and these two definitely hit the mark. Go with whichever is more appealing to you, or combine them into pots and planters (both can be used in cooking and cocktails).
Set them in the sunniest parts of your patio, allowing their bright, citrus scents to energize your outdoor space while also keeping the mosquitoes away.
These little button-topped flowers are known to be off-putting to most insects due to a compound they contain called pyrethrum, however the pollinators such as bees and butterflies will still enjoy them.
Many marigold varietals are also edible, lending them the label of a “poor man’s saffron.” They can also used to make all-natural fabric dyes!
These flowers work well when set among plants and herbs you may have growing, but you can also create a solid no-bug boundary by arranging a perimeter of them in long, narrow planters.
Rosemary oil is another great option to keep mosquitoes away, and of course it’s a fantastic herb for your culinary world too (check out this drool-worthy rosemary coconut and chickpea trail-mix recipe!)
Like some of the other plants that don’t smell so strongly when inert, you may want to rub some of the plant or crush a few of the leaves to release the scent more broadly.
This rapidly-growing, flowering weed is scientifically proven to be an effective mosquito deterrent, and has even become part of health care initiatives to help reduce the incidence of malaria in parts of the world where it is still a major concern.
It is often planted or set near the doors to homes to keep the mosquitoes from entering, and can be just as effective when used around your very own patios or decks. Crushing the leaves will help to release the strong citronella scent, but you can also dry and crush the flowers and burn them like an incense.
There’s no need to suffer through another summer of itchy bites. Not only will these plants help to keep you bite-free, many are delicious, and they will definitely add a punch of natural, botanical beauty to any outdoor nook.
If you want to create a really effective bug-buffer as well as a sense of verdant drama, consider combining a wide variety of pots and planters, mix together plants of various sizes, consider hanging planters in corners to add a sense of verticality, or install a multi-tiered planter wall along the side. After all, more greens means cooler and shadier too!