Hate Mosquitos? Look to Plants for Relief


Andrew Scott, The Gardens on Spring Creek horticulturist

With temperatures truly feeling like summer now, you might find yourself outside with friends and family on those cooler evenings, taking in the sunset or hosting cookouts and cocktail hours. Of course, mosquitos will invite themselves too and have the nerve not to RSVP. While DEET and picaridin are perfectly safe and effective insect repellants, if you’re looking for more natural remedies or just don’t like the smell of synthetics, there are plenty of plants that may help you.

A great number of herbs in the mint family have been used since time immemorial to dissuade bugs, including lavender, catnip, basil, lemon balm, rosemary, marjoram, thyme and peppermint — and they smell nice on your skin, too! Pennyroyal is another repellent mint but is also highly toxic, so consider an alternative if you have pets or small children. Perennials like beautyberry (Callicarpa), beebalm (Monarda), fennel and garlic have been known to repel mosquitos, while several annuals like marigolds, lantanas, floss flower (Ageratum) and citronella geranium (Pelargonium cintrosum) can offer relief as well.

You don’t necessarily have to be a green thumb and grow these plants yourself. Extracts and oils from halfway across the globe can be just as effective, and you don’t have to worry about finding space for a new, often large growing plant. Mosquitos find extracts of camphor, cedar, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus and tea tree to be especially repugnant. Citronella torches are a mainstay for backyard get-togethers for a reason, and the lemongrass from which citronella oil is derived is another great insect repellent and can be grown as an annual here in Colorado.

Because plants produce these repellent phytochemicals within their cells to discourage insects and other animals from chewing on them, I would be remiss in saying that simply having these plants in the ground will banish bugs from your backyard. At the very least, rubbing some crushed leaves on exposed skin or burning dried plants as a smudge can help, but it isn’t effective for very long. Insect-repellent balms are more effective and can be made by chopping and steeping plant leaves and stems in coconut or olive oil over a very low heat to extract their essential oils before straining and mixing with shea butter and beeswax to make a semi-solid balm that can be spread on the skin. Essential oils can also be steeped and extracted into alcohol before being spritzed like normal bug spray, but I personally avoid these tinctures due to the drying effect alcohol can have on the skin.

Keep in mind that repelling mosquitos is only one part of the equation and discouraging their reproduction in the first place is equally important. The biggest thing you can do is reduce the amount of standing water around your area. Pay attention to birdbaths and rain barrels, keep gutters and downspouts clear, and make sure your pots have adequate drainage and aren’t overwatered.

If you plan on lazing around your backyard a lot this summer and don’t want itchy, potentially disease-carrying guests dropping by, consider planting a little repellent garden. If nothing else, it will spruce up the area and fill those cool evenings with lovely aromas while you watch that sunset roll on by.

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