Plants that Repel Mosquitoes, Flies & Garden Pests
Control Bugs Naturally
Spring heralds the arrival of warmer temperatures and soft rains. The earth begins to awaken from its winter slumber. Flowers bloom, trees bud, birds sing and baby animals are born. New life abounds. So, too, do the summertime pests that emerge from dormancy to proliferate in our landscapes. Our yards and patios are a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the spring weather, but sharing the space with mosquitoes and flies can ruin the ambiance. Besides their annoying buzzing and biting qualities, some pests carry diseases and others are detrimental to our vegetable and flower gardens.
It may be tempting to wield a high-power pest control spray when bugs begin to proliferate in areas where they are unwelcome. But many forms of insect control have negative side effects, not only for humans, but for the beneficial bugs that frequent our landscapes. For instance, sprays that are used for general insect control are often deadly to bees and ladybugs, which are important species to the health of our gardens. They also may harm butterflies, a notable disaster to those who enjoy and encourage butterflies to visit their landscapes. The prudent gardener looks for less toxic methods of pest elimination to discourage unwanted bugs without harming the more friendly and useful varieties
There are many natural and organic methods of pest control. This article will focus on plants that we can grow in our landscapes to deter unwanted pests. Though they may not be quite as effective as a chemical spray, plants have fewer (if any) negative side effects. Plants can also serve multiple purposes, providing beauty, a pleasant aroma, food and health remedies in addition to repelling unwanted bugs. Here are a few noteworthy insect-repellant varieties.
Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Alicia J. Rose.
Marigold flowers give off a fragrance that is unappealing to many insects, especially to certain types of beetles, leaf cutters,the dreaded tomato horn worm, and some detrimental nematodes. Plant them near tender vegetables or place them in a pot on your picnic table. In addition to growing the flowers in strategic areas around your yard, you can also whirl the flowers with some water in your blender, strain and use as a pest deterrent spray.
Marigolds are easily grown from seed or transplants. Plant them in full sun. With very little care, marigolds bloom prolifically during the late spring and summer. To encourage continual blooming, deadhead the plants by removing flowers as they die. Marigolds come in many shades, including creamy yellow, right bright yellow, orange, gold, burgundy, and combinations of two colors.
Besides being a gorgeous bug repellent, marigold flowers are edible in salads and the dried leaves make a delicious tea.
Thai Lemon Grass
Thai lemon grass is not a particularly beautiful plant, but it is very effective as a natural mosquito repellant. An aromatic grass that gives off a lovely, lemony smell when rubbed or cut, it is extremely easy to grow in a landscape or on your patio. It t is tolerates full sun or partial shade, and likes plenty of water. Before enjoying an evening on the patio, snip a few of the leaves to release the odor that is pleasant to humans, but repellent to mosquitoes.
Lemon grass has many uses. It is often used as an ingredient in Thai food recipes. Homemade natural skincare, candles and perfumes sometimes contain lemon grass. On our farm, we simmer 1 part water with 1 part sugar and a few macerated pieces of lemon grass to make a simple syrup for sweetening lemonade or other beverages.
Nasturtiums are effective for repelling white flies, squash bugs, beetles and aphids. They prefer lots of sun and soil that is allowed to dry out between watering. These hardy plants will often grow in places that other plants will not tolerate, and bloom best when grown in average to poor soil conditions. Grow nasturtiums near tender vegetables or in a pot on your picnic table or patio. The seeds can be harvested and soaked in water for use as an insect repellent spray.
Nasturtium flowers have a peppery flavor that is delicious in salads. In addition, nasturtiums are used medicinally as a sore throat remedy as the leaves are a natural antibiotic that is high in vitamin C.
Flies, mosquitoes, and asparagus beetles are repelled by basil. It prefers warm temperatures and well-drained soil with plenty of organic material, such as compost. In ancient tops, basil was grown in pots on the windowsill to deter flies. The flowers are lovely and they attract bees and butterflies. However, many gardeners say that for the best leaf flavor, pinch of flower spikes as soon as they form.
This lovely plant is also delicious in recipes. For pesto, choose a large-leaf, sweet variety, such as Italian or Genovese, or small-leaved Globe basil. For spicy dishes, select Holy basil or Cinnamon basil. For fish or chicken, Mr.s Burn's lemon basil is lovely.
Mints can be grown to keep ants, aphids, moths, and fleas away. Though tolerant of many growing conditions, mint is best grown in moist, fertile soil in full sun to partial shade.
Mint can grow aggressively and can become invasive in a garden, taking over as much space as it can. To trap a mint, grow it in a container on your patio. Or, cut the bottom off of a 5-gallon plastic plant pot. Dig a hole as deep as the height of the pot and set the pot in the hole. Backfill the pot with soil and plant your mint inside it. This will help to keep your mint under control as it grows in your garden amongt your other plants.
Peppermint has a strong smell that irritates and deters many pests. Many people enjoy the aroma and use the leaves for tea, a culinary condiment or for potpouri.
Here are some more members of the mint family that repel pests, and have many other uses, as well!
Catnip is known to repel ants, aphids, roaches, and beetles. It repels mice, but cats love it. Still, it is a hardy perennial that belongs to the mint family. Its soft, heart-shaped leaves are gray-green. Catnip produces small white or lavender flowers. Plant it in full sun in a well-drained soil. This hardy perennial requires little care and is a butterfly attractor.
Also known as Horsemint, Bee Balm, Purple Horse Mint or Lemon Mint, Lemon Balm has a lemony smell that attracts bees and butterflies. Steep the leaves for a soothing tea or pour it in a spray bottle and apply to the skin to repel mosquitoes.
One member of the mint family, Mexican Mint Marigold, is a great substitute for tarragon that can be grown easily in hot, dry climates. My garden is in Phoenix, Arizona and French tarragon is tricky to grow here. But I have not issues growing Mexican Mint Marigold, locally referred to as Mexican tarragon. It seems to love the heat, and doesn't mind a little bit of water stress.
Mexican Mint Marigold has a licorice flavor and scent, similar to French tarragon. This hardy plant grows well in warm temperatures. It is also known as Mexican tarragon Root Beer Plant, Yerba Anis or Cloud Plant. Its strong odor is a potent deterrent to pests, while the small, yellow flowers attract pollinators. Use as a culinary substitute for French tarragon.
If you have a protected space that is not visited by pets or children, Pennyroyal is a very effective pest deterrent. We have lots of animals that roam our farm, so I avoid growing Pennyroyal. But I purchase the dried herb online to make sachets to keep bugs out of our seasonal clothing storage.
Pennyroyal is a highly toxic member of the mint family. It's crushed, dried leaves have long been used to repel fleas and other pests. Although it is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for various maladies, it can be poisonous to pets and humans if ingested.
Garlic repels aphids, borers, apple scabs, Japanese beetles, peach leaf curl, and spider mites. Garlic tolerates many growing conditions, but prefers an area with full sun and well-drained soil. It is typically planted in the fall and harvested in the spring when the leaves begin to die.
At our farm, we plant garlic (and onions) around the perimeters of our garden beds to create a barrier that helps to protect our garden vegetables from pest infestations.
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