Choosing the best mosquito repellent plants can add visual appeal, aroma or flavor to your life
Today, I'm going back to the roots of my environment-focused biology degree to explore how to choose mosquito-repelling plants. Sure, they're not power tools or lawn equipment, but they're life tools that repel mosquitoes. What's cool is that many of these plants are attractive, several are wonderfully scented, and some can even spice up your kitchen.
How to Use Mosquito Repellent Plants
Most plants emit some sort of aroma when they bloom, attracting bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and more to the sweet nectar they provide. However, it's not a smell that usually keeps mosquitos away. For this, in most cases, you need the oil from the leaves of the plant.
The easiest way to get it is to crush the leaves with your fingers and dab the oil/juice on your neck, wrists and legs. Be careful though, some of the plants on our list are poisonous and you need to be careful not to ingest the oils. You also need to be aware of any allergies you may have. Always start with a trial run to make sure your skin doesn't react badly.
Alternatively, you can dab the oil on a hammock or clothes, or just sprinkle a few crushed leaves around a chair.
The Best Mosquito Repellents and Plants That Smell Great
Lavender (zones 5 to 11, depending on variety)
Lavender is one of the most soothing scents and one of my favorites. However, it is the scent that keeps mosquitoes and various other garden pests away.
Lavender, with its silver-green foliage that runs along its stems and purple flowers, is a great choice as an attractive perennial element to your landscape, blooming in summer and fall. There are also multiple varieties that cover a wide range of USDA areas.
This drought-resistant repellent thrives in full sun and needs good drainage.
Eucalyptus (Zones 8 – 11)
Eucalyptus, a plant widely used in flower arrangements, produces a widely used essential oil that smells delicious if you like its minty flavor. All of these can repel mosquitoes.
Eucalyptus, a member of the myrtle family, is a fast-growing plant. Its blue-green foliage makes it attractive both indoors and out. However, it can grow up to 30 feet, so if you're using it in a smaller space, keep it trimmed so it doesn't get out of control.
This is a tree that likes full sun and well-drained soil. It is somewhat drought tolerant but needs regular watering to keep it healthy. If you're growing it in a pot, plan to fertilize it with a liquid fertilizer every few weeks. Once established, outdoor eucalyptus usually does not require fertilizer.
The Best Mosquito Repellent Plants That Look Good in Your Garden
Calendula (Zones 2-11)
The smell of calendula is not as pleasant as some of the others on our list, but mosquitoes and tons of other bugs hate it. As a bonus, they are easy to grow and cover a large USDA area.
Known for its vibrant orange flowers (although there are some other colors as well), marigolds are very attractive annuals that grow well in the ground or in pots. For much of the country, expect it to bloom throughout the summer, right up to the first frost of the year.
Give the marigolds full sun and allow the soil to dry out between watering.
Catnip (Zones 3 – 8)
Catnip and catnip are some of the most effective repellent plants. The nepetalactones contained in the leaves have been shown to be over ten times more effective than DEET at repelling those untimely bites. On the other hand, many cats simply don't get enough to eat.
Unfortunately, in Central Florida we are outside of the USDA recommended areas for growing catnip. However, if you're in range, these are hearty perennials that can start to take over flower beds, so plan to keep an eye on its spread. However, catnip can be a good addition. It's tall and thin, with bright green leaves and pleasant lavender-colored flowers (catnip is similar, but has white flowers).
Plant it in full sun and allow the soil to dry between watering. Expect to bloom from early summer to fall.
Monarda (Region 4 – 8)
Peppermint (bee balm, peppermint, wild bergamot) is an attractive perennial that, in addition to its mosquito repellent properties, has the added benefit of attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Bearing pretty red, purple, pink, or white flowers, this is a larger plant that can grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Often scented with mint, oregano, and sometimes citrus, the oil in the leaves is used to make tea and also used medicinally.
Monarda needs good air circulation to avoid powdery mildew problems and likes evenly moist soil to maintain flowering in late summer.
Allium (Zones 4-9)
While onions are great at repelling people, its close relative, the allium genus, is a more unique repellant plant.
It has a long, thin stem that leads to a cluster of flowers at the top. Depending on the variety, you can buy them in blue, purple, red, white, pink or even yellow. Its slender profile makes it an attractive addition to tower above lower plants without blocking the sun.
These tough, drought-resistant perennials like full sun and well-drained soil for their bulbs.
American Beautyberry (Zones 7 to 11)
One of the larger plants on our list, the American chamomile is a wonderful landscape addition that repels mosquitoes.
As a deciduous shrub, American purple berry can grow up to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Its purple berries look interesting as they straddle the stem rather than hanging from the end. The berries usually appear in fall and winter and add color to your garden after blooming or white or pink flowers in late spring/early fall. Be aware that whitetail deer love to chew on these plants, so you may want to avoid them if you don't want them around.
Grow American purple berries in part shade with rich, moist soil.
Lantana Camara (Zones 7 – 11)
Lantana is a staple in our subtropical Florida landscape, but it's been a viable repellant all the way up to zone 7. It's a perennial once you get to zone 9, and an annual in zone 8 and lower.
As it grows larger with more woody stems, its flowers are distinctly shaded and often have two colors on the same bunch. The smell is strong citrus and there are a lot of people who don't like it, so we usually think more about its visual appeal than its aroma.
Lantana likes full sun and well-drained soil. It's happy in the ground or in a container.
Ageratum (Zones 9 – 10)
Ageratum, or floss flower, contains a chemical called coumarin that repels mosquitoes. It is also toxic to humans and pets, so use caution when deciding whether to use it.
Floss flowers are annuals that produce beautiful purple flowers that bloom from the time you plant them until the first hard frost of the year.
Ageratum likes partial sun in warmer regions and prefers well-drained but moist soil.
Lemon Geranium (Zones 9 – 11)
Not all geraniums are created equal when it comes to repelling mosquitoes, so choose your variety carefully. Among scented varieties, those with a citrus-lemon scent are most effective.
Lemon geranium has a classic geranium leaf and lilac to pink flowers with pistils that split open like fireworks. It's perfect for a variety of containers, from basic planters to window frames.
Lemon geraniums need full or part sun and protection from midday sun in warmer regions. Stick a little soil on the drier side and fertilize sparingly.
Lemongrass (Zones 9 – 11)
Lemongrass (or citronella) is a popular plant for repelling mosquitoes in warmer parts of the country. It's also popular in the kitchen, especially in Asian-inspired dishes. Although it smells fresh and tastes fresh, mosquitoes and other pests cannot tolerate it.
Growing as a large grass, it is perfectly content planted in the ground and can be a perennial, but is most often used as an annual. This is another plant that is also content living in a pot. Be careful where you put lemongrass though, it can grow much larger than some of the other plants on our list.
Grow lemongrass in full sun and don't be afraid to fertilize, especially if you're going to use it year-round.
The Best Plants to Repel Mosquitoes and Add Flavor to Your Kitchen
Lemon Balm (Zones 3 – 7)
Lemon balm annoys mosquitoes and has a variety of uses, from kitchens to home remedies, where its mild lemon influence provides flavor and a calming aroma.
It's an herbaceous plant in the mint family that doesn't do much to grace a landscape with its appearance. It's much better in your herb garden, especially in indoor containers. When grown under optimal conditions, lemon balm is a hardy perennial.
If you're growing lemon balm indoors, try to place it where it will receive 5 to 6 hours of light. Outdoors, part sun is fine, and it's best to avoid the harshest rays of light during the day. It prefers well-drained soil, a little on the sandy side, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Mint (Zones 3 – 8)
One of my personal favorites is mint that combines mosquito-free living with delicious creativity.
Mint's utility has more to do with its ability to flavor a variety of beverages and dishes than aesthetic appeal, so it's rather plain in appearance. In areas where it thrives, it can take over, so it's best to keep this perennial in a container.
Mint likes part shade and moist soil conditions.
Fennel (Zones 4 – 9)
Oh fennel, how do I love you? Let me do the math! This bulbous vegetable that often appears in Italian cuisine is related to carrots, but it's not a root vegetable. In addition to its ability to repel mosquitoes, almost every part of the plant can be used in the kitchen.
The plant has celery-like stems that form a bulbous section at the base. There isn't much visual or aromatic appeal, but its mild anise (licorice) flavor adds something to our dishes that the Skeeters don't like.
Fennel is a perennial in zones 4 to 9, and may be an annual outside of it, and fennel likes rich, well-drained soil. Make sure it gets at least 6 hours of sun and fertilize with liquid fertilizer when you harvest the leaves.
Sage (Zones 5 – 8)
If you're lucky enough to live in zones 5 to 8, then add sage to your list of mosquito repelling plants. You can grow sage in zone 9 or even 10, but it will survive as an annual rather than a perennial in lower zones.
Its foliage is a soft silver-green color that adds interest to flower beds and pots. It is also handy in the kitchen and is the star of Mediterranean cuisine.
Sage is very versatile and likes full sun in well-drained soil. It's also happy in pots, and you can grow it in hydroponic systems.
Lemon Thyme (Zones 5-9)
If you haven't caught on to the idea that mosquitos don't like lemons, here's another example. Lemon thyme is very versatile, and its leaf structure and size are more landscape-appealing than most kitchen giants.
Measuring just 6 – 12 inches tall and 12 – 18 inches wide, Lemon Thyme has small bright green leaves and blooms with petite, light purple flowers. Covers Zones 5 – 9, it is a perennial for Zones 7 – 9.
Give lemon thyme full sun and well-drained soil that dries out between waterings.
rosemary (zones 7 – 10)
One of the legends of the kitchen, rosemary also has a strong track record at repelling mosquitoes with its woody scent.
Rosemary's silver-green foliage recalls the structure of lavender, and it also has purple flowers that add interest to the herb garden. This is a plant that likes hot, dry conditions and is an excellent candidate for containers. No matter how you plant it, make sure this perennial gets full sun and that its soil drains well.
Basil (Zones 10 – 11)
Another important player in the kitchen, basil is an effective mosquito repellent, but has a narrow range centered around warmer climates.
Basil leaves are bright green and somewhat dull in appearance, but oh, these leaves make for some delicious food! Tip: Once basil blooms, it stops producing new leaves, so be sure to remove the buds as they emerge.
Like rosemary, basil likes full sun. However, it likes moist, well-drained soil, so don't plant them in the same container.
Citronella (Zones 9 – 11)
If you've ever used citronella candles, you already know the plant's repellent properties and unique scent. Also known as mosquito plant or lemon geranium, it's one of the top plants for mosquito repellent and a great choice in warmer regions.
Citronella ( Pelargonium citrosum ) is a member of the geranium family and is closely related to lemon geranium ( Pelargonium crispum ). Its basic structure looks very similar to classic geranium leaves and pink/purple flowers.
Lemongrass does best in full or partial sun and needs protection from midday sun in warmer regions. It likes slightly dry soil and needs only light fertilization.
Pennyroyal (Zones 6 – 9)
Pennyroyal has a list of plants that repel mosquitoes, and this one comes with stern warnings. It is a poisonous plant that can cause organ failure and death if you ingest it, so be careful if you are going to keep it around children and pets.
This is another member of the mint family with the classic square mint stalk. Its flowers straddle the stem in bunches and are lilac in color. When you crush the leaves, it gives off a pleasant spearmint fragrance. However, the toxicity of its oil in concentrated doses makes some people reluctant to use it on the skin.
The pennyroyal can handle full to partial sun if you decide to use it. Most of all it likes moist soil, so keep it moist but make sure the soil drains well.