It’s inevitable. With every beautiful and glorious summer comes swarms of blood sucking mosquitoes. And there are all sorts of theories as to whom they will choose to eat first. I’ve heard them all. They like blue-eyed blondes, people wearing blue, banana eaters, and those with type O blood. Since I’m not a scientist, I can’t attest to the truth of all of those theories. But I can tell you this. My blood is a type O and, much to my chagrin, I spend every summer looking like a strawberry if I’m not careful. So if you’re like me and you find yourself searching for natural ways to combat mosquitoes, here are some mosquito repellent plants you may want to try out this summer.
Lemongrass – A Tropical & Tasty Mosquito Repellent Plant
There are several kinds of lemongrass. The most common ones are West (Cymbopogon citratus) and East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), which are both used in cooking. They’re fairly similar. The main difference is that the former variety has much larger bulbs that make it better choice in the kitchen and the latter is more easily grown from seed. Both varieties are considered mosquito repellent plants to many. But true citronella comes from another relative (Cymbopogon nardus).
Lemongrass plants are fairly affordable and pretty easy to find. Local garden centers in my area charge $3 for East Indian lemongrass and $4.25 for West Indian lemongrass. I purchased seeds of the former for $3 as part of an extensive order but have found them for less elsewhere. I also found an online retailer that sells actual citronella grass for around $6 plus shipping and handling.
The downside is that most lemongrass plants are tropical plants, with all that implies in terms of care. These plants will probably have to come in during the winter unless you live some place really warm. Even in places where they can generally survive the cooler months outdoors, particularly cold winters will probably kill them.
Lemongrass species can serve as mildly effective mosquito barriers because the oils in them repel the bugs to some extent. However, there’s some debate about their usefulness as a mosquito repellent plant. Most sources agree that rubbing them on your clothes will work. On the other hand, the leaves of these plants are pretty sharp and rubbing them on your hands to get in touch with the essential oils is probably out of the question. These plants are certainly of the most use in the kitchen but having a few (dozen) on hand to deter mosquitoes isn’t going to hurt, either.
Lantana – Shortening Mosquitoes Lives
I love lantana (Lantana camara). It’s cheap, colorful, photogenic, low maintenance, and resilient. Mine has survived flooding and extremes in temperatures. Lantana is also easy to find in garden centers and it’s beloved by lots of useful pollinators like bees and butterflies. The prices I’ve seen lately include $4.25 for a small plant and $7 for larger specimens. Then I read a scientific study that stated it also has detrimental effects on the life cycle of mosquitoes, my number one nemesis. Talk about another reason to love this plant.
The main downside is that it’s presence in your garden is not going to stop the mosquitoes that are already around from snacking on you. But for whatever reason, lantana shortens mosquito lifespans and inhibits their reproductive powers. Therefore, the mosquitoes might continue to exist. But it keeps their descendants from being as numerous or from hanging around as long. In my book, that’s a good thing too.
There’s also the fact that in some places, lantana is so prolific that it’s considered a weed or an invasive species. You may want to check that out before giving it the run of your yard. After all, it’s far better to be safe than invaded by weeds that even Roundup can’t quite kill. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but it might be!
Lemon Thyme – One of the More Effective Mosquito Repellent Plants
I read a couple of articles that said lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) was just as effective as DEET as a mosquito repellent. But only when it’s crushed and rubbed onto your skin. The good news is it’s a soft, lemon scented plant that you won’t mind smearing all over yourself. Lemon thyme also has culinary powers and makes an excellent accompaniment to chicken dishes. It also grows well in most zones. Lemon thyme is easily found in garden centers and it comes in many different varieties. It also only costs about $4 for a small container.
I personally can attest that Lemon Thyme works pretty well if I remember to use it. However, the downside is that lemon thyme only last for about an hour before it has to be reapplied to effectively keep the mosquitoes at bay. As is the case with most plants, the variegated varieties can be a picky about watering requirements and extremes in temperature. Gardeners who find this to be an issue may want to stick with solid color varieties to be on the safe side.
Other Species of Mosquito Repellent Plants – Your Result May Vary
There are many other species that allegedly ward off mosquitoes. These include lemon balm, lavender, mints, catnip, basil, sage, rosemary, garlic, eucalyptuses, bee balm, and lemon verbena. I personally have tried lemon balm as a mosquito repellent plant but haven’t found it very effective. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to rub lemon verbena on my skin because it’s got a rough texture that might harm my skin more than help it. And there aren’t many people who’d willing choose to smell like a clove of garlic.
Then there’s all the hoopla that surrounds the citronella geraniums. A combination of personal experience and further reading has proved that this is simply a species with a good publicist that’s been resting on its laurels. These plants smell like citronella rather than lemons, roses, or any of a thousand other good scents that make the scented geraniums worth the hassle. They also don’t effectively keep mosquitoes off people and they tend to be overpriced. I’ve been unable to find any that were less than $6 or $7 each. It clearly isn’t worth the bother.
It’s definitely worth pointing out that people should be always careful when it comes to rubbing plants on their skin. Even the most innocuous plants can cause allergic reactions and it pays to be careful in such instances. Chrysanthemums, pennyroyal, marigolds, and neem (leaves) are all thought to be mosquito repellent plants. But they also have been used as heavy-duty insecticides and they definitely aren’t something that you’d want to be rubbing on your skin. (I personally am highly allergic to neem.) However, they may make effective mosquito barriers, if you can find them and safely tolerate their presence in your yard.
If we missed any of your favorite mosquito repellent plants, please let us know in the comments below. As always, happy gardening and good luck staying mosquito free this summer!