August 19th, 2016
With all the publicity around the possibility of the Zika virus taking hold in South Florida, not to mention Dengue fever, west Nile virus, and chikungunya fever, repelling mosquitoes has taken on a new urgency. And with concerns also rising about the potential toxic effects of DEET, especially for children, you may not want to coat your child, yard, and pool area with chemicals.
There are now many DEET-free mosquito repellents available that offer relief. You can also keep mosquitoes at bay by adding mosquito-repellent plants around your pool area and other outdoor spaces. Below are some common, east-to-grow plants that repel mosquitoes.
Citronella is the most well-known ingredient used in mosquito repellents. It has a distinctive scent that masks other mosquito attractants, making it harder for the critters to find you. Citronella is available in torches, scented candles, and other products, but the living plant has a stronger smell so its mosquito-repellent properties are stronger.
Citronella is often confused with lemongrass, and while these two plants are cousins, citronella varieties are the mosquito-repelling plants. They are perennial grasses that grow in clumps and can reach 5 -6 ft. in height. They thrive in direct sunlight, but should be considered background plants in the landscape and placed behind small flowers and shrubs. Look for the true varieties Citronella winterianus or Cybopogon nardus. You may find other plants labeled “citronella scented” but these are not truly plants that repel mosquitoes.
Horsemint, or Beebalm, is among the mosquito-repelling plants that work in much the same ways as citronella. It emits a strong odor which masks the smell of the mosquito’s usual hosts (you and your family).
Horsemint grows quickly and is both shade and drought tolerant. It grows to a width and height of 2 – 3 ft. It is salt-tolerant and can be grown in dry, sandy soil. In addition to its mosquito-repellent properties, the leaves of this plant can be dried for herbal tea. Its flowers attract bees and butterflies, making it an all-around beneficial plant for any garden or pool area.
A hardy, annual plant, marigolds are often found in ornamental gardens. They have a strong, distinctive smell that repels mosquitoes and some gardeners. Marigolds also contain Pyrethrum, a compound found in numerous insect repellents. Marigold grow best in full sunlight. These mosquito-repelling plants can also be grown in pots and placed near entrances.
Ageratum, or flossflowers, emit a smell that keeps mosquitoes away. It also secretes coumarin, a substance often found in commercial insect repellents. These mosquito-repellent plants are low-lying annuals that reach a height of 8 – 18 in. They are easily spotted by their blue flowers, although you may find pink, white, and violet blooms on some varieties. The plants thrive in partial or full sun. Crushing the leaves will intensify the odor, but rubbing the crushed leaves directly to the skin is not advisable.
Catnip, also called catmint, is another variety of plants that repel mosquitos. It works 10 times better than DEET, but the reason for this is not known. Related to mint, the plants are extremely easy to grow, some suggest that you plant it in a container to keep it from taking over your garden or the planting area by your in-ground pool. You can apply catnip oil or crushed leaves to your skin, just remember that these mosquito-repellent plants have the opposite effect on cats.
While all these mosquito-repelling plants can effectively deter mosquitoes and other insects, keep in mind that there are some variables that can influence their effectiveness. A breeze can move odors in the opposite direction of mosquitoes, and so seemingly reduce these plants’ mosquito repelling properties. You can counteract this by planting around the entire area you are trying to protect.