I have learned a lot through the years about plants that repel bugs naturally. When we moved to the country, my mom gave me sprigs of her heirloom peppermint. She told me how peppermint was a double-duty herb, used in cooking and to keep pesky bugs away. I followed her advice and put pots of peppermint outside the doors of our home to repel ants. Years later, we were in Italy, and our host at a bed and breakfast in the Tuscan countryside hung bunches of basil in the doorways to repel flies. Plants that repel bugs have been grown for thousands of years. Before commercial insect sprays were developed, people used plants that repel bugs for natural insect control.
The scare of Zika virus and other insect-borne diseases, combined with the growing desire to have a chemical-free environment, is swinging the pendulum of insect control back to Mother Nature.
Have you ever wondered what makes humans so attractive to those irritating and sometimes harmful insects? Insects are attracted to the scent of certain odors and secretions, like sweat, in our skin. According to experts, there are plants that emit strong scents that help mask your own smell to keep those pesky insects away. By strategically putting plants that repel bugs into your landscape you’ll be adding beauty and function. Their aroma needs be in the air where you gather. Plus most of these plants attract pollinators, so you’ll see your outdoor living area populated with lots of beneficial insects.
Some folks like to crush the leaves of the plants that repel bugs and rub them on their skin. I would urge caution here. Rub a small amount on your forearm for several days to make sure you’re not allergic.
Over the years, I have experimented with plants that keep away mosquitoes and other irritating, biting insects. The good news is that some commonly grown herbs and flowers work hard to keep insects under control. And I want to emphasize under control. There is no way to eliminate irritating insects in our environment, as friend Joe Boggs, commercial horticulture educator and assistant professor at Ohio State University Extension, told me. The best we can do is try to control them through natural means.
Here’s 10 easy to grow favorites to choose from and some of the insects that shy away from them.
Plants that Repel Bugs
Hang a basket of basil outside your door or in a window box with other herbs. Rub the leaves a bit as you pass to release the volatile oils that repel black and other flies. One of my colleagues makes the best fly repellent by pouring vanilla over cotton balls in a jar and adding fresh basil and mint.
You’ll enjoy pops of color with chrysanthemums. The blooms contain pyrethrum (Sound familiar? It’s used in natural insect repellents and also shampoo for dogs.) which is known to repel and kill ants, ticks, and fleas to name a few. I put pots of chrysanthemums around seating areas on our front patio to keep hitchhiking ticks and ants away.
Break off a leaf of this daisy look-alike and crush it to release the strong smell. You’ll understand why insects avoid being around it. Place in pots near sitting areas and pathways. Mosquitoes and other biting insects won’t visit.
Among the plants that repel bugs like flies, fleas, mosquitoes, moths and even gnats, lavender takes first prize. Planted alongside a walkway, you’ll enjoy lavender’s unique aroma when you brush against it. Make a fragrant and bug repelling simmer pot by simmering crushed lavender in a little water.
Greek oregano is the gold standard, but all oreganos multi-task when it comes to insect pests. Oregano contains a good amount of carvacrol, a natural insect repellent. Put oregano around sitting areas outdoors. Rub a few sprigs in your palms to release the bug repelling scent.
With its piney aroma, rosemary is anathema to many insects. Make a simple rosemary insect spray by simmering in equal amounts of chopped rosemary in distilled water, covered, for 30 minutes. Let come to room temperature, still covered, so volatile oils don’t evaporate. Strain and put in spray bottles. The spray disinfects the air, as well. Refrigerated, this spray keeps for a couple weeks.
Bruise thyme leaves for an aroma that signals mosquitoes to scatter and quick. Out of all the thyme varieties I grow, lemon thyme is my favorite for its citrusy aroma.
A Medley of Mints: Peppermint, Catnip, and Lemon Balm
Peppermint plant uses can number in the hundreds. It’s one of my beloved herbs. As mentioned, it’s an effective ant repellent. Keep pots right outside doorways. But mint doesn’t stop there. Flies, spiders, gnats and mosquitoes keep their distance from this herb as well. Add some to hanging baskets. The mint trails over the top, hanging down to discourage climbing and flying insects.
Dry peppermint for indoor use. Make pouches of dried mint in old socks and place around the house where needed to keep both ants and spiders from visiting.
You know it as the “cat herb” since the scent is irresistible to some cats. That same scent is a powerful mosquito repellent. It contains a natural oil that, according to a study done by Iowa State University, is 10 times stronger than Deet, an ingredient in commercial insect repellents.
This member of the mint family emits a clean lemon scent. Mosquitoes don’t like it. Neither do flies and ants.
Make A Fragrant Air Cleansing Bouquet
Make a bouquet that is both pretty and effective against skin biting insects. The bouquet cleanses and refreshes the air, making it healthier to breathe. Use any of the herbs mentioned above and add flowers for color if you like. Cut stems at an angle to absorb water easily. As you put the herbs in the water, gently bruise the leaves to release oils and scents. Place wherever people are gathered.
Insect Repelling Fresh Potpourri
Strip leaves and coarsely tear them to release scents and oils. Add flower petals if you like. Place in strategic areas.