What plants repel mosquitoes? 13 best plants to help!

What plants repel mosquitoes? 13 best plants to help! thumbnail
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Can your garden plants really repel mosquitoes? 

Short answer: no, your garden plants can not repel mosquitoes from your yard by simply growing there.

Yes, many common garden plants do have mosquito-repellent compounds in them, but they’re not exuding or off-gassing these compounds at high enough concentrations necessary to keep mosquitoes out of the area. The insect-repellent compounds in these plants are present to make them taste unpalatable to insects and other herbivores who try to eat them, not for keeping mosquitoes from flying near.     

However, do note that some plant compounds will keep mosquitoes from biting you if you crush and rub the plants on to your skin. Even then, most of the mosquito-repellent botanical compounds in these plants are highly volatile and will wear off within 15-30 minutes, leaving you once again vulnerable to hungry mosquitoes.

You can render some of these botanical compounds more stable by making them into DIY skin sprays and/or salves, but you’ll still likely need to re-apply them more often than standard insect repellents sold at stores which contain long-lasting synthetic chemicals.    

So why grow plants that repel mosquitoes? 

In our vegetable garden, we grow plenty of plants that contain chemical compounds mosquitoes dislike. (Many common edible herbs fit this description and we share a list of edible plants that mosquitoes don’t like below.) 

For instance, we’ve interviewed the scientists doing pioneering research on the use of catnip as an insect repellent. When we’re out in our garden during the months when mosquitoes and catnip overlap, I’ll vigorously crush the catnip leaves between my hands then rub the leaves on my exposed skin to enjoy about 20 minutes of mosquito-free time (much to the delight of our cat). 

Bob the cat enjoying fresh catnip in our yard. Catnip is one of my favorite mosquito-repellent plants because the soft leaves are very easy to crush and rub on the skin and it leaves a pleasant, minty smell that's not too intense.

Bob the family cat enjoying fresh catnip in our yard. Catnip is one of my favorite mosquito-repellent plants because the soft leaves are very easy to crush and rub on the skin, plus it leaves a pleasant, minty smell that’s not too intense.

However, even if our yard had nothing but catnip growing in it, that probably wouldn’t be enough to keep mosquitoes from flying in for a meal or even taking shelter in the shade of the plants. In short: we don’t grow these plants with the expectation that they’ll keep mosquitoes away from our yard. 

So why do so many websites, social media accounts, magazines, etc promote the notion that growing certain plants repels mosquitos from your yard or garden?  

Perverse incentives and perverse designs 

One of the best things about the internet is that it’s a great place to get free information. One of the worst things about the free information you get on the internet is it’s often wrong — especially when it comes from “content mills” whose goal is simply to churn out loads of content from low-paid, hired writers on tight deadlines who often have zero experience or education on the topics they’re writing about.

Under this model, the goal is to generate clicks, not to generate in-depth, hyper-accurate and nuanced content. This creates what economists describe as a perverse incentive.      

Today, the artificial intelligence tools that search engines and other companies use to generate informational content are stealing and reformatting the information that’s already been put on the internet by actual humans. It’s like playing telephone inside a digital house of mirrors. 

Thankfully, there are still plenty of sources for good information on such topics (example: Consumer Reports), but the incentives for such platforms is usually to be highly trustworthy, not simply to generate clicks. For reference: we aim to produce slow-cooked high quality, accurate information, not 1,000 articles a week. Trust is our currency.  

Should you grow plants to repel mosquitoes? 

Now you know that there aren’t any plants that will keep mosquitoes out of your yard. However, you also know that you can rub the crushed fresh leaves of certain plants on to your skin to temporarily repel mosquitoes. 

So should you grow these plants? Sure! We do.

We also grow them for other reasons which you might appreciate, such as their ability to:

  1. feed us or provide flavorings/spices for our food,
  2. create a visually attractive landscape, and
  3. create pollinator food/habitat.
Rosemary flowering by our front walkway. Most herbs are highly multi-functional, producing food for people and pollinators alike. Some can even be rubbed on your skin for use as a mosquito repellent!

Rosemary flowering by our front walkway. Most herbs are highly multi-functional, producing food for people and pollinators alike. Some can even be rubbed on your skin for use as a mosquito repellent!

Edible plants that repel mosquitoes

Below is a list of plants you can grow and use to repel mosquitoes (and perhaps other biting insects) by crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin. These plants have the added benefit of being edible and many also produce flowers that pollinators will love. 

You may also be able to buy essential oils made from these plants to use as a natural mosquito repellent singularly or in combination. Essential oils are highly concentrated, so assuming you don’t mind the strong scents, they’re likely the best way to use botanical compounds to avoid mosquito bites. It takes a huge amount of raw plant material and specialized equipment to make essential oils, so it’s not typically a DIY project.    

Also, note that even though they have mosquito-repellent properties, we don’t include edible plants like ginger, turmeric, and garlic in this list because you’d have to dig up the rhizomes (or bulbs in garlic’s case), pulverize them, and rub them on your skin since the leaves aren’t as potent. 

Warning: Some people may have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to some of the plants listed, so always test a new plant on a small spot of skin before you decide to use it topically on your whole body. 

1. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

2. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

3. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

4. Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)

5. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

6. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Fun fact: Lemon balm contains citronellal, the same compound that gives mosquito-repelling citronella oil its distinctive lemony odor. 

7. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Citronella grass and lemongrass are closely related species. Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) is inedible, but lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is edible – and one of our very favorite flavors in the world! See: How to grow organic lemongrass anywhere

The blade edges are quite sharp, but you could pulverize the fleshy stalks of lemongrass and rub them on your skin for mosquito protection. However, this is a lot more work than using the other plants on this list. 

8. Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)

Not all marigolds are worth eating and some species may not even technically be edible. However, the best edible marigolds are generally cultivars of signet marigolds aka gem marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia).

9. Monarda aka bee balm (Monarda spp.) 

Added bonus: One of the most beautiful plants we grow, bee balm’s large colorful flowers attract loads of pollinators. 

10. Mint (Mentha spp.)

Tip: If you grow mint in your garden, grow it in pots or it will take over your beds via underground runners. 

11. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

12. Sage and other salvia species (Salvia spp.) 

Important note: Not all species of salvia are edible, so only eat ones you’re certain are edible such as sage (Salvia officinalis). 

13. Thyme (Thymus spp.)

Can EATING garlic keep mosquitoes away?

Quick aside: We’ve heard this a lot so we did some digging…  

Some people say that when they eat lots of garlic, mosquitoes leave them alone. That may be anecdotally true depending on a person’s unique physiology and the way they metabolize the compounds in garlic. However, studies testing this hypothesis have not found that ingesting garlic helps deter mosquitoes.       

We hope this article helps you find the best plants to grow and use to avoid the itchy bites and other unpleasant aspects of being a mosquito meal. Even if you don’t use them as a natural bug repellent, you can still enjoy these plants for their culinary uses and ability to attract pollinators.   



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