As you read this article, mosquitos are swarming around your home. They’re dive bombing you as you collect your mail or newspaper…or take an evening stroll…or work in your garden.
And the threat they pose is far greater than just an itchy welt. These insects also carry infectious diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus…and now Zika.
So finding ways to defend yourself from mosquitoes is a “must.” Unfortunately, many commercial mosquito repellants and insecticides are filled with chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment.
That’s why in the May issue of Insiders’ Cures, I discussed safe, natural methods to repel mosquitos (“Easy ways to zap mosquitos—and protect yourself from deadly disease”). And this month, I’m going to tell you how you can extend that protection both inside and outside your home.
All you need to do is plant a few flowers, herbs, and grasses that naturally—and effectively—drive mosquitos away.
I’ll tell you which ones in a moment, but first let’s look at how plants are biologically equipped to fight mosquitos and other predators.
The natural insecticides you can grow right in your yard
I’ve told you before how plants are full of potent biochemicals. These naturally occurring chemicals include pigments that help capture light for photosynthesis, or protect plants from oxidation while they sit in the heat and sun all day. (Remember, plants can’t just move to the shade when it gets hot—they are the shade!)
Plants also contain biochemicals that protect them from predators. For large animal predators, some plants make toxins or poisons. And for smaller, insect predators, many plants make natural pesticides or insecticides.
But certain plants are more effective at fighting off various types of insects than others. Research shows the following five plant species make particularly potent natural insecticides that help zap mosquitos.
Catnip and catmint. These members of the mint family not only attract cats, but also repel a variety of insects, including aphids, squash bugs…and mosquitos.
In fact, a study found that nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor, is a whopping 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitos than DEET.1
Catnip and catmint can grow almost anywhere, and have been known to take over gardens. You can get the mosquito-resistant effects without the invasiveness by scattering pots of this hearty plant around your yard, balcony, or home.
Citronella grass. The oil from this tall, ornamental grass is a proven mosquito repellent. You’ve probably seen citronella candles, but why not go right to the source?
Citronella grass comes from tropical Asia, so it can only grow year-round in areas where there’s no frost. If you live in a colder climate, you can let it die back in your garden and replant it in the late spring or summer.
Just make sure you’re using the true varieties of the plant—Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Try placing a perimeter of these plants around your porch, patio, balcony, or swimming pool to provide a natural barrier against mosquitos.
Geraniums. These spectacular flowering plants contain both citronella and geraniol, which has been shown in several studies to be an effective mosquito repellent.
Geraniums don’t require much water, so they naturally favor warm, dry climates (like the Mediterranean, where they are fixtures in flower pots and gardens). But they can also grow well in cooler climates in planters and pots during the summer, as long as you prune them.
You can get geraniums from nurseries and grocery stores and put them in planters and pots around your outdoor living areas and in boxes under your windows. Not only will they help keep mosquitos and other insects away, but their bright red, pink, and white hues bring color to summer celebrations like Independence Day, and Labor Day.
If you live in a cold-weather climate, you can preserve your geraniums by bringing them indoors before the first frost and keeping them in sunlight over the winter. Then you can put them outside again next spring.
Lantana. A recent study shows just how effective this flowering plant is at repelling mosquitos. Researchers planted lantana around the doorways of 231 houses in an area of Tanzania, East Africa, known for its large numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitos. Another 90 houses without lantana plants were used as controls.
Over a 10-month period, researchers analyzed the number of mosquitos that flew into each house. And they found that the homes with lantana contained an amazing 50 percent fewer mosquitos than the homes without the plant.2
There are many types of lantana, ranging from petite plants to mounding shrubs. It’s hearty in the southern U.S., but watch out—it can be invasive. It’s best to keep it in containers or hanging baskets, where you can enjoy its flowers all summer long…and then replant it if you live in an area where the temperatures plummet in the winter.
Lavender. Of course, this herb is known for its high concentration of essential oils that provide its powerful but pleasant aroma, as well as medicinal properties for aromatherapy.
The oils also keep away pests ranging from mosquitos to rabbits. Insects in particular are thought to hate the scent of lavender, making it an effective natural repellent.
Lavender can be planted almost anywhere around your garden, and can also be kept in pots in your home. It’s hardy, resists drought, and only requires good drainage. That’s why you see it planted all over hillsides in the Mediterranean.
It’s not too late to add any or all of these plants around your home and give yourself a leg up in warding off mosquitos. Your garden will also look and smell better (and your cat might thank you too!).
2“Repellent Plants Provide Affordable Natural Screening to Prevent Mosquito House Entry in Tropical Rural Settings—Results from a Pilot Efficacy Study.” PLoS ONE 6(10): e25927.