Whether you're worried about mosquito-borne diseases or you're just looking for a more natural way to keep those bites at bay, plants can help.
While it's unlikely just filling your garden with heavily scented plants will stop the mozzies in their tracks, you could use this lot as the basis for your own DEET-free DIY repellent.
There are a few caveats. It's worth noting that the oils evaporate more quickly than DEET sprays, meaning you'll have to reapply after a couple of hours. And just because something is natural or plant-based doesn't mean it can't cause a reaction, so we'd always advise speaking to your GP first, particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking medication or have sensitive skin.
There's a reason you'll find citronella-scented candles, sprays and even incense sticks in the shops. It's an EPA-approved repellent which has been used for centuries by bite-prone humans. Make sure you're purchasing the real deal (Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus), not Cymbopogon citratus, the similar sounding scientific name for Lemongrass.
This low maintenance grass does well in full sun in well-draining soil in frost-free areas. It can be grown in pots or to add height and structure to the back of borders. Grass stalks can be harvested from four months after planting, cut the stalks right above the roots, just below the soil level. You can crush it up and apply it to the skin or use it as an oil mixed into a spray. The plant also acts as a cat deterrent.
In 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University found that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET at keeping mosquitos away. Although it's great at being an insect repellent, prepare for it to have the opposite effect on your cat.
This bushy perennial does well in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. Keep an eye on it if planting in the ground as it has been known to spread. Don't confuse Catnip Nepeta cataria with Catmint Nepeta mussinii. The latter has pretty lilac flowers and is less attractive to cats.
Lemon Scented Eucalyptus
This potent plant is a natural repellent extracted from the papery green leaves of Eucalyptus trees, which has had the seal of approval by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, studies have shown that Eucalyptus oil has staying power, able to block mozzies from four to 12 hours.
It's worth noting that the waste distillate remaining after hydro-distillation of the essential oil was found to be far more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the essential oil itself.
These elegant trees make attractive potted additions to sunny patios. Just remember to regularly prune it to keep it compact.
Another member of the mint family, Horsemint aka Beebalm is said to emit a citronella-like scent which rubs mozzies up the wrong way. It's also believed to aid digestion and is used in herbal medicines
In full sun and sandy soil, it will send up spires of pretty purple flowers, which make it a hit with pollinators. So, a great multi-purpose plant to have in the garden.
These stunning purple blooms not only look great, they also release coumarin, which is widely used in commercial mosquito repellent formulas. While there have been fewer studies into its effectiveness, it's thought the smell is offputting to mosquitos.
This long-flowering bedding plant prefers a sheltered position in full sun to partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. The frothy blossom is also a hit with the bees and the butterflies.
Other plants said to have mosquito-repelling qualities
What's the deal with DEET?
DEET is the active chemical you'll find in most insect repellents. It was originally thought that it only affected an insect's sense of smell but in 2009, scientists found it to have harmful effects which could have implications for human health. The NHS published an article outlining the research at the time. However, other scientists say DEET is safe when used correctly.
One thing we do know for sure is growing and harvesting your own herbs is much more fun than popping to the shop. And at the very least you'll end up with a garden full of beautiful scented plants that throng with pollinators and that's no bad thing.
Follow these tips for using essential oils safely:
- Essential oils are very concentrated and can be toxic if consumed. Keep oils out of reach of the curious hands of children and away from pets.
- If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any prescription medications, talk to a healthcare professional beforehand.