We love to spend our summer days outside with family and friends, but pesky bugs are quick to drive a party indoors. For a chemical-free way to keep insects at bay this season, we asked the experts from our green goods team to recommend their favorite bug repellent plants. Planted near the doorway or transformed into essential oils, these six natural options deter mosquitoes, flies, and more uninvited guests in the summer garden.
1. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Like many members of the mint family, this herb provides protection against summertime mosquitoes. To make a quick, all-natural bug repellent, crush a handful of lemon balm leaves and rub onto any exposed skin. If you’ve already suffered a bug bite, its soothing oils can limit itching as well. This easy-to-grow herb also has a number of additional applications, from infused teas and vinegar to green salads.
2. Ageratum ‘Artist Blue’: Topped with clusters of fluffy blooms, this compact annual is also known as floss flower. It secretes coumarin, a common ingredient in mosquito repellents; pesky bugs find the scent offensive. Though it deters biting insects, this North American native also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.
3. Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus): Native to Southeast Asia, this aromatic ornamental contains natural citronellol essential oil to repel mosquitoes and stable flies, which prey on domestic animals. Its narrow leaves grow from 2-4′ tall and offer a strong fragrance. A popular ingredient in folk medicine, lemongrass is also noted for its anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
4. Purple Bee Balm (Monarda didyma): Attractive to hummingbirds and bees, this flowering perennial deters mosquitoes when the leaves are crushed to release their fragrant oils. Compact and fast-growing, this hardy specimen prefers partial to full sun, making it perfect for adding color in border gardens, container plantings, and perennial beds.
5. Catmint (Nepeta): A favorite among feline visitors to the garden, catmint is also an effective deterrent for mosquitoes. Try crushing a sprig of leaves and tucking it into your pocket or hatband for an impromptu repellent, or use chopped leaves to create an oil or alcohol infusion. This low-maintenance perennial is also a worry-free addition to the garden, as it’s resistant to drought, full sun, and deer.
6. Lavender (Lavandula): A striking addition to any summer garden, lavender offers practical protection from mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and moths. Lavender can be planted near entryways or freshly cut and placed in a window to keep bugs outside. When extracted from the blooms, its oil is an effective bug repellent that also offers calming properties; apply lavender oil to your ankles, wrists, or feet before heading outside.