13 Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Mosquito on a leaf

Are you tired of mosquitoes taking a bite out of you but don’t like the synthetic chemicals that make up modern bug sprays? What other, natural way can you drive away the little buzzing insects? Use plants that repel mosquitoes.

Although plants in and of themselves do not possess mosquito-repelling qualities, various parts of them – usually the leaves – can be bruised and rubbed on your clothes, or they can be burned in the seating area around a fire pit to help keep bugs away in your backyard. Or you can make essential oils that help stop mosquitoes in their tracks.

Do Plants Really Repel Mosquitoes?

Well, no. Not the plants themselves. Most often, you need to crush (or bruise) the leaves or withdraw the oil from the plant to make an extract. The amount of oil put in the extract makes a difference. The more concentrated the oil, the better the effectiveness and the time that the repellent lasts.

But don’t despair. Oils from many common plants can help keep mosquitoes away, but it’s safer to rub these bruised leaves or essential oils on your clothes than your skin or to make a homemade repellent from them. Buying these plants’ essential oils can be hit or miss because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t evaluate their effectiveness.

If you’re interested in an effective and safe natural mosquito repellent, consider a store-bought product with EPA-registered active ingredients such as oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or IR3535.

13 Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Photo Credit: PxHere

You know basil. It’s used to flavor all kinds of foods, including the following:

  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Tomato dishes
  • Meat and fish
  • Eggs
  • Pesto
  • Butter
  • Vinegar

But it can also be used to repel mosquitoes. Or rather its oil is. You crush the leaves to release the oil and rub the leaves on your clothes, burn them, or set up a vase or bowl of water containing the bruised herb. Native to India, basil is marked for USDA Hardiness Zone 10 and 11, but it can be grown as an annual elsewhere.

Basil ranks high when it comes to managing these insects. It ranks effective in preventing female mosquitoes from laying eggs or preventing the eggs from hatching if applied after the eggs have been laid.

Lavender (Lavandula)

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Used to provide scent in perfumes, soaps, lotions, and even dish soap, lavender may also be used in cooking, but not every species is good for it. Lavandula angustifolia (true or English lavender) produces less oil than the aromatic lavender used in perfume and soap. Also used to reduce stress, lavender can grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 5a to 9a.

Mosquitoes apparently hate its smell. A relative of the mint family, lavender, along with the oils of other herbs, repelled different species of mosquitoes for 8 hours. CO2, which humans breathe out, attracts female mosquitoes. Lavender’s scent seems to be far removed from that of CO2, making it an effective repellent.

Marigold (Tagetes)

Marigold Flower
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Known for its bright gold and/or yellow colors, the marigold can be found in many gardens and flowerpots. It is not used for cooking, but its cheerful demeanor makes it a favorite among gardeners. Considered an annual, marigolds thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 11. 

Marigold’s distinctive smell chases away mosquitoes. A member of the aster family, marigolds can be planted among vegetables in your garden or near your windows and doors. According to one study, for 50% essential oil of marigold the protection time was just over 2 hours compared to 6.2 hours for N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET) 25%.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus)

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An evergreen native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary is used in the following foods:

  • Soups
  • Casseroles
  • Salads
  • Stews
  • Various meats and fish
  • Grains
  • Vegetables

Because it is used so widely in food, little concern exists about its toxicity. This herb can be grown as a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and higher; for other climates, it can be grown in pots and taken inside during the winter.

In one study, a 20% solution of rosemary gave 100% protection against mosquitoes for 8 hours. In another, lower concentrations of rosemary repelled these insects for up to 1.5 hours.

Catnip or Catmint (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip or Catmint
Photo Credit: Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Cats love catnip. They rub it, roll around in it, and even eat it. Evidence suggests that cats use it as more than a pick-me-up; one study found that they use catnip as a bug repellent and that it can be used in humans to also fend off mosquitoes. Originally from southwest Asia, catnip grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.

Catnip works by triggering TRPA, a chemical receptor, pushing back the mosquitoes. The insects were also less likely to take blood from a catnip-coated human hand. In fact, catnip may be as effective as DEET, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved catnip oil as an insect repellent.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon)

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Used as a flavoring in food and beverages, lemongrass is also used as a fragrance in deodorants, soaps, and cosmetics. The plant itself can be toxic to dogs if they eat it in large quantities.

In one study, concentrations of 10% lemongrass oil repelled 100% of mosquitoes within 24 hours of exposure, similar to the results for citronella oil. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11 can grow lemongrass year-round, but it needs to be brought inside in Zones 9 or below when nighttime temperatures drop below 45 degrees F.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

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Used as a flavoring agent in foods, liqueurs, and confections and a member of the mint family, peppermint is also used as a culinary herb and in herbal tea. Many products such as soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, fragrances, hand lotions, and even tobaccos contain peppermint oil. Because it is a flavoring agent, peppermint is considered safe.

Peppermint oil fully protected against mosquitoes for 2.5 hours in one study. After the next 30 minutes, researchers recorded only one or two bites compared with 8 or 9 bites on arms without the oil. Peppermint grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 11. You’ll need to grow it in its own pot to keep it from spreading all over your garden.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm
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Lemon balm can also be called bee balm and honey balm. It has a fragrance and flavor reminiscent of lemon. Its extract has antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antitumor, and sedative effects and has been used in the treatment of skin lesions and Alzheimer’s

The FDA recognizes lemon balm as safe for use as a spice, a natural seasoning, or a flavoring. Lemon balm has a component of citronella (citronellal) that acts as a mosquito repellent. Originating in the Mediterranean to western and central Asia, lemon balm can remain outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 7 but can always be planted in indoor pots. 

Lemon-Scented Eucalyptus (Corymbia citriodora, formerly Eucalyptus citriodora)

Lemon-Scented Eucalyptus
Photo Credit: Photo by David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Does eucalyptus repel mosquitoes? It depends on the oil used. The strong scent of the leaves of the tree Corymbia citriodora allows the production of oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), which the EPA recognizes as an effective active ingredient in insect repellents. It should not be used on children under 3 years of age, however.

 The chemical that works against mosquitoes, p-Menthane 3, 8-diol, is not in the essential oil but is in oil of lemon eucalyptus. In other words, the essential oil doesn’t work as well as oil of lemon eucalyptus. Also called lemon-scented gum, the tree can grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 10 and can reach 75 to 100 feet high if not pruned.

Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus)

Citronella Grass
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Just planting citronella grass does not work to repel mosquitoes. Take the crushed leaves and rub them on your clothes instead. The perennial grass grows in USDA hardiness zones 10-12, but potted grass can be brought indoors during the winter.

One study found that citronella oil consistently drives away mosquitoes but not as long as DEET does, as another study showed. Commonly burned outdoors to ward off mosquitoes, burning citronella is more effective when the wind is calm. Use on children younger than 6 months only on the advice of a physician.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

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Spraying garlic oil on mosquito larvae results in their death, but does garlic work to keep the insect away from humans? Yes. Heavy consumption of garlic may help repel mosquitoes because it is on your skin and in your breath.

According to the EPA, garlic has no significant adverse effects on humans or the environment. It is best grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.

Lantana (Lantana camara Linn)

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Considered invasive in a couple of national parks and a few states, lantana was introduced into the United States in the 1800s. It can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11 but can also survive in Zone 9 because of its hardy roots.

One study shows that lantana can repel Anopheles mosquitoes, and in another study, lantana flower extract in coconut oil provided protection from Aedes mosquitoes. Beware though. The American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals considers lantana toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and livestock.

American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides)

American Pennyroyal
Photo Credit: Salicyna / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Also known as American pennyroyal, mosquito plant, and pudding grass, American pennyroyal was once used to drive mosquitoes away, according to the journal Nature. A few drops of essential oil in an ointment applied to the skin can fight these insects.

Used since the time of Roman naturalist Pliny and Greek physician Dioscorides, pennyroyal has historically been used as an insect repellent, antiseptic, fragrance, and flavoring and medicinally to stimulate menstrual flow and for bowel disorders, skin eruptions, and pneumonia. Pennyroyal can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 9.

Note: Pennyroyal is no longer recommended for internal use.

Why Are Mosquitoes Attracted to Me?

The science of mosquito attraction is no longer as much of a mystery as it once was. Here’s a brief take on how mosquitoes find their next meal:

From 30 feet away, mosquitoes home in on carbon dioxide (CO2) when people breathe. Mosquitoes also identify hosts using smell and vision and can detect body heat. When females land, they feel around on the skin to determine where exactly to bite; they target blood vessels, which happen to be the warmest spots on human skin.

In one study, researchers altered mosquitoes to block the activity of a specific olfactory receptor called Ir8a. These female skeeters no longer sought out lactic acid, which is a component of human sweat. Mosquitoes also seek out people who are ingesting alcohol, especially beer.

Why Is It Important to Repel Mosquitoes?

Approximately 200 types of mosquitoes live in the continental U.S.; about 12 of these spread germs that can cause illness in people. Each year, the world sees over 300 million cases of illness that can be attributed to mosquitoes. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vector-borne diseases, such as those caused by mosquitoes, cause 17% of all infectious diseases and more than 700,000 deaths annually. Diseases caused by mosquitoes, whose name is Spanish for “small fly,” include the following:

  • Malaria, which causes fever, headache, and chills that start 10 to 15 days after the bite and can be fatal
  • West Nile virus infection, which causes fever, headache, neck stiffness, tremors, convulsions, and muscle weakness but can also be asymptomatic
  • Dengue, called “break-bone fever” because it can cause intense headache, muscle and joint pain, high fevers, nausea, fatigue, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and, occasionally, death
  • Zika, which can be asymptomatic but can also cause muscle and joint pain, headache, fever, rash, and conjunctivitis, as well as miscarriage and, in infants, microcephaly, (when a baby’s head is much smaller than normal)
  • Yellow fever, which causes headache, fever, muscle pain, and nausea, as well as jaundice
  • Chikungunya, which can cause fever and joint pain, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, and rash

Mosquitoes can also cause different forms of encephalitis, including St. Louis encephalitis and the California encephalitides, and transmit a parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis, an infection caused by worms.


What Other Things Can I Do to Control Mosquitoes?

The easiest way to control mosquitoes is to prevent them from multiplying in your yard. Here are a few key tips on how to prevent mosquito bites and keep your yard safe.

Pour out all standing water in outdoor containers such as wheelbarrows, watering cans, and old tires; turn them upside down, cover them up, or throw them out.
Use screens on windows and doors and repair any holes. 
Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants and treat the clothing with permethrin.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when applying an insecticide for mosquitoes, follow the instructions on the label and reapply as directed. Don’t spray it on the skin under clothing; apply sunscreen first, then insect repellent.

How Do I Keep My Child Safe?

As cited by the CDC:

Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
Cover strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting.
When using insect repellent on your child:
• Always follow label instructions.
• Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years old.
• Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin.
• Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.

What Other Plants Can Be Used to Repel Mosquitoes?

The following other plants can be burned in fire pits or made into essential oils to keep the bugs away:

• Sage
• Floss flower (Ageratum)
• Coumarin
• Horsemint (monarda)
• Lemon thyme

What Mosquito Repellent Strategies Don’t Work Well?

The things that tend not to work for mosquito control around the home follow:

Bug zappers. Less than a fourth of the insects caught by bug zappers were people biters. Most of the insects caught in the crossfire are beneficial in some way.
Electronic mosquito repellers. These devices emit high-frequency sound to drive away mosquitoes.
Plants, especially in the wind. The effectiveness of mosquito-repellent plants is unsupported by any scientific test results. (Remember, such plants must be crushed into essential oils or burned to be effective. Scented Geranium [Pelargonium citrosa], touted for its mosquito-repellent properties, does not work.)

Call the Pros

If you want help in getting rid of mosquitoes in your space, let Pest Gnome connect you to the best bug-control professionals in your area. These pros can help you find ways to control pesky mosquitoes in your yard.

Main Photo Credit: Konstantine Nechaev / Canva Pro / License

Pat Joiner

Pat Joiner has been working with words for 35+ years. In fact, playing with words is her greatest passion. Pat despises the bugs that pester her when she spends time outdoors gardening and enjoying her patio. She lives in her little condo and has two adorable cats named Mona and da Vinci.