The season for back yard living is upon us. You open your home to family, friends and neighbors. You host cookouts, pool parties, and make time for casual evenings of catch up on the front porch. And who always shows up to crash the party? Mosquitoes! To protect yourself and guests from these biting bugs, you have options: You can hand out full-body suits as welcome gifts, you can host your party in the Arctic, or drape mosquito nets from your rooftop. Of course, if the body suits are on back-order and you'd like to go the simplistic route, there are certain plants that naturally offer a deterrent to mosquitoes. Consider making a garden or potting up containers with these natural repellents:
- Citronella: Citronella is the most common ingredient in mosquito repellents. It is an essential oil derived from the leaves and stems of lemongrass. The strong, distinctive smell overpowers other attractants to mosquitoes, making it harder for them to find you. Lemongrass can get up to six feet tall, so be sure to keep size in mind if planting in a container. If you can't find lemongrass plants, citronella candles add a nice touch to outdoor gatherings as well.
- Bee Balm (Monarda): Bee balm is a fast growing, upright perennial that releases an incense-like odor. Much like citronella, the strong scent of bee balm masks the smell of mosquito favorites (like your ankles), thus confusing the mosquito and throwing him off your scent.
- Catnip: Catnip is also a mosquito repellent. In a 2001 Science Daily article, researchers from Iowa State University report that catnip wards off mosquitoes 10 times more effectively than DEET - the compound used in most commercial repellants. (The researchers discovered a bonus: catnip also repels cockroaches!) But why the catnip works is still a mystery. It might be an irritant of sorts or mosquitoes just dislike the smell. Whatever the reason, it is worth planting!
- Marigolds: Marigolds have a distinct smell which mosquitoes find offensive. Marigolds contain Pyrethrum, which is a compound found in many insect repellants. The bright colors and heat tolerance of Marigolds make them a lovely choice for a border plant or to add color in a container.
- Ageratum: Ageratum is another annual that can double as mosquito repellant. Ageratum secretes couminarin, another ingredient in commercial sprays. Available in blue/purple, this low growing annual would pair nicely with bright yellow and orange marigolds (colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, make the most dramatic impact!)
- Basil: Basil, as well as other fragrant herbs, is a very good repellent because its characteristic aroma keeps pests away. Pot up some basil, thyme, rosemary and lavender to enhance the fragrance and reinforce your message to mosquitoes: Stay away!
Plants are the most natural way to keep bugs from bothering you, but in a pinch, you can also use sprays. Try DEET-free, natural repellents such as those made by Bug Band and St. Gabriel Organics. These products contain naturally derived active ingredients and are safe for children and pets. So no need to go to extremes this summer; just let nature work its magic!