Insect-Repelling Plants, Herbs & Flowers

Our backyards can often look and feel overrun with those pesky nuances we call insects. Some are definitely more problematic than others. Ticks and aphids, for example, can become resistant to pesticides, whereas the chemicals in those pesticides routinely kill lawn-friendly bugs like honey bees and butterflies that are great for your yard and the environment

So, what’s a responsible adult to do? Look to nature. Many herbs and plants are natural insect repellents that can be grown rather easily in your home, yard or garden.  

PRO TIP: Before you plant any herbs or flowers, check in with your local veterinarian as to which ones are non-toxic to your furry friends. You can also visit aspaca.org for a list of plants that are friendly for pets.

HERBS THAT REPEL PROBLEMATIC BUGS

Plant a combination of the below to up-level your lawn’s natural insect-repelling abilities.

  • Basil.  Basil may be spaghetti sauce’s secret weapon, but it’s also a terrific herb for repelling mosquitoes and the common house fly. You can also grow this herb indoors and meddle its leaves into a DIY insect repellent spray, or pick up basil essential oil at your local vitamin store in lieu of growing the herb yourself.
  • Mint.  Chomping on one sprig can certainly freshen your breath and ease an upset stomach, but the oil from its stems create mosquito repellent. Planting pots of mint in your home or outdoor garden will repel unwanted insects. (Tip: grow mint in pots since it tends to spread rather aggressively.)
  • Lavender.  Lavender is the hot-rod herb for repelling insects including mosquitoes, moths, fleas, flies and ticks. And, at the same time, it attracts honey bees which are great for the environment. Great for drier climates, lavender is drought-resistant once it flowers. And to many people, lavender smells good because it’s so often used in candles and lotions that promote relaxation.
  • Lemon Thyme.  This herb specifically repels mosquitoes and adapts well to dry soil. It’s also a great herb to plant with other herbs like rosemary and catnip.
  • Lemon balm. In the mint family, this herb is great at repelling mosquitoes.
  • Rosemary.  One of the easiest herbs to grow, rosemary can help protect your vegetable garden from insect infestation. Plus it works as a great flavor additive to savory dishes like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.  
  • Catnip. Known for attracting cats, catnip is great insect-repelling herb. In fact, some studies show that catnip is significantly stronger than DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
  • Sage. The largest member of the mint family, sage emits a strong fragrance and produces oils that repel mosquitoes, especially when burned or when turned into an all natural mosquito-repellent spray.
  • Wormwood. This bitter herb has been used for centuries to repel insects, including ticks, moths and flies. Spraying the wormwood around your campsite or backyard can deter ticks from coming too close. Spraying around areas of infestation or around your house’s windows and doors can deter flies and fleas from coming inside your home. Wormwood also repels slugs away from your garden plants.
  • Hyssops. A small bushy aromatic plant of the mint family, Hyssops do well in arid, hot climates like the Southwest and act as a natural mosquito repellent while at the same time attracting environmental-friendly pollinator bees.
  • Chamomile. A good plant to have in gardens, Chamomile not only repels fleas but it’s also believed to be a plant that can keep your other garden plants healthy just by growing next to them.
  • Dill. This herb can keep pests like aphids, spider mites and squash bugs away from your vegetables, but don’t plant this near tomatoes since dill has been known to attract tomato hornworms. Tip: Sprinkle dill leaves on squash plants to repel squash bugs.
  • Oregano. Growing this herb is easy to do indoors and in pots as this flowering herb loves to spill over edges of pots or low walls. Part of the mint family, oregano can double as an insect repellent to protect the plants in your garden and backyard.
  • Parsley. Popular for use as culinary garnish, parsley can be used to repel asparagus beetles.
  • Thyme. The oil from this herb is a great, all-natural insect repellent for whiteflies, cabbage loopers, cabbage maggots, corn earworms and tomato hornworms. Additionally, a few sprigs and leaves thrown into a campfire or your fire pit at home may offer mosquito protection too.
  • Cilantro. Great in guacamole, this love-it-or-hate it herb, often accused of tasting like soap, can repel aphids, potato beetles and spider mites when grown potted or in your garden.
  • Coriander. Easy to grow with flowers that attract butterflies and bees to your garden, this herb can be an insect repellent for flies and mosquitoes. You can also rub this plant’s fresh leaves over kitchen countertops and window sills to repel fruit flies.
  • Borage. Also called the Starflower, this annual herb is a wonderful companion plant to have in your garden. It also attracts beneficial insects such as the native bumble bee and predatory insects that prey on problematic bugs. Borage is also used to directly repel cabbage worms and tomato hornworms.

FLOWERS & FLOWERING PLANTS THAT REPEL PROBLEMATIC BUGS

  • Marigolds.  The scent of marigolds repels mosquitoes as well as aphids and garden-destroying rabbits. After about a year, the roots will repel nematodes. Bonus: Marigolds make a beautiful addition to your yard or garden. (Tip: Plant them around the border of your flower beds or interspersed throughout your veggie garden as Marigolds can spur on the growth of certain plants, even roses.)
  • Chrysanthemums. These flowers contain a chemical that is toxic to many insects, which makes Chrysanthemums a very popular (and pretty) way to repel roaches, ants, Japanese beetles, ticks, lice, fleas, bed bugs, spider mites and silverfish. How? With pyrethrum. It’s a natural compound found in the flowers that make Chrysanthemums the powerhouse insect repellent it is. It’s not bad for most mammals, so planting Chrysanthemums in your yard or garden creates a relatively safe and natural insecticide.
  • Petunias. These recognizable, iconic landscaping flowers have recently been listed as a carnivorous plant, just like the Venus fly trap. So, petunias don’t necessary repel unwanted insects so much as they ingest them. Plus, they are easy to grow, low maintenance and come in many beautiful colors.  
  • Pitcher Plants. The largest group of carnivorous plants, these exotic-looking beauties lure insects, such as wasps, ants, flies, bees, beetles and slugs, into their pitcher-shaped leaf through a combination of nectar, fragrance and color. Once inside, the insects slip down into the small basin of water inside the pitcher and drown. Pitcher plants are not a common gardner plant as they require a sunny area that stays moist in order to prosper, but some success has been found in growing them in pots that sit in a saucer of water.
  • Nasturtiums. Once eaten by the Incas as a salad vegetable, Nasturtiums are beautiful and easy to grow, often preferring to be neglected. They help gardens thrive by attracting problematic bugs like black bean aphids or cabbage moths to their leaves that otherwise would invest your bean crops, prized roses or kale and cabbage plants. In this regard, this flower is considered a preferred “trap crop.” Nothing like a good decoy!
  • Horsemint. Also called Bee Balm, this fast growing, shade-tolerant and drought-resistant and adaptable wildflower is great at repelling mosquitoes much the same way as citronella does.
  • Ageratum. A workhorse annual flower in many New England gardens, Ageratum is a low-lying, low-maintenance annual that blooms all summer in sun or part shade with little care. It emits a smell which mosquitoes find particularly offensive, so it’s a terrific option for backyards.
  • Fennel. A member of the carrot family, this hardy, perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves has been known to keep both slugs and snails at a distance.
  • Geraniums. A popular flowering plant that grows well in gardens or containers, Geraniums repel a wide variety of insects, including leafhoppers and mosquitoes. It’s said that growing these in your garden or yard will enable you to enjoy your outdoor space, mosquito free, both morning and night. In fact, Geranium extract is often used in natural over-the-counter insect repellent sprays.  
  • Tansy. A member of the daisy family, tansy is a flowering plant that repels mosquitoes and flies, is easy to care for and doesn’t require much water. Fair warning: Tansy is an aggressive plant that spreads easily, so plant it near garbage cans or entryways, not in your garden. Bonus: Some herbalists argue that tea made from tansy can be sprayed on pets to repel ticks and fleas.
  • Southernwood. A highly aromatic, shrubby, perennial species of flowering plant in the sunflower family, Southernwood (also called southern wormwood or lad’s love) is known to have a lemony scene that naturally repels insects. You can also rub this plant on skin to repel bugs.

OTHER PLANTS THAT REPEL PROBLEMATIC BUGS

  • Lemongrass.  With its oils used in the ever-popular Citronella line of products, lemongrass is a great grass that repels mosquitoes. Just be sure to plant this tall-growing herb in sunny, well-drained areas.
  • Lantana Camara. A flowering plant loved by gardeners, Lantana Camara is able to withstand even the hottest, driest growing conditions which makes it an excellent plant to grow for not only naturally repelling mosquitoes but also attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Eucalyptus. An effective ingredient in mosquito repellent, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eucalyptus oil at a mixture of 32% has been shown in one study to provide more than 95% protection against mosquitoes for up to 3 hours.
  • Bay Leaf. An incredible cockroach repellent, bay leaves also repel flies, fleas and ants. Bay leaf is a slow-growing potted plant that can be frustrating to grow since the seeds take a while to germinate and may begin to rot before germination begins. If you don’t have the patience to take this on, you can get dried bay leaves from the grocery store and use those, crushed and sprinkled, around problematic areas of your yard such as on ant hills or around your flowering vegetable garden.
  • Garlic. Also called allium sativum for all you Latin geeks out there, garlic is an active ingredient in many pesticides and has, according to the EPA, no adverse effects on humans. So, plant garlic in your vegetable garden as a natural bug repellent for slugs, aphids, carrot flies and cabbage worms. You can also use the garlic cloves to get rid of ants. Win-win. Better yet, make a direct-spray insecticide with the bulbs too … and for when company is coming over, a delicious garlic-herb butter for steaks.
  • Chives. Related to onions, leeks and garlic, there are a few great reasons to grow chives beyond sprinkling them on a baked potato with sour cream. Chives are good companion plants with blossoms that attract yard-friendly, pollinating insects like bees, butterflies and beneficial wasps. They also repel carrot flies, Japanese beetles and aphids.

OTHER OPTIONS FOR REPELLING PROBLEMATIC BUGS

  • Cinnamon Bark Oil. According to a study conducted in Taiwan, cinnamon bark oil can kill off mosquito eggs and, at the same time, act as a repellent against adult mosquitoes too. Simply mix ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon bark oil for every 4 ounces of water to make a 1% solution to spray around your home, patio, the playground or even on your own clothing and skin (in moderation).
  • SoyBean Oil. One of the key ingredients in the organic Bite Blocker for Kids, soybean oil may provide long-lasting protection against mosquitoes, as well as repel other bothersome pests like ticks, fleas, flies and gnats.
  • Tea Tree Oil. A popular imported oil from Australia, tea tree oil (or melaleuca oil) is popular for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, making it a natural germ-fighter. But according to recent research, it may be an effective insect repellent against mosquitoes.

Many bugs, believe it or not, exist as a safe and free form of pest control, so you’ll want to create an environment in which lawn-friendly bugs feel right at home. Start by planting bug-friendly flowers, herbs and plants that can grow in your local climate and aren’t toxic to your pets. Some ideas include petunias, marigolds, basil, catnip, mint and lavender.

For a complete list of plants that are non-toxic for dogs, visit aspca.org.