As gardeners, our relationship with insects can be complicated.
On the one hand, bees and butterflies are a beautiful and life-giving presence in our green oases.
On the other hand, though, are slugs, snails, mosquitoes, aphids, and various other pests waiting enthusiastically on the sidelines, ready to wreak havoc at a moment’s notice.
If you’re at your wits end with slimy critters munching on your plants, aphids sucking the sap from your leaves, and mozzies sucking the sap from you every time you dare try to relax in your garden, then this guide is for you.
Insect Repellent Studies
There have actually been a number of notable studies into which plants are most effective at deterring insects. These include:
- Malaria Journal [source]
- Various African Universities / Research Institutes [source]
- American Botanical Council [source]
Across these studies there is some consensus as to the plants that are most effective at repelling pesky insects such as mosquitos and flies – and we’ve rounded these up below.
(If you want to attract more bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, check out our post on the best plants to attract bees).
1) Lemon balm
This bushy herb smells like – you guessed it – lemon.
And as you may know, citrus smell – more specifically the chemical compound citronellal – is a deterrent for mosquitoes (that’s why lots of gardening shops sell citronella candles!). [source]
Here’s another plant high in citronellal, which mosquitoes simply will not abide.
Also being near lemongrass should protect you somewhat from the mosquitoes’ probing proboscis.
This popular purple plant has the combined benefits of deterring mosquitoes while attracting bees.
On top of that, it’s attractive to look at and wonderful to smell – whenever I pass my lavender plants I rub a couple of sprigs and dab the scent onto my forehead for a little burst of relaxation.
This familiar herb has supposed repellent properties, whether you’re sitting in close proximity or rubbing the oil onto your skin.
With the latter, it may be a little strange dabbing a scent onto your skin that’s more readily associated with a leg of lamb, but worry not.
The absence of mosquitoes is a worthy swap.
If you grow rosemary as part of a herb garden, you’ll be interested to know that other herbs like mint, oregano, and basil also have reported anti-mosquito effects.
So if you’d rather smell like a mojito, a plate of pasta, or some really nice pesto, you’re in luck.
5) Bee balm
These distinctive, neon-pink flowers are another plant renowned for their ability to drive away pests, while inviting in desirable garden visitors like bees (hence the name) and butterflies.
Bee balm also goes by the name of bergamot, and if you’ve ever used that really fancy hand soap they sometimes have in posh restaurants, you’ll know just how good it can smell.
This means that growing the plant for its own merit is an inviting prospect, and the resulting absence of mosquitoes can be considered an added bonus.
6) Bay leaves
Do you like curry? If so, you’ve probably had the unpleasant experience of biting into a bay leaf that’s not been removed before serving.
The flavour is great when worked through a sauce, but not so great when you bite down onto the papery texture bursting with full pungency.
This pungency, though, is the exact property that’s of interest in discouraging flies from spending any more time with you.
Simply scatter a handful of leaves (fresh or dried!) onto a nearby surface and, fingers crossed, you should be left in peace.
Handy in the kitchen and a worthwhile deterrent – this easy-to-grow plant is well worth growing for its plethora of applications.
Use it as a companion plant to protect any garden growth that is attracting unwanted insect attention!
While this plant may sound like something straight out of a witch’s pantry, its scent is a renowned repellent for moths, mosquitoes, and various other flying critters.
It’s thought to be so effective, in fact, that some cultures gather dried sections of mugwort and burn them in clumps. [source]
The resulting smoke is apparently quite good at getting rid of any nearby insects.
Sometimes you can grow two plants near each other, one of which is famously attractive to humans and the other of which has a natural ability to repel common pests of the first.
Alliums and roses are a fine example of such a partnership: grow some alliums near to your prize roses, and their natural scent (which humans can’t detect) will deter aphids, one of the most persistent threats to a healthy rose crop.
These gorgeous yellow-orange flowers are a common choice for gardeners, and are also naturally repellent to aphids, mosquitoes, and various other bugs.
Our favourite plants are those that are a pleasure to behold while also performing some useful function in the garden, and marigolds definitely tick both boxes.
Another plant that falls neatly into the combined bucket of being attractive and useful is the humble nasturtium.
A treat to behold, and a guaranteed conversation starter thanks to their peppery taste and suitability for human consumption, these flowers also possess the natural ability to drive away pests – triple whammy!
Nasturtiums are able to deter flies, aphids, beetles, and many others.
They’re a great choice for protecting nearby plants from unwanted visitations and will make a fine addition to your garden.
12) Lemon scented eucalyptus
13) Neem Tree
18) Pitcher Plant
Good riddance, we hope
There you go: eighteen plants that should reduce the number of bugs bothering you and your gardening endeavours, and that have the added benefit of being attractive and useful additions to your garden.
Whether you go for the herbs whose aromatic properties will be a boon to your culinary exploits, or the pretty flowers like marigolds and alliums that will make a stunning contribution to flowerbeds and plant displays, you’ve got plenty of options to work with.
And remember to check out the Plants for Pollinators scheme if you want to attract more of the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that make a positive contribution to your garden.
You can also read about the benefits of wildflower corridors in protecting vulnerable insect populations from harm or even extinction: a great way to remind yourself that not all insects are bad, and that some actively need our help to thrive!