Repel Mosquitoes Naturally with these Beautiful Plants
By Julie Fryer, Clovers Garden
Mosquitoes, and the diseases they carry, are all over the news these days. From Zika Virus to Encephalitis, it can be downright dangerous to venture outside. But who wants to constantly spray on bug repellent? Instead of using potentially toxic chemicals, many gardeners are now turning to naturally-repellent plants to ward off mosquitos and Citronella Geranium and Lemon Grass are definitely the top two choices. These robust and simple-to-grow plants thrive from spring through the first heavy frost and even grow perennially in some zones. They both give off a citronella scent – especially when cut or bruised – creating a natural barrier mosquitoes won’t want to cross. With thick foliage; great shapes; and adaptability: both plants not only drive mosquitoes away but bring beauty to your garden; attract beneficial insects and birds, and even liven up your summer cooking!
This short article gives the basics on growing Mosquito Plants but the book, Mosquito Repellent Plants, offers much more including some original garden designs. This ebook is available FREE just by signing up for the Clovers newsletter. Visit here to sign up: bit.ly/freemosquitobook.
Mosquito Plant (Citronella Geranium)
Part of the Geranium family, the Citronella Geranium features thick, mounded foliage of lacy, medium-green leaves and over the season will produce a few pretty pink-purple blossoms. This lovely green foliage makes it a great companion plant, a fantastic container filler, and a nice foundation or edging plant.
Like all geraniums, Citronella Geranium needs direct sunlight for at least six hours per day but can tolerate partial shade. It does best in well-drained, moderately-rich soil but can handle most soil and water conditions. This large plant can grow up to 48” high and 24” wide so give it plenty of room to grow! Towards mid-summer, the plant will benefit from a trimming of woody branches to keep it nicely shaped. Look for the main central stem and cut it back to the height you prefer – this will promote outward, side stem growth and encourage more blossoms.
After you’ve trimmed those branches, add them into your floral arrangements as the thick leaves provide a good structure for smaller flowers and the citronella scent will be released so your bouquet does double-duty as a mosquito deterrent.
Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Lemon Grass is often grown as an ornamental and grows in a dense, rounded clump and can grow up to 48” high and 36” wide. The stems grow out of a bulbous base similar to a scallion and this portion is frequently used in Asian-inspired cooking. Lemon Grass requires the same general planting needs as Citronella Geranium: it needs full sun but can tolerate partial shade; prefers well-draining, loamy soil; and is drought tolerant but will do better if watered consistently. Similar to chives, Lemon Grass bulbs can be harvested and will regrow if there is enough growing time left.
Lemon Grass is perennial only in zones 9 through 11 and must be treated as a tender annual in all other climates and will grow into late fall if protected from late-season frosts. An interesting side note: unlike most plants, Lemon Grass can tolerate soil with black walnut residue.
When mature, this plant benefits from division as it can become rootbound. Just slice into the crown with a sharp knife or spade and separate each root clump. Replant in a pot or in the ground and feed and water until established.
How to Repel Mosquitoes
Both plants’ leaves give off a natural citronella scent when cut, bruised, or even rustling in the breeze. To repel mosquitos, plant near high use areas such as patio borders, deck containers, play areas, or near entryways. When you walk by the plant, roughly brush or rub leaves together to release a burst of scent. Add cut branches to floral arrangements and place around your sitting areas for extra evening protection. Dry the leaves in the sun on a window screen, then crush them and sprinkle around the deck. You can also steep the leaves to make a natural bug spray but test first on a small patch of skin.
In the Kitchen
Geranium leaves and flowers can be added fresh or candied to desserts to lend a lemony flavor. Leaves can be brewed into tea, steeped to create a lemony liqueur or flavored vinegar, made into jellies and sauces, added to butter or ice cream for a subtle flavor, and used as a garnish.
Lemon Grass is usually ready for harvest near the end of the growing season. Pick individual stalks when they’ve grown to ½” thick and the plant is at least 12” tall. Just cut off at ground level with a sharp knife or twist off sideways from the main root crown (similar to picking rhubarb.) After picking, remove outer, woody layers and leaf tips as they can be bitter. The bulbous portion and lower thicker stalks can be chopped like a scallion and added to stir-fries. The leaves can be dehydrated and used as a ground herb, as a whole dried leaf, or added to oils or vinegar for a lemony infusion. Fresh leaves can be bundled and submerged in hot water to make tea. The whole stalk makes a great skewer and adds lemony flavor to your shishkabobs.
Many more plants – lantana, lavender, and creeping lemon thyme, just to name a few — help deter mosquitoes and you’re probably already growing them in your garden! Learn more here: mosquitonatural.com or order plants right now from Clovers Garden.