My kids like to tease me about talking “to random people about random things”. Guilty as charged! In my defense, I encounter interesting people and learn so much from these friendly chit chats. Such was the case at my local Home Depot store this week. I overheard a customer asking about lemon balm and be told there was none. Lemon balm grows like a weed in my garden, the prolific offspring of a single clipping gifted to me years ago. I thought I should warn this person about the invasive nature of this herb, hence the random engaging of this young man in conversation! He explained to me that with the zika virus epidemic, he was working on a mosquito repelling garden for his pregnant wife and lemon balm was one of the plants recommended for warding off mosquitos. No better reason to create a mosquito repelling garden! I offered some of the lemon balm from my garden and we went off on another tangent on how it is also a great culinary herb (recipe here). This random conversation led me to ask myself “How hard would it be for the average home gardener to create a mosquito-repelling garden?” I am an organic gardener who does not use chemicals so I focused on a natural approach. I searched the web for many ideas and set off to create a mosquito proof garden myself in less than a day.
Mosquito-Proofing Your Garden:
1- The single most important consideration in mosquito-proofing your outdoor space is to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs in the first place or having their larvae mature into adults. Eliminate all potential breeding grounds: remove any containers that hold water or turn them upside down when not in use.
This includes any pots, watering cans, candle hurricanes, wheel barrows, fire pits, etc. Look at your gutters to ensure that they are not clogged and backing up with standing water. Look at the top of your A/C equipment to ensure there is no water collecting on top. If you collect rainwater in a cistern or other vessel, make sure the top is covered by fine mesh screening to prevent mosquito eggs and larvae entry.
Empty water bowls for pets daily. Check for leaking hoses which might allow water to pool. If you have open vessels as garden art, make sure the bottom has been perforated to allow for drainage.
2- Planting to Repel Mosquitos
Herbs are the greatest deterrent to mosquitos. Rosemary, basil, catmint, citronella plants, mints of all kinds, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon thyme, lemon verbena are all effective as well as garlic. Consider keeping herbs in pots to make them portable to where people will be. Situate them near doorways. The deterrent to the mosquitos is the scent of the herbs which comes from their oils. They are most effective when the oil is released by crushing the leaves. The oil released can also be rubbed on skin as a natural mosquito repellent.
Above, the lemon balm that sparked a conversation. I have it planted in a pot now to restrict its spread. On the right are some of the offspring I am continually pulling up in my perennial beds where it once grew. Live and learn!
To make mosquito repelling herb bundles you can burn, please visit this HGTV site.
3- Flowers Mosquitos Don’t Like
Catmint is a perennial that drives cats crazy but repels mosquitos. It will naturalize and spread into big flowering clumps in the garden and flower all summer with pretty purple blooms. If it gets straggly in late summer, cut it back for a second flowering.
Annuals such as lemon scented geraniums, marigolds, chrysantemums and ageratum are all deterrents to mosquitos as they do not like their scent.
Lavender is another mosquito deterrent plant which can be planted in pots or in ground.
Bee balm, penny royal and cat mint are all other good choices. Penny royal is harder to find but is also attributed to be a repellent of fleas and ticks.
4- Structural Plantings for Mosquito Control
I grew up in Northern Ontario where mosquitos seemed to be the size of dinner plates and were always ravenous. In Pennsylvania where we now reside, we have very few mosquitos. While I was researching this post, I discovered that cedars in the thuja family are natural mosquito repellents(Horticulture Magazine). Arbovitae are in this class of trees. Our outdoor spaces are all surrounded by arbovitae as privacy screens. Who knows if they are responsible for so few mosquitos. But if you are designing outdoor plantings, consider incorporating cedars near your seating areas.
5- Provide Predator-Friendly Environments
Frogs, dragonflies, bats and birds, especially purple martins, all consume large quantities of insects. Attract them to your outdoor spaces. Refraining from using chemicals in your garden makes it more creature friendly.
6- Create Air Movement
Break out your fans and create a breeze! Mosquitos can’t fly through a breeze.
As I set out to research mosquito-proofing outdoor spaces, I was happy to discover our gardens spaces already had in place many plants, herbs and trees for deterring these pests. My local Home Depot and other nurseries had many of the plants I added in our natural defense efforts against mosquitos and all were readily available. One thing I am sure of, I won’t be deterred from having random conversations with random people. I learned so much from speaking with the young father-to-be at the Home Depot, determined to keep his unborn child safe from zika virus. Very inspiring and touching.
Sources: Several mosquito plant lists circulating on social media, Horticulture Magazine, bestplants.com, thefrugallife.com