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Mosquitoes can be a terrible nuisance when you’re outside during the summer, but they are even worse once they find their way indoors. Before you grab a can of chemical bug spray, you can take a stand against mosquitoes with a few well-chosen houseplants.
There are several indoor plants that repel mosquitoes, and many are easy enough to grow for the novice gardener. Here are seven to consider for your home:
1 – Citronella
This is by far the most well-known mosquito repellent because the compounds in its leaves are a common ingredient in commercial repellent products. It has a pleasant lemon smell and is very powerful at driving away mosquitoes.
A tropical plant, it will thrive in warm weather and full sunshine. It may benefit from regular fertilizing and even a little added artificial light (see my guide for growing plants using artificial light) during the winter months if you have very short days.
If looking to buy citronella, be careful when choosing the plants. There are a few varieties of scented geraniums that go by the name mosquito plant or even citronella plant, and they are not what you’re looking for.
True citronella looks a lot like thick grass, and does not have wide rippled leaves.
2 – Lavender
Lavender is much more common as an outdoor plant (and can be an effective deterrent for unwanted wildlife), but you can keep a few small pots of it inside to help with the bugs. It can be finicky, liking as much sun as you can find as well as a spot with good airflow. A nearby window with a frequent breeze is what you need.
Under optimal conditions, lavender can grow quite large. Be prepared to re-pot in a larger container as time goes by, or split this perennial up into smaller plants as it grows.
When choosing a variety, French lavender is the easiest to keep indoors but the English type has a stronger aroma (and therefore can be better at bug repelling).
You can learn more about growing lavender in my lavender care guide.
3 – Catnip
A member of the mint family, catnip grows quickly and has just the right scent to drive away mosquitoes. Place your plants in a sunny window, give it regular waterings, and try to pinch out the flowers as they develop so the plant will put out more leaves instead.
Like with lavender, a catnip plant can get quite large over a few seasons, so prepare to re-pot or divide up the plant when it gets too large for its spot on the windowsill.
Obviously, if you have cats in the house, you’ll want to make sure you keep your catnip plant in a safe place, like on a very high shelf or even a hanging basket.
4 – Basil
Basil is already a great herb to have fresh in the kitchen, and now you can consider a pest repellent too. As usual, plan on keeping your potted basil in a very sunny window as it needs a lot of light, and be diligent about watering it.
Basil doesn’t handle dry conditions very well, but you also don’t want to drown the roots. Damp, well-draining soil is the key.
They prefer a warm environment, so they may not be the best indoor houseplant if you have a cold house during the winters. Otherwise, they should thrive just fine. Feel free to harvest a few leaves now and again for cooking too.
5 – Rosemary
Another seasoning herb that has mosquito-repelling qualities is rosemary. Maybe not the best choice for a novice gardener, but it would be worth giving a try.
You need a place with as much sunlight as possible (even a grow light occasionally), and you should know it can be finicky about watering.
Use a well-draining potting soil mix, watering when the surface is dry to the touch. It can be sensitive to either too much or too little water.
Rosemary is also prone to powdery mildew so you have to have a lot of air movement around the plant to prevent that from settling in. Like with lavender, try to find a breezy location, or even set up a small fan around your plants to keep the air moving.
6 – Lemon Balm
Again, lemon wins the day. Lemon balm is another citrus-scented plant that is a pleasant addition to your houseplant collection, and one that will deter mosquitoes too. Related to mint, this is an easy plant to grow.
A sunny window is best but it won’t require the high levels of light that basil or citronella like, which can make it an easier plant to manage.
To keep the plant in top leafy form, pinch out any flower buds that start to form. If you let it flower and go to seed, the leaves will lose their strong aroma and stop being much of a mosquito repellent.
Lemon balm can get quite large if it’s growing well. Harvesting a few leaves to dry for lemon tea is another way you can use this plant, and it helps keep the bushiness down too.
7 – Pennyroyal
Our last plant suggestion is a little more obscure. Pennyroyal has pretty purple flowers, and comes in an American and a European variety. Both will work but the European one is a little better for pest control.
They could use plenty of sun, though will be fine with indirect light as well. Pennyroyal tends to be a low growing and trailing plant, making is a nice choice if you have space for a hanging basket for it.
Some herbalists use pennyroyal for tea but it is not safe for consumption if you are pregnant. Otherwise, there are no issues with toxicity.
Obviously, you’ll have to keep your plants in the best spots you have that offer the right amount of light or temperatures your indoor plants require. But other than that, you will want to keep these plants in areas where mosquitoes are mostly likely to be making an entrance into your home.
Having a lovely lavender plant up in an empty spare bedroom won’t do much good against mosquitoes coming into the kitchen downstairs.
Keep your plants near busy entrances to stop them from buzzing in as people come and go. Bedrooms and common living areas are the next placement spots, to keep them out of the room.
Remember, these plants only repel mosquitoes, they aren’t going to actually kill the bugs.
Stop Attracting Them
You’ll have fewer mosquitoes to deal with around the house if you stop attracting them in the first place. Unlike with other houseflies, mosquitoes aren’t attracted to food or garbage that might be in your house. So keeping things clean won’t have much impact here.
They’re drawn to dark colors, body heat and a range of fragrances (including perfumes, lotions and even strong body odor).
Now, these aren’t things that are likely to bring them directly into your house, but if you are outdoors wearing dark clothes and smelling of cologne, you’re going to draw mosquitoes inside with you every time you come back in the house.
Mosquitoes are usually at their busiest at dusk and into the night, though not all species are exactly the same. This is definitely the time to be careful you’re not drawing them into the house by opening the doors too often, or attracting them as we mentioned above.
Besides being a frustrating pest, mosquitoes do represent a health risk as the incidence of insect-spread diseases like West Nile, Zika and even malaria become more and more prevalent. So it’s definitely worth putting a little extra effort in keeping your home and yard mosquito free.
The biggest way to protect the house is to have tight window screens on every window and exposed vent in your house.
The next step would be to get rid of any stagnant or standing water in your yard as much as possible. That’s where mosquitoes lay their eggs, which can lead to huge population explosions around the house when they mature.
Open water barrels, decorative ponds and unused kiddy pools are all a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. Drain pools or other containers when not needed, and consider adding lids or screening to places you can’t drain.
A little solar-powered “bubbler” would keep water moving in a pond enough to prevent insect development without sacrificing the water feature. Mosquitoes won’t lay eggs in moving water. These can be a more natural option that treating a pond with chemical pesticides.
Depending on where you live, mosquitoes are very much a seasonal pest and their numbers are at their highest during the summer, and sometimes the late spring if the weather is warm enough.
They also need the water of spring rains for over-wintered eggs to hatch. These are the times to make sure you have thriving plants in the house to keep out the mosquitoes.
So with a few of these aromatic plants, and some simple changes around the house, you can have a more mosquito-free summer without having to resort to chemical sprays.