Do Mosquito-Repellent Plants Work? No—Here’s Why & What You Should Try Instead

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It sounds so simple: Place mosquito-repelling plants such as citronella, mint, lavender and lemon balm in beds or containers around your patio or garden, and you’ll be able to sit outside without all those pesky biting bugs harassing you and your family. But does that really work? Not so much. “Mosquito repelling plants sound good, but the research doesn’t back it up,” says Elmer Gray, entomologist at the University of Georgia. “Studies have shown that the plants don’t produce enough oil to repel insects, and mosquitoes will even land on these plants.” In fact, in one study, mosquitoes landed more frequently on subjects surrounded by the plants than those not surrounded by them.

But because these insects carry diseases such as West Nile, Zika, encephalitis and canine heartworm, you still need to protect your family. And because mosquitoes are found everywhere from woodlands to city blocks, you can never really put down your guard, says Gray. With more than 3,000 species worldwide, they’re brilliant at surviving, so you’re never eradicating them. But you can manage the population near your home by taking a few common-sense steps.

Bottom line: Plant the so-called “mosquito repelling plants” if you like the look or scent of them, but don’t rely on them to keep mosquitoes away from you.

Better Ways to Repel Mosquitoes:

1. Ditch their hiding places

Mosquitoes have to lay their eggs in water to reproduce. No water = no eggs hatching = no baby mosquitoes! Common places around your house where mosquitoes like to breed include kids’ toys, baby pools, buckets, clogged gutters and low spots in the yard. “A favorite hiding place is saucers underneath flowerpots on your deck or patio,” says Gray. Dump out any standing water in any of these areas around your house. Also, adult mosquitoes hide out in tall grass during the heat of the day, so keep your grass trimmed near areas where you sit and play, says Elmer.

2. Use Mosquito Dunks

Sometimes you can’t get rid of water, such as in the bottom of self-watering containers or ditches near your house. In this case, add mosquito dunks, which contain Bacillus thuriengensis israelensis, or Bti, to the water. This is a naturally occurring bacteria that’s available in dunks or pellets that kills mosquito larvae. It only affects mosquitoes (and black flies, another unwelcome biting guest) and doesn’t harm butterflies, bees, fish or frogs—nor is it toxic to mammals like pets and people. Follow the label instructions and re-treat the area in a few weeks.

mosquito repellant plants dress for success
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3. dress For Success

Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, so stick with light colors and check out permethrin-treated clothing, which prevents bites. EPA-approved spray-on repellants such as DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus will protect you; follow the directions on the label for how long they last. As for citronella candles, you guessed it: They don’t work. Nor do homemade or commercial mosquito traps, no matter how they’re marketed (they catch good bugs, too, and don’t reduce the overall number of bites). But one low-tech thing that does work: Mosquitoes aren’t great fliers in a strong wind, so aim an inexpensive box fan near you when you’re outdoors to keep them out of your space.

Our Fave Mosquito-Repelling Products (That Actually Work):

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Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...