I love just about everything that has to do with summer — early morning sunrises, butterflies flitting, birds chirping, the smell of fresh-cut grass and suntan lotion, and flowers in every size, shape and color imaginable, all working together to provide a little Zen to my soul.
There is one thing, though — one very little thing, that by the end of summer makes me happy the cooler temperatures are taking over.
Mosquitoes, besides being an annoyance and the cause of a lot of itching and scratching, also carry disease like Zika, malaria and West Nile virus. The other thing I’m not real keen on are insect repellents that are filled with harsh chemicals.
Just as mosquitoes are attracted to certain scents, such as perspiration, perfumes and sweet and floral fragrances, they also turn their noses up at other scents.
Citronella is probably the first thing that comes to mind when wanting to ward off mosquitoes. Although citronella’s lemony citrus scent may be pleasant to us, mosquitos are not a fan. For this reason, it has been incorporated into a variety of oils, candles, torches and bug sprays.
Citronella grass, Cymbopogon nardus, a part of the lemongrass family, contains the oil that is so frequently used in these commercial products. It is best grown as a container plant in our area; however, that makes it an ideal plant to move to areas where you feel it would be most beneficial. Leaves can be crushed to extract the oil, which can be applied directly to the skin or added to oils to make citronella spray.
Lemon verbena is another lemon-scented plant that adds a delightful aroma to the garden while deterring mosquitoes. Although a tender perennial in frost-free areas, it is planted as an annual here in North Alabama. It is a full-sun plant that produces purple buds that open to white blossoms in late summer.
The herb world is full of plants that mosquitoes prefer not to be around. Those in the mint family are particularly adept at making the garden less attractive to mosquitoes. Planting peppermint, lemon balm, pennyroyal, catnip or sage will cut down on the number of biters in your garden; however, some of these plants come with a warning.
Pennyroyal is highly toxic when ingested, so if you have children or small pets that may get into the plant, it is best to leave it off the list. Lemon balm can be invasive; however, when planted in a hanging basket, it is both eye-catching and effective. Catnip may deter mosquitoes, but it draws cats. This is usually not a problem, unless you have neighborhood felines that may decide to visit your garden more than you would like.
Other herbs that lend a hand in the cause against mosquitoes are rosemary, basil, garlic, sage and lemon thyme. Basil is a great addition near water features and birdbaths, as it makes the space a less hospitable environment for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Lemon thyme is an aromatic ground cover that not only brings a nice zing of lemon to savory dishes but gives off a delightful citrus fragrance. Use it as a low cover that when brushed against will release its scent.
Scented geranium, bee balm, lavender and African and French marigolds are flowering plants that will bring color to the garden without bringing mosquitoes. Lavender, along with its calming properties, has antiseptic and antifungal qualities that can relieve itching. The heavenly scent of lavender also repels flies, spiders, moths and ants.
Finishing off the list is eucalyptus. I wax sentimental when I think of this plant. Back in the day, when dried flower arrangements were all the rage, I had a eucalyptus spray hanging above an archway in my home. Little did I know then, but essential oils extracted from the plant have been proven to be almost as effective in keeping away mosquitoes as DEET.
Remember to pick up a few of these skeeter-beaters and enjoy outside time without the itch. Until next week, happy gardening.
— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit https://mg.aces.edu/limestone for more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners.