Nothing ruins a good outdoor event quite like blood-sucking insects. While the war against these little vampires should be multi-pronged, mosquito-repelling plants and herbs can be a useful and pretty part of keeping them away. Here are our favorites.
Mosquito-repelling plants work by masking the smells that mosquitoes are attracted to, namely carbon dioxide and lactic acid. So the most effective way to make use of these plants is to crush the leaves and rub the oils on your skin. Alternately, you could crush the leaves (try a mortar and pestle, which is good for releasing the oils) and leave them out in bowls or baskets.
Mosquito Plant/Citronella Geranium: Available from Hutchinson Farm, above, the so-called mosquito plant is actually a geranium that has a scent similar to citronella. In full bloom, it may be the prettiest of the mosquito-repelling plants. Rip leaves to release the oils, and therefore the smell, that mosquitoes don't like.
Citronella: We're all familiar with citronella candles but the plant itself is an aesthetic way to help keep mosquitoes away. Don't be confused by plants labelled as citronella; these often aren't actual citronella plants but just smell like them (such as the citronella geraniums above). Look for Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus to obtain true varieties, such as this citronella grass featured on Auntie Dogma's Garden Spot.
Sage and Rosemary: These herbs are ideal to keep on hand for mosquito-repelling purposes because you can also use them for cooking. While their oils may be released and rubbed onto the skin as with the citronella, the best way to use sage and rosemary to repel mosquitoes is to bundle cuttings, dry them, and throw them on the fire or coals. Check out HGTV Gardens for more detailed instructions.
Lavender: Anyone growing anything should grow lavender, but that aside, it's a great mosquito-repelling plant because your guests will probably find smelling like lavender more appealing than smelling like (the admittedly more effective) citronella. We've got more information about choosing the right type of lavender here. Hint: it's English.
Lemon Balm: Continuing the trend of edible, mosquito-repelling herbs that smell pleasant and taste delicious, next up is lemon balm. A type of mint, lemon balm is easy to grow, smells fresh, is lovely in lemonade or tea, and is easy to use for repelling mosquitoes: grab a handful and rub the leaves vigorously between your hands to release oils. Then simply rub your hands over your arms and legs. Note that lemon balm is a pretty aggressive spreader; plant it in a container to avoid it taking over.