by Erin Marissa Russell
Don’t let a swarm of whining mosquitoes ruin your next barbecue—there are plenty of container plants you can grow in the garden to naturally deter mosquitoes from your property. Using container plants means you can grow plants that repel mosquitoes even if you just have a balcony or patio to plant in. Better yet, keeping your plants portable means you can move them where you want them to deter mosquitoes from the dinner table, fire pit, swimming pool, or any area where they’re a nuisance.
Choose your favorite plants from the list below and place their containers throughout the whole garden to keep mosquitoes at bay in the general area. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, for best results, you should also rid your property of standing water where mosquitoes breed and apply mosquito-repellent spray or lotion that contains DEET when you will be outside.
For maximum mosquito deterrent, you’ll want to release the essential oils contained in the leaves of these plants into the air. There are many ways to extract these oils from the plants, but one of the easiest is simply crushing the leaves. You can get the same effect by strewing leaves from these plants and herbs along the pathways in your garden. When people step on the leaves, they will be crushed, releasing the oils that repel mosquitoes into the air.
Ageratum is an annual, except for in USDA growing zones 10 and 11, where it is a perennial. Plant seeds indoors six to eight weeks before last frost, and transplant into containers outside when all threat of frost has passed. Use well-draining soil, but don’t let it get too dry. Ageratum will bloom from midsummer until the first frost in the fall.
Make sure to choose a large enough container for growing giant alliums, which can stretch up to around four feet high. Giant alliums are a hardy perennial up to USDA zone four. Plant bulbs early in spring or in the fall, and feed with lots of organic matter in the soil. These plants like full sun, but giant alliums can thrive in partial shade. Keep soil moist, but ensure plants get plenty of drainage.
Choose a large container for American beautyberry, as this plant averages three to five feet tall but can grow up to nine feet high in optimal conditions. Choose a spot that gets partial shade, and keep soil moist. American beautyberry isn’t picky about soil type. This plant gets so large because it’s actually a shrub.
In addition to classic basil, varieties said to repel mosquitoes include cinnamon basil, lemon basil, lime basil, Thai basil, and sacred basil. Plant in a container that gets plenty of drainage, using soil amended with compost. Choose a location that gets six to eight hours of full sun per day. Sow seeds a quarter of an inch deep after night temperatures aren’t dropping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water regularly, not allowing soil to dry out.
Bee Balm/Horsemint/Rose-Scented Monarda/Wild Bergamot
Pollinators love bee balm, also known as horsemint, rose-scented monarda, or wild bergamot. Containers are the way to go when planting bee balm, as it can be invasive. This plant does not tolerate drought easily, and though it prefers full sun, in hot climates it can do well in partial shade. Bee balm isn’t picky about soil type. Plant in spring two weeks before last frost or, for a summer season, plant two months before winter’s first frost.
Catmint is a perennial that flourishes in hot weather and tolerates drought well. It’s hardy in USDA zones three through seven. Sow seeds into containers outdoors after the last frost of winter, or start them indoors four to six weeks earlier. It performs best in full sun, but in climates where the weather is very hot, will tolerate afternoon shade. Catmint isn’t picky about soil nutritionally but must get plenty of drainage.
Catnip is a perennial that’s hardy to drought and does well in USDA zones three through nine. It spreads so easily that some gardeners call it invasive. It prefers full sun to partial shade and can grow in any soil type, but catnip performs best in slightly alkaline, moderately rich loamy soil. Be sure to plant catnip in a container that provides plenty of drainage.
Chives are a favorite in container gardens, and in addition to keeping mosquitoes at bay, you can use this tasty herb in the kitchen. Plant this perennial from seed half and inch to an inch deep in early spring, sowing into containers outdoors after the last frost or starting them inside six weeks before the last frost. Use rich, amended soil that’s kept evenly moist, and position containers in an area that gets full sun to light shade.
Citronella Grass/Mosquito Plant
This fragrant grass is the power behind citronella candles. To plant citronella in your own garden, choose eight- to 12-inch terra cotta pots that have drainage holes, and fill them with potting soil for succulents or cacti. Plant citronella grass outside after the last spring frost, or start indoors and move outside when the weather is warmer. You can also make a potting soil mix of equal parts loam, peat moss or compost, and perlite or sand. Keep soil moist while the citronella plants are settling in to their new homes, then you only need to water them when the soil is dry at one and a half inches deep.
The chrysanthemum, or mum, is an easy-care perennial that isn’t picky about soil type—but it does flourish when fed generously with compost. Chrysanthemums don’t tolerate moisture well, so be sure the containers you choose offer plenty of drainage. For best results, choose a spot for chrysanthemums where they’ll get at least six to eight hours of sun each day. That said, they can be placed in partial shade, but you won’t see as many blooms. Optimally, plant chrysanthemums in the spring so they can grow strong roots before the fall flowering season.
To grow feverfew from seeds, start them indoors in a seed tray, using seed starter mix that offers plenty of drainage, in early spring. Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil, then gently press them down. Cover the seed tray with plastic, or place inside of a plastic bag, then place in a sunny location. To plant seeds outdoors, wait until all danger of frost has passed and temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep soil evenly moist, and plants will sprout within a week or two. Feverfew thrives in locations that get full or partial sun, and it works great in containers. Any soil type except for heavy soils rich in clay will do. Either use a soil amended with organic matter or fertilize monthly. For best results, do not allow soil to get completely dry between waterings, but take care not to overwater.
Position your containers of garlic in a spot that gets full sun, and use rich soil amended with plenty of organic material. Choose a container that offers good drainage. Garlic prefers sandy, clay loam soil, but as long as it gets the nutrients it needs, you can grow it in any soil type. Fall planting is best, starting seeds four to six weeks before the ground freezes, but you can also plant in spring, as early as soil is workable.
Geraniums are an annual for gardeners in most of the U.S. and a perennial for those in USDA growing zones 10 and 11. Seeds are slow to start, so you’ll probably want to choose a plant from the nursery. Choose a warm, sunny location to place your geranium containers in. If your area sees hot temperatures, provide plants with some afternoon shade. Fill pots with soil mixed with several handfuls of peat moss, and feed with a standard fertilizer weekly. Make sure containers provide plenty of drainage. Note that The American Botanical Council has released a statement reporting that citronella geranium, Pelargonium citrosum, has been proven ineffective in protecting against the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Lantana is an annual that thrives when placed in full sun and, once well established, is drought hardy. In USDA growing zones 10 and 11, it can be grown as a perennial. Lantana does best when grown from plants or cuttings, so skip starting from seed on this plant. Water thoroughly once a week (more often for young plants), and choose containers that offer lots of drainage.
Lavender is best planted in the fall (except in cold climates, where it’s planted in spring). This plant does its best in sandy loam, in containers with plenty of drainage. Prune plants beginning shortly after they’re planted, trimming off flower stems and the top buds for the first year or two. Then, each year you should cut back about a third of the gray leaf stems. Quality potting soil should provide all the nutrients lavender needs, so don’t worry about fertilizing these plants.
Gardeners in USDA growing zones 4a through 5b can cultivate lemon balm to repel mosquitoes from their gardens. Use containers filled with any type of soil that provides nutrients and plenty of organic matter, and make sure pots have drainage holes. Lemon balm grows best in spots with full sun, but plants can survive in full sun to partial shade, especially in dry climates. Use soil that includes plenty of organic matter, and trim plants regularly for best results.
Gardeners in warm areas can use lemongrass to keep mosquitoes at bay. If it gets cold in your area, simply move your containers of lemongrass indoors over the winter. Water frequently in spring and summer, scaling hydration down during cooler months. Provide plants with a nitrogen-rich soil, plenty of sunlight, and drainage for successful planting.
When well cared for, lemon verbena plants can stretch up to 15 feet tall in USDA growing zones eight to 11. If starting from seed, begin indoors several weeks before last frost. Use seed trays filled with quality potting soil amended with peat moss or compost. Cover seeds lightly, water well, and lemon verbena plants can be rehomed into their containers outdoors once each plant has at least one set of leaves. Choose a spot where plants will get six to eight hours of sun per day, and be careful not to overwater. In addition to lemon verbena, classic verbena is a mosquito-deterring option.
Marigolds repel all kinds of pests, and many gardeners plant them as a first line of defense. In addition to the classic African or French varieties, try Mexican mint marigolds, which also repel mosquitoes. Plant seeds in containers outdoors after last frost, or start indoors six to eight weeks earlier. Use a seed-starting tray, and barely cover seeds with potting soil. Sprinkle soil lightly to cover seeds, and keep moist in a warm spot. They can be moved outdoors after the last frost. Select a sunny location. Marigolds thrive in a variety of soil types, as long as proper drainage is provided. Fertilize with a dilute balanced solution every three weeks.
Nodding onion is an option for gardeners in USDA growing zones four through eight. It does best in spots that get full sunlight and when provided with well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side. That said, the versatile nodding onion is flexible enough to thrive in a variety of conditions. Choose from starting seeds indoors in spring, moving containers outside when all danger of frost has passed, or growing from plugs.
Oregano is an easy-to-grow perennial that you can use in the kitchen. Plant seeds between February and May, or after the last frost in your area. Provide with direct sunlight and well-drained soil. To start seeds in the winter, cut back on sunlight. You can get away with watering oregano infrequently, except for new seedlings started in the winter.
Pennyroyal repels fleas as well as mosquitoes, so it’s a win-win for gardeners who are also pet owners. It’s hardy in USDA growing zones six through nine. Choose containers with drainage holes to keep soil from getting waterlogged, and keep plants moist. Pennyroyal prefers sunny locations but will do all right if it gets a little shade.
Containers are perfect for mint plants, because they can take over the garden when planted in the ground. Fill pots with loose, fertile soil, and position in either sunny or shady locations. To start from seed, sow in containers outside after all danger of frost has passed. Keep moist until seeds sprout.
Pineappleweed isn’t too choosy about growing conditions. However, it prefers a sandy loam soil. Its flowers, in addition to repelling mosquitoes, put off a scent reminiscent of pineapple when crushed.
Sage is an option as a mosquito deterrent for gardeners in USDA growing zones four through 11. Fill containers with a rich soil mixture, position them in a sunny location, and water regularly. Use liquid plant food to fertilize once the seedlings have reached four inches tall. Pinch off the blue flowers that sage produces after its first year to keep leaves growing to their fullest potential.
When planting stone root, choose containers that allow for room to grow, as plants can reach up to four feet tall. This perennial flowers in August. Stone root prefers sandy or loamy soils kept moist to wet. It can grow in sun to partial shade.
Gardeners in USDA growing zones two through five can use sweet fern to send mosquitoes packing. Sweet fern does not thrive in clay soils, preferring sand. Choose a location that offers either full sun or mixed sun and shade. This plant is tolerant of drought and doesn’t often require watering once established.
Tansy can be invasive, so containers are the way to go for this prolific perennial herb. Situate plants in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun each day. Tansy isn’t picky about the soil type it’s planted in. Once plants are established, they’re tolerant of drought. Cut plants back to just a few inches in early spring to encourage bushier growth.
Gardeners can grow thyme for a perennial that does double duty, repelling mosquitoes in the garden and spicing up dishes in the kitchen. It’s hardy in USDA growing zones four through eight. Thyme prefers well-draining, sandy or gritty soil that’s kept dry. It flourishes in locations with full sun but will grow as long as it gets at least six hours of sunlight per day.
In addition to deterring mosquitoes, tarragon can be used to flavor home-cooked meals. Situate containers where tarragon grows in partially sunny spots that offer shade during the afternoons. Tarragon thrives in rich, loamy soils that hold moisture in, but be sure containers offer plenty of drainage. Let soil almost dry out between waterings, and take care not to overwater. This perennial herb is hardy in USDA growing zones 4a through 8b.
The hardy wormwood plant flourishes in USDA growing zones four through nine. Choose a sunny location, and fill containers with soil that drains quickly. The best soil for growing wormwood is fertile and rich in lime. Though wormwood is tolerant of drought, gardeners will see best results when it’s watered occasionally. For the first year, give plants an inch of water every two or three days. After that, you can scale back to every two or three weeks, skipping hydration completely during rainy weather.
Looking for even more plants that help get rid of mosquitoes? These trees aren’t optimal for container gardens, but they will do their part to repel the pesky buggers:
Once you’ve started growing a few of your favorite plants from this list, you’ll have done your part to protect your yard against mosquitoes. That means the garden will become a more comfortable place for you and your family to hang out. In addition, you’ll be able to host events in the height of mosquito season without spraying guests down with chemical bug sprays or relying on stinky citronella torches—making yours the most coveted yard on the block.