Natural Mosquito Repellents and Myths

What works and what doesn’t when it comes to those pesky flying insects and natural mosquito repellent and mosquito deterrents? It’s not just a matter of annoyance, but also health. With news flying around about the mosquito-borne “Zika” Virus , the topic does merit attention.1)


Apart from the fact that they’re so annoying, these mini airborne hypodermics also transmit dengue fever, West Nile Virus, malaria, heartworms, etc. We can at least be thinking about what to do before mosquito season arrives, and those of you in warmer regions may already be contending with the problem. Fortunately, there are measures we can take that will minimize their presence.

Recommendations abound as to how to deal with mosquitoes. First, let’s do away with the popular recommendations which, according to scientific testing, are not as effective as advertised.

Are Bats Good for Controlling Mosquitoes?

Here are some myth busters!

Myth #1  Bats consume a multitude of insects including mosquitoes, therefore you can combat mosquitoes by installing specially designed bat house(s).

Reality: True, bats are huge consumers of insects. All kinds of insects. However, studies have shown that when given the choice of insect to devour, mosquitoes are at the bottom of their menu–less than 1%.

Do Birds Help Control Mosquitoes?

Myth #2 Purple martins consume vast amounts of mosquitoes.

Reality: Like bats, purple martins prefer other fare. Only about 3% of their intake is mosquitoes, plus they eat dragonflies that DO enjoy mosquitoes in quantity.

So, bats (and purple martins) are good in general for natural insect control (thus good for the garden) but not specifically for mosquitoes.

Do Specific Plants Act as a Mosquito Repellent?

Myth #3 Certain plants, like the popular citronella-scented citrosa, are believed to repel mosquitoes automatically. Similar claims have been made about lemon grass, mints, and other herbaceous varieties having strong anti-mosquito properties.

Reality: While these plants contain certain essences that mosquitoes actually avoid, they have to be activated by crushing and to further the effect, rubbed on the skin.  Planting these around gathering areas where people can brush by and “activate” the repellent or grab a few leaves to rub on the skin can be effective.2)

Other mythical deterrents and exterminators include: dryer sheets (fabric softener), bug zappers, lemon joy dish soap and Listerine, and those “sonic” electronic devices. None produce the desired results.

The above information is referenced from

“Researchers report that nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor, is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET — the compound used in most commercial insect repellents.”4)

Catnip is 10 time more effective than DEET.

But... planting it near your outdoor area, aka “fifth room”, won’t likely deter mosquitos. It’s the oil that repels them. However, we’re all for growing some nearby to see, and at the very least crushing a few leaves and rubbing that on exposed areas as a better, natural alternative to the sticky sprays, including the natural ones.

As for citronella candles and incense, they work best if you are in close proximity to the “fumes”, but even then the effects are marginal. 5) As far as concerns about the toxicity of the fumes, if they irritate you, stay away. Otherwise, the more natural sticks, such as those that also contain other mosquito repelling herbs like rosemary, thyme and/or lavender, should be safe, but of course don’t use them if they bug you.

We’ve had great success rubbing rosemary on the skin, but it’s a little tricky since the leaves are those “needle-like” leaves reminiscent evergreens. But when the mosquitos are out in full force we use an incense style mosquito punk. These are easy to place in the soil of a potted plant, taking care to keep the heat away from foliage, of course.

If you’re super sensitive to smoke, the mosquito sticks can be bothersome. We tend to place them low to the ground, in a 2-4 places, such as in opposite corners of our deck, but away from where we’re sitting. Light them ahead of time if you can, to chase away the pesky blood suckers before you settle in for that afternoon cup of brew. You can always snuff them out if the smoke gets to you, and you’ll have your crushed herb or homemade herb spray as backup.

Our latest success in natural herbal mosquito repellents is a simple homemade concoction and it’s working very well:

GardensAll Homemade Mosquito Repellent

1-2 cups Rosemary Leaves (dried)
1/2 – 1 cup Lavender Leaves (dried)
1/4 cup Rose Petals (dried) (optional)

Steep dried leaves in just 1-2 cups hot water for a few hours. Strain liquid and pour into a spray bottle.

We’ve been outside for several days with mosquitos flying all around us, yet not biting us. The only thing is that this needs reapplying more often since it’s water based, but we prefer it because it’s actually refreshing and without any sticky, oily residue. If you want it to last longer, then you could add a few drops of essential oils such as you’ll read about further down.

So Which Natural Controls Actually Work on Mosquitoes?


FISH? Yep! “The mosquito fish is a live-bearing American fish that is utilized by some mosquito control districts across the country as a very effective predator of mosquito larvae. As far as natural predators go . . .it can be said without hesitation that the mosquito fish is by far the most efficient natural predator of mosquitoes.”6)

“skeeter eater” Mosquito Fish

Raising this particular species is easy according to the literature. “They are one of the few varieties that can survive Northern winters as well as warmer southern waters. They can thrive in indoor aquariums or outdoor ponds.  Mosquito fish are often used specifically for mosquito control and they are prolific breeders. They are also live-bearers and great feeder fish. They can eat up to 300-mosquito larva a day and have up to 60 babies.”

Learn more about how to raise these fish in this book by David Alderton.

Some patio dwellers take their gambusia affinis fish tanks outdoors and set them where they can dine upon the local mosquito fare.7)



These insects do prey on mosquitoes and actually, they do the most damage at the nymph stage where they occupy many of the same water breeding environments as the mosquito. This is good news. So next time you see dragonflies you may want to appreciate them for more than their beauty!8)

Love dragonflies and art..? You might enjoy relaxing with this.

Bacillus Thuringiensis Israelensis

This product is used to treat garden ponds, and other bodies of water, including rain barrels. Often called “Mosquito Dunks” they release a form of bacteria that kills the larvae. Very effective and safe treatment, this will not harm animals, humans and even most other insects. It has no effect on the adult insects.

Do Away with Breeding Habitat


The best proactive way to keep the mosquito population down is to take away their breeding grounds – drain the standing water found in low spots, plant saucers, bird baths, old tires, discarded containers, gutters, drain pipes and other locations.10)

One more simple trick to keep the mosquitoes from bothering you while your sitting outside is to use a house fan to blow them away.

Homemade Mosquito Repellants – Better than DEET

The use of DEET may do the trick in keeping would be attackers at bay. Yet, many folks prefer a less chemically intensive repellent. Here are several plant derived solutions that may be applied.

  • Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET) 11)
  • Clear vanilla oil mixed with olive oil 12)
  • Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 percent pure citronella essential oil on your skin.
  • Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET)
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil was found very effective in a 2014 Australian study; a mixture of 32 percent lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95 percent protection for three hours, compared to a 40 percent DEET repellent that gave 100 percent protection for seven hours.13)
  • Use a natural formula that contains a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, etc., to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects.

Eucalyptus Oil is more than twice as effective as DEET!

For this complete article, visit

15 Mosquito Repellant Plants

Here’s a list of 15 natural insect repellents you can grow yourself. Can you think of any others?

BasilOcimum americanum – has essential oils that can be extracted and used as a spray to repel mosquitoes. It has also been an effective repellent when grown nearby.

Bee BalmMonarda – is a beautiful flowering plant that attracts hummingbirds and, of course, bees. It is also very effective used as a mosquito repellent, when allowing the fragrant oils to be released when the leaves are crushed.

CatmintNepeta faassenii and CatnipNepeta cataria– are very effective at keeping mosquitoes away. It is even better than commercial bug sprays at keeping the pests away. Simply, cut off the flowers and boil them to make a spray.15)

One of the main active ingredients in catnip, nepetalactone, was found to be 10X stronger than even DEET in a recent study. It is a good non-toxic alternative to traditional chemical sprays.16)

Catnip is potentially 10x stronger than DEET!

Citronella GrassCymbopogon nardus – is a plant which, when crushed, releases an oil. This oil can be placed directly on the skin to act as a mosquito repellent, or mixed with other oils and liquids to make repellants.17)

Garlic – Allium sativum – is a natural way to repel mosquitoes. One way to use it is to cut up garlic and sprinkle it around your outdoor living areas. A yard spray can also be made. Garlic can even be mixed with natural aromatic oils in order to create a mosquito repelling body spray.18)

LavenderLavandula angustifolia – Even though lavender is a smell often enjoyed by humans, lavender repels mosquitoes because mosquitoes dislike the scent lavender gives off. It can be planted in gardens or made into oil and applied to the skin or mixed with other oils to keep mosquitoes away.19)

MintMentha – usually grown in gardens to flavor tea. However, mint also repels mosquitoes and you can make your own repellent with mint! All species of mint, both wild and cultivated, contain aromatic properties repulsive to insects.20)

WormwoodArtemisia – strong but natural way to ward away mosquitoes. Crush up wormwood leaves and distribute around your outdoor living ways in order to effectively keep these nasty insects away.21)

RosemaryRosmarinus officinalis – can be planted in your garden in order to control mosquito infestation. It can also be mixed into various formulas and lotions to act as a mosquito repellent for the body.22) Rosemary Repellant Recipe.

Tansy – Tanacetum vulgare – used for a variety of health problems, as it helps increase blood and saliva flow. Tansy can be used as a bug repellent around your home.23)

Lemon-Scented Plants

Lemon BalmMelissa officinalis – Lemon balm is a herb in the mint family that has a variety of uses like in flavoring in herbal teas. Make a quick mosquito repellent, by crushing a handful of leaves and rubbing on your exposed skin. Grow them in the garden for easy access when you need them.24)

Lemon GrassCymbopogon citrates – containing citronella, a natural oil that repels mosquitoes. Lemon grass is used in Southeast Asia to flavor things such as chicken. In India, it is used as an anti-inflammatory medicine. Lemongrass has a wonderful aroma so that it is often used in perfumes and other toiletries.25)

Lemon Scented GeraniumPelargonium crispum – can be added to your landscape to allow you access to a natural mosquito repellent. When the leaves are crushed, they emit a strong lemony smell. The crushed leaves can be spread around your living area to keep mosquitoes at bay.26),%20Control,&adv=0

Lemon Thyme – Thymus vulgaris – repels mosquitoes naturally. Mosquitoes tend to hate their citrus smell. Crush a few parts of this plant and rub on the body to keep these harmful bugs away. Make sure that your skin can tolerate the oil before applying to larger areas the body.27)

Lemon VerbenaAloysia triphylla – can be planted in your garden, doorways, and windows in order to repel mosquitoes. It has an aromatic, fresh lemon scent. The plant’s oils can also be applied to the body to ward off bugs.28)

Next: natural insect repellant recipes you can easily make at home.


Summer Repellent Oil

Recipe from Rose Mountain Herbs29)


  • 8 oz organic jojoba oil or almond oil or sunflower oil
  • 10 drops organic Catnip essential oil
  • 10 drops organic Eucalyptus Essential Oil
  • 10 drops organic Lavender Essential Oil
  • 5 drops organic Rosemary Essential Oil


Slowly drip each essential oil into the oil, counting with care as you go. Mix all ingredients in the bottle by rolling the bottle between the palms of your hands. Shake as well as possible before each use and reapply as often as needed.

Don’t let the mosquitos take over your yard and drive you inside. Use some of these many effective homemade mosquito remedies from Mother Nature and enjoy the great outdoors!

We’d love to hear your favorite remedies, so feel free to send an email or join in on the conversation on the Gardens All Facebook page.

Here’s a tip from a member of the Gardens All Facebook page sharing what works well for her for year:

😊Happy mosquito-free planting!😊

References   [ + ]

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22, 28.
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Coleman Alderson is author of the Mountain Whispers series and frequent blogger on "I see myself as an outlier, a free-market entrepreneur, an eclectic reader and devout learner, a devoted family guy, a plantsman, a home designer-builder-remodeler, a conscious environmentalist, and a friend to humanity." He holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. "But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And the beauty of gardening is that those lessons never end!"