Bug - Re­pelling Plants

Plants to re­pel in­sects, nat­u­ral reme­dies sup­ple­ment­ing chem­i­cal sprays


Buzz. Hum. Bam!

While sum­mer is great, warm months also mean rain and bugs. And lots of fly-swat­ters.

But there are nat­u­ral and some­times at­trac­tive plants that re­pel bugs that we can place in our back­yards and around the pa­tio. While health ex­perts in­sist that we use bug-re­sis­tant cloth­ing, screens, and these plants and plant byprod­ucts in tan­dem with EPA/Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion-sanc­tioned sprays and oint­ments, some nat­u­ral tools for eas­ing bugs are avail­able. Na­tive Amer­i­cans, af­ter all, used plants and an­i­mal fats to keep “mus­ke­toes” and ticks at bay.

Take, for in­stance, the carnivorous Venus fly­trap. This plant loves to snap its petals on ants, bee­tles, spi­ders and many flying in­sects. The North Amer­i­can sar­race­nia, more com­monly known as pitcher or trum­pet plants, is an­other ex­am­ple of a vig­i­lante plant. Its liq­uids in short order en­trap ants, wasp, bees and moths. The plant di­gests the re­mains.

Bug-re­pelling plants can be eas­ily added to a land­scape, planted in a gar­den, or placed in pots by the door­way. Le­mon balm, le­mon thyme, rose­mary, cat­nip, so­ci­ety gar­lic and mint re­pel mos­qui­toes,

for in­stance. Citronella oil is a byprod­uct of le­mon­grass, al­though the plant it­self is an herb used in teas and soups.

Other plants that re­port­edly ward off crit­ters are basil and lavender, each fend­ing/of­fend­ing moths, fleas, flies and mos­qui­toes. And the best thing is that many of these plants are hardy. “Basil and le­mon­grass are very easy to grow here in South­west Florida, as is so­ci­ety gar­lic,” says Ken El­lam, chief hor­ti­cul­tur­ist and man­ager of Bayshore Gar­dens in North Fort My­ers.

Shrubs also can help ward off the pests. Sweet­gale or bog myr­tle keep mos­qui­toes and other both­er­some bugs such as fleas at bay, for in­stance. Myr­tle can be pot­ted or planted as a hedge along a porch or pool. Beau­ty­berry is an­other shrub with sim­i­lar prop­er­ties. A study by U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s Nat­u­ral Prod­ucts Uti­liza­tion Re­search Unit in 2006 dis­cov­ered that ex­tracts from beau­ty­berry leaves could com­ple­ment the ef­fec­tive­ness of DEET for re­pelling mos­qui­toes. These shrubs are avail­able at the SCCF Na­tive Land­scapes & Gar­den Cen­ter on Sani­bel. “Along with these two shrubs, we sell over 150 species of plants na­tive to Florida, as well as a few veg­eta­bles and herbs,” says Jenny Evans, SCCF’s Na­tive Land­scapes & Gar­den Cen­ter man­ager. SCCF also

of­fers demon­stra­tion gar­dens, classes and tours.

For those looking to add a lit­tle color to the gar­den, marigolds de­tract mos­qui­toes, while chrysan­the­mums re­port­edly keep fleas, roaches, ants and other bugs from be­com­ing both­er­some. In­gre­di­ents from these plants―and oth­ers such as cin­na­mon, clove, eu­ca­lyp­tus and citronella―are ex­tracted and used as sprays, or turned into a dust or pow­der. “The sprays usu­ally work much bet­ter in con­trol­ling pests than just the plant grow­ing in the gar­den,” says Stephen Brown, hor­ti­cul­ture agent with the Lee County Ex­ten­sion of­fice. Brown notes that pyrethrum/pyrethrins from chrysan­the­mum and oil from the neem tree are ef­fec­tive bug-re­pelling in­gre­di­ents.

Other sug­ges­tions for nat­u­ral bug con­trols in­clude home­made sprays of lavender and rose­mary. Boil a hand­ful of leaves in a quart of wa­ter for 20 to 30 min­utes. Strain and pour the liq­uid into a spray bot­tle. Keep re­frig­er­ated un­til ready to use, and dis­card when the scent is no longer de­tected. Dried bun­dles of lavender or rose­mary can also be placed around the home to help keep the bugs away. Tied with a pretty bow, they add a nice touch to the home dé­cor.

While the ef­fec­tive­ness of home reme­dies for pesky pests isn’t nec­es­sar­ily sci­en­tific, any­thing that may add to or com­ple­ment chem­i­cal/plant-based re­pel­lents such as DEET or pi­caridin is a good idea, cer­tainly a tool in your out­door pa­tio or in land­scap­ing to as­sist in keep­ing bugs from you, your fam­ily and your pets.

SCCF's Na­tive Land­scapes & Gar­den Cen­ter on Sani­bel has plants that ward off in­sects.

Flow­ers, herbs and plants po­si­tioned around your gar­den, doorstep and pa­tio are nat­u­ral bug de­ter­rents that can work in tan­dem with sanc­tioned sprays and oint­ments.

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