In our last post, Natural Bug Repellents, we discussed the benefits and How To’s of making your own “natural” sprays to stop insect pests from attacking your garden plants—using other plants you’ve grown from seed. In this installment (third in the series), we discuss homegrown solutions for discouraging insect pests from entering your yard, in the first place, as well as keeping them off your skin. Some people swear by essential oils, made from plants like peppermint, for example, a topic we touched on in the last post, but there are some other plant-based repellents you can grow and use to good effect as well.
Basil is not only delicious in just about any dish imaginable, it’s a particularly wonderful herb to plant because house flies and mosquitoes hate it. If you live where your growing season includes hot, dry and sunny conditions, basil is easy to plant all around your yard where it will repel those insect pests that are not only a nuisance but are capable of transmitting disease as well. If possible, plant it adjacent to outdoor seating areas and doorways into the house.
You can also make an insect repellent spray using fresh basil leaves, as follows:
- Pick six ounces of fresh basil leaves, clean them thoroughly and place them in a container such as a pitcher or glass jar.
- Pour four ounces of boiling water over the leaves and let the mixture steep for several hours.
- Remove the leaves and squeeze their remaining juices into the liquid. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle.
- Add four ounces of vodka (yes, we said vodka—it functions as a carrier) to the liquid and shake the mixture gently; your homemade insect repellent is ready to be sprayed on skin and clothing.
- Take care to keep this “adult” DIY repellent out of the reach of children and don’t get the spray in your eyes, nose or mouth.
Mint can be used the same way as basil to repel pests. To keep ants and mice out of the house, plant it all around your foundation. Be aware that it spreads readily and can take over your garden if you don’t keep it in check.
A member of the mint family, catnip is a vigorous perennial distinguished more by its attractive foliage than by its unassuming purple flowers—a favorite among pollinators, in spite of their modest appearance. Hardy and drought-tolerant, catnip readily reseeds and can be a bit of a nuisance in a formal flower border, but it can be very useful for a variety of other purposes, including pest control.
Catnip contains nepetalactone, an essential oil that gives it its characteristic odor, which researchers have found is significantly more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. (Attention, urban dwellers, it is also effective at repelling cockroaches.) To use it to keep mosquitoes off your skin, you can simply crush it in your hands and rub it on your skin. For longer lasting protection, applying a spray containing catnip’s essential oil is more effective (and, admittedly, a lot more work as we describe in our last post in this series).
A couple of other notes about catnip. First, in case it’s not obvious: cats love it. Many people grow it in order to harvest it, dry it and use it as stuffing for DIY cat toys. In the meantime, however, as it grows in the garden, it’s a target for any cats roaming outside. They will relentlessly roll in your catnip plants, making quite a mess of them if you’re not careful—which is why you may want to think twice before planting it in a formal border.
Many people find catnip useful as a home remedy to relieve stress, aches and pain, inflammation, digestive, and sleep issues. It can be applied topically or consumed in a juice or tea.
Though hardy, easy to grow, and ubiquitously beautiful in summer annual borders, marigolds don’t always get the respect they deserve. One thing that should earn them respect is that mosquitoes and many destructive insect pests absolutely abhor their scent, so they keep their distance. Marigolds contain pyrethrum, a compound used in many commercial insect repellents with a similar repellent benefit as DEET without being toxic to humans.
You can easily make your own pesticide spray as follows:
- Collect one packed cup of marigold stems, leaves and flowers
- Mix them in a blender with two cups of water
- Place the mixture in a glass jar, capped tightly, and let steep for 24-48 hours.
- Shake it gently a few times while it steeps
- Strain out the pulp using a rag or cheesecloth
- Add six cups of water plus ½ tsp. Of Castile Soap to the liquid mixture and put in spray bottle and spray on the non-edible parts of plants to keep pests away.
There is a variety of other flowers and herbs you can grow to both repel insects in the garden simply through their very presence or by using them in combination with other ingredients to produce insect repellent sprays. Stay tuned for more in future posts.