Nobody likes to be bugged; at least, nobody I know likes to be. Yet we live in a world where we are surrounded by bugs; billions of insects who are just trying to live their lives and in the process manage to bug us. They probably aren’t bothered in the least by having us around, but we can sure be bothered by them.
In fact, we are so bugged by bugs, that one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each year. While a lot of that is used on farms and for other commercial uses, there’s still a fair amount used around people’s homes; either to keep pests out of the garden, to kill them in the home or to just keep them from pestering us.
This constant exposure to chemical pesticides is clearly not good for us. There seem to be a steady stream of news stories coming out, from all parts of the political spectrum, talking about the health risks of pesticides, both to us humans and to our friends in the animal kingdom. There has even been a considerable amount of evidence to connect declining bee populations with chemicals that aren’t even supposed to affect them.
While you and I can’t do a thing about the pesticides and other chemicals used in modern industrialized farming, we can do something about the chemicals used around our homes. There really is no reason why we should continue to add to what is poisoning us on a daily basis, if there are natural alternatives available, which are not harmful.
Protecting Yourself and Your Garden from Bugs
A number of plants are useful in this regard; 55 of them that I’ve been able to find. These plants, most of which are aromatic, have the ability to keep bug away, so that they are not bugging us. Not all of the plants work for all types of bugs, but planting an assortment of these plants around our homes can do a lot towards ensuring that we live as bug free a life as possible.
- Alliums – There are a number of onion-like plants which fall into this category, including: chives, leeks, onions, garlic, scallions and shallots. These are an excellent addition to any vegetable garden, not only because you can eat them, but because they will help protect your garden against slugs, flies and worms. However, there is a risk that they can attract moths, so don’t use them if that’s a concern. They can also be extremely toxic to dogs and cats.
- Basil – Basil is one of the main ingredients in Italian Seasoning, as well as being a herb used widely in cooking. It is also useful for keeping mosquitoes away.
- Catnip – You might want to be careful about this one if you have cats; but catnip repels mosquitoes even better than DEET, the chemical most commonly used in insect repellants. You can crush a few leaves and rub it on your skin to keep mosquitoes away; although you may attract every cat in the neighborhood. Be careful planting catnip, as it spreads; you’re better off potting it and placing the pots in your garden, rather than having it take over from other plants.
- Chrysanthemums – The chrysanthemum flower produces a compound called pyrerthrins, used in many commercially manufactured insect repellents. It is good for keeping away mosquitoes, roaches, beetles, ticks and silverfish.
- Garlic – Garlic is an amazing plant, usable as an antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal. It’s also a pretty good repellant for blood-sucking vampires… I mean mosquitoes.
- Lavender – Almost all bugs will avoid lavender, with the exception of bees. It is also useful to keep moths away from your clothing. Just hang some dried lavender in the closet or put it in the dresser to keep moths from eating sweaters and other clothing. A drought-resistant perennial, lavender is great in areas which are rationing water for gardening.
- Lemon Grass – Lemon grass produces citronella, commonly used as a mosquito repellant. The plant itself does an even better job of repelling these pests than burning candles or torches. It doesn’t stand the cold well though, so should be planted in pots, so that it can be moved indoors in the wintertime. Lemon grass is also useful as an herb for cooking.
- Marigolds – These colorful flowers have a distinctive smell that is actually used in many insect repellants. This smell repels mosquitoes, squash bugs and tomato worms. Marigolds can be planted among your vegetable garden as a protection against insects. It’s also edible. Here are 78 more flowers that grow across the US you can eat.
- Mint – The strong odor of mint works incredibly well for keeping ants and mice away. In the garden, it will help to ward off other insects, including mosquitoes.
- Petunias – These annual flowers grow best in cooler climates. They produce a licorice-like scent that repels many insects, including aphids, tomato hornworms and squash bugs. However, slugs and caterpillars are attracted to them.
- Rosemary – Another useful herb, rosemary’s pungent odor repels flies and mosquitoes, as well as other bugs. If you have cabbage planted in your garden, plant some rosemary nearby, as it will help protect the cabbage from cabbage moths. This plant thrives in hot, dry weather.
Keep in mind that these plants can only repel insects as far as their odor reaches. So planting one mint plant in your garden isn’t going to keep all bugs off of your patio or deck. Rather, you need to have them all around the areas that you want protected, preferably as close to the seating areas as you can. Using planters on your patio or deck, in addition to that which you have planted in the ground, will help considerably.
In the case of your garden, you’ll want to scatter these plants between the others you are growing, ensuring that there is no area that is farther than three or four feet from an insect-repelling plant. If you still find bugs there, bugging your vegetables, then you should probably plant a few more or move some of what you already have.
In summary, here are the best plants to use, sorted by the type of insects they repel:
- To repel mosquitoes: basil, lavender, mint, rosemary, lemon grass, marigolds
- To repel flies: lavender, basil, rosemary
- To repel moths: lavender
- To repel vegetable bugs: rosemary, alliums, marigolds, chrysanthemums, petunias, alliums
But What About Termites?
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns, as far as dangerous pests is concerned, is termites. While termites don’t bug us in the classic sense, like flies and mosquitoes do, they can cause great damage to our homes, even destroying them. Yet these dangerous insects don’t get anywhere near the attention that some of the peskier bugs do, simply because they are not usually seen.
There has been less scientific study about using plants to repel termites and even less anecdotal information to go by. Even so, there are a few plants which have shown great promise in use for repelling termites and keeping them away from your home.
- Catnip – The oil of the catnip is a natural termiticide. However, it breaks down in soil more quickly than the chemicals used in commercial termiticides. The other potential problem with using catnip is that it spreads and may try to take over your lawn.
- Hot Chili Peppers – Hot chilis act as a repellent for many kinds of crawling insects, such as ants and termites. The acid in the chili pepper is dangerous to these insects. However, it can be dangerous to children as well, so you want to be careful where you plant them. You can also make an easy cream for arthritis and joint pain.
- Mint – While not as commonly used for repelling termites, mint repels a wide variety of insects, including those wood-eating pests.
- Vetiver Grass – Vetiver is probably the best natural defense against termites. Although a grass, the vetiver grows more like a shrub, forming clumps. It is related to lemon grass and has a pleasant smell. Its deep root system is commonly used for controlling erosion, especially in reclamation projects. But that same root system is a great deterrent for termites, as well as ticks and cockroaches. The plant contains chemicals which are toxic to these insects.
When using plants as a deterrent for termites, there are two strategies you can use. If you already have them on your property, then what you want to do is keep them from getting into the wood structure of your home. Termites in the middle of your yard aren’t a problem; termites in the home are.
To keep them out of the home, plant the above mentioned plants around the foundation, forming a barrier against the termites. Remember that termites are extremely small, so they don’t need much of a space to get though. Therefore, it is important to make as much of a continuous barrier as possible.
It is also important to make sure there is nothing that the termites can use as a hidden pathway from the ground to the wood structure of your home. Stacks of potting soil, bricks or lumber, up against the side of your house are likely to become pathways, where the termites build mud tunnels to use in gaining access to your home’s structure. Simply moving those items a few inches away from the home will do a lot to protect your home from termite infestations.
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