The weather has cooled after the mini-heatwave in August, but those hot, sunny days promoted a rise in insect numbers. If you are still swatting flies and wasps in your home, you might like to consider a little biological control in the form of plants. Some flowers and foliage give off an aroma that bugs would rather avoid. Fill your windowsills and kitchens with pots or vases of the following in order to help deter insects.
A pot of growing basil is not just tasty in pesto sauce, in salads, soups, with fish and on pasta, but it makes your room smell fresh and clean too. What’s more, flying insects and other bugs tend to stay away from the aroma of the foliage. Just ruffle the leaves as you walk by and it will release a vapour of oil into the air. Be warned, however, don’t be tempted to keep this plant in a dark corner, it ideally needs several hours of sunshine every day.
Rosmarinus is another herb that has an intense, almost woody, fragrance. Mosquitoes, gnats and midges steer well clear of the scent. Rub the foliage in order to intensify the aroma and this attractive plant will deter insects. This is a highly versatile herb too as it can be grown outdoors as a hedge, formed into topiary or kept indoors on a sunny windowsill. It’s also valuable as a companion plant next to carrots and cabbages as it is said to repel carrot fly and cabbage moths. You can use the tough little leaves to flavour stews, meat, soups, fish, potatoes and spinach. It’s nature’s natural healer, soother and antibiotic too. So many advantages contained within just one little plant.
We know this is an oil that’s added to candles in order to deter insects. And it does work. But you can also grow citronella grass, Cymbopogon, which is where the scent is sourced. This clump-forming perennial isn’t hardy here in the UK but you might be able to keep it going as a house plant. The grass can grow up to 1.5m tall, so you’ll have to give it some space. There is a citronella geranium that has a similar scent, but the bugs aren’t fooled! It doesn’t contain the same ingredient and isn’t so effective as an insect repellent.
Melissa officinalis is the common balm that is a member of the mint family. The leaves have a distinctive lemon scent and although the white flowers will attract bees, the foliage tends to keep other insects at bay. Bring some into your home and agitate the foliage for full benefit. It smells heavenly to humans but not to mosquitoes!
Many members of the mint family are also effective insect deterrents. Keep picking fresh bunches, it’s a great way to stop it spreading in the flowerbeds too much. Pop them around your home to deter bugs, then you can use some in your culinary dishes too. It’s wonderful with new potatoes, cold drinks and many sweet and savoury dishes. And in mint sauce or jelly too, of course.
Most people love a lavender bush and you can harvest the flowers in order to help keep bugs out of your home. It’s at its best when the flowers are just opening and at their most colourful. But even spent flowers are valuable. You can make lavender bags from the dried flowers and pop them in your wardrobe. Hang a bunch or two around the home and put some sprigs in your sock drawer. They can help to keep clothes moths at bay as well as other bugs.
Salvia officinalis leaves are filled with oil and the scent, especially when crushed, is an effective mosquito repellent. Take cuttings from a growing plant and dot them around your home. It’s a great leaf to pop into the barbecue too as the burning leaves release oils that keep mosquitoes away.
You might be surprised to learn that orange common marigolds are another of nature’s bug-busters. Not only can it be grown as a companion plant amongst vegetables but you can bring them into the home to keep flies away. It’s known to deter melon beetles, also bugs that affect the growing of broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes. You get that lovely bright splash of colour too!
Consider adding some plants that will eat your bugs rather than keep them away! You can bring some insect-eating carnivorous plants into your home, or position them next to the entry doorway. They won’t capture whole swarms but will certainly pick of a few pesky flies and wasps. Every little helps! Venus fly trap is the one that everyone knows, but there are other plants that entice insects into their larder, including pitcher plants.