Plants That Repel Bugs & Pests Away From the Garden

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Are you tired and frustrated by insects invading your vegetable gardens? Instead of using chemical pesticides, consider growing plants that naturally repel bugs. Not only are these plants effective at keeping pests away, but they also each add something special to your garden.

In this article, we’ll explore 16 different flowers and herbs that help repel insects and provide tips on how to make them work best in your gardens.

Closeup of a red geranium flower.
Table of Contents

    Plants That Repel Bugs- Are They Effective

    Plants have been used for hundreds of years to repel insects. People have sought natural solutions to keep bugs at bay, from citronella candles to lavender sachets. But how effective are these methods?

    Studies have shown that certain plants can indeed repel insects. For example, citronella, lemon balm, and catnip are effective against mosquitoes. In addition, marigolds can repel root-knot nematodes, while basil can keep aphids, mites, and tomato hornworms away.

    Some of these suggestions in this article have been passed down from generation to generation based on tradition and folklore. Your mileage may vary, as they say. The best thing you can do is try them and see how well they work for you in your area.

    Additionally, the effectiveness of plant-based insect repellents may vary depending on factors such as the climate, the specific type of insect, and the concentration of active compounds in the plant.

    It’s also worth noting that while plants can repel insects, they may not necessarily eliminate them. Sometimes, a combination of methods may be necessary for effective pest control.

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    Related: Are you dealing with an infestation of a specific pest? Check out these articles on dealing with infestations of:

    Zonal geraniums in a wine barrel pot, the image is intended to show what plants repel bugs and pests in the garden.

    Let’s Talk About Personal Insect Repellants For A Second

    This article focuses entirely on keeping the pests out of your gardens and is not intended to be used as personal protection advice. 

    In our home, we rely on Deet for personal protection against mosquitoes and ticks. Unfortunately, we live in a zone where ticks are abundant (and I mean abundant), and we have a high percentage of ticks in our area that carry Lyme disease.

    My point is not to use this article to create natural ways to keep ticks and mosquitoes off you and your family. Instead, you can use the recommendations in this article to plant repelling-type plants around your patio or in the garden to protect your vegetables and ornamental plants. But regarding your safety, use a product with consistent and reliable results.

    With all that said, here are our recommendations for flowers and herbs that can help protect your gardens from insect pests:

    Purple chive flowers in full bloom against a lime green background. The image is intended to show what plants repel bugs and pests in the garden.

    #1. Basil

    The aromatic oils released from basil leaves deter and confuse pests in and around the home. To get the best insect-repelling use out of basil plans, add them to areas and paths that can be brushed by often. Touching and rubbing against basil will help release more oils. Or plant basil directly in garden beds next to tomato plants or eggplants to help ward off pests.

    Basil can help repel:

    • Aphids
    • Asparagus Beetles
    • Mites
    • Mosquitoes
    • Tomato Hornworms

    Learn More: See our guide for growing and caring for basil plants and what to do with those BIG harvests of fresh basil leaves.

    Fresh green and purple basil leaves closeup.  The image is intended to illustrate what plants can repel pests.

    #2. Calendula

    The brightly colored calendula flowers attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, which help keep pest populations in check.

    To get the best insect-repelling use out of calendula plants, place them in areas where you are experiencing pest problems, or plant them as a perimeter barrier around plants challenged by pests.

    Calendula can help repel:

    • Aphids
    • Whiteflies
    • Leafhoppers
    • Asparagus Beetles
    Garden marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers, view from above.

    #3. Catnip

    The essential oil in catnip, nepetalactone, is effective at repelling insects. Catnip plants can be grown in containers or on the ground. However, they need plenty of sunlight and well-draining soil to thrive.

    To get the best insect-repelling use out of catnip plants, place them in areas where you spend a lot of time outdoors, such as near patios, decks, or sitting areas. You can also crush the leaves of the plant to release more of the oils, which will help to repel insects even more effectively.

    Catnip can help repel the following pests:

    • Aphids
    • Asparagus beetles
    • Colorado potato beetles
    • Squash bugs
    • Mosquitoes
    • Flies

    Learn More: See our complete guide on growing healthy catnip plants in your garden.

    Lovely lilac colored catnip flowers in full bloom in a garden. The image is meant to iliustrate plants that repel bugs and pests.

    #4. Chives, Onions & Leeks (Allium Family)

    Alliums have a strong scent that can repel many insects, including aphids, carrot flies, and cabbage worms. Planting alliums around the garden, particularly near susceptible plants, can help keep these pests away. Here are a few methods to use alliums in your garden as a natural pest control:

    • Use as a companion plant: Planting alliums as companion plants with other vegetables can help to repel pests. For example, planting garlic with tomatoes can help to deter spider mites and aphids.
    • Make a spray: Alliums can also make a natural insecticide spray. Chop up garlic, onions, or chives, and steep them in water for a few days. Strain the liquid, and then dilute it with water before using it to spray on plants.

    Mulch with alliums: Dried allium leaves can be used as a mulch around plants to help repel pests and eat insects. The strong scent of the alliums can help keep insects away from the plants.

    Here are some of the pests alliums can help deter in your gardens:

    • Japanese Beetles
    • Carrot Flies
    • Aphids
    • Cabbage Loopers

    Learn More: Did you know you can grow onions in containers? You can! Container-grown onions are a great way to have a mobile pest deterrent. Simply move the containers to where you need them in the garden.

    Leeks growing in a garden.

    #5. Garlic

    Garlic is a versatile plant that adds flavor to dishes and has natural insect-repelling properties. Here are some ways to use garlic in the garden for pest control:

    • Plant garlic: Plant bulbs in your garden beds to repel pests such as aphids, Japanese beetles, and spider mites. Garlic is also known to repel larger pests like rabbits and deer—plant garlic in the fall for a spring harvest.
    • Make a garlic spray: Crush a few garlic cloves and add them to a spray bottle filled with water. Let the mixture sit for a day, then spray it on plants to repel insects. You can also add a few drops of dish soap to help the mixture stick to the plants.
    • Mix garlic with other plants: Plant garlic alongside other insect-repelling plants like marigolds, chives, and basil to create a natural pest barrier in your garden.
    • Use garlic as a companion plant: Garlic is great for vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage. The pungent smell of garlic can help mask the scent of these plants and repel pests.
    • Spread garlic around your garden: Crush garlic cloves and spread them around your garden beds to repel pests. Distributing garlic around is especially effective for deterring slugs and snails.

    Remember to reapply garlic spray and re-spread crushed garlic as needed to maintain its effectiveness in repelling pests.

    Here are some of the pests garlic can help deter in your gardens:

    • Aphids
    • Slugs
    • Japanese Beetles
    • Mosquitoes
    • Spider Mites

    Learn More: See our guides on garlic companion plants and when to plant garlic and before you plan your garden beds!

    Harvested ripe garlic with stems and roots close-up.

    #6. Savory

    Savory can be used in several ways to repel pests in the garden:

    • Companion Planting: Plant savory with vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, and eggplants to repel pests like spider mites, whiteflies, and aphids. Savory’s strong fragrance can help mask the scent of the crops making them less attractive to pests.
    • Mulch: Use dried savory as a natural mulch around plants to repel insects and discourage fungal growth. The pungent aroma of the herb repels insects, while its antimicrobial properties can help prevent plant diseases.
    • Spray: Make a savory-infused spray by steeping fresh or dried savory in hot water for several hours. Strain the liquid and transfer it to a spray bottle. Use this spray on the leaves of plants to repel pests such as thrips, spider mites, and whiteflies. (always test before spraying directly on plants)

    Here are some pests savory may help deter away from your garden:

    • Mexican Bean Beetles
    • Flea beetles
    • Thrips
    • Whiteflies
    • Ants
    • Moths
    • Flies

    Learn More: Are spider mites a big problem for you? Learn how to identify early signs of infestation, and natural techniques to control spider mites in this full guide.

    Savory leaves with their bright glossy green leaves.  The image is meant to illustrate what plants can help repel bugs and pests in the garden.

    #7. Zonal Geraniums

    Zonal geraniums, or common garden geraniums, can be a great addition to your garden as they add color and beauty and repel some common vegetable garden pests. Here are some ways to use zonal geraniums in the garden to repel pests:

    • Plant zonal geraniums in and around your garden beds: Planting zonal geraniums in and around your garden beds can help repel pests such as Japanese beetles, aphids, and spider mites.
    • Place potted zonal geraniums near seating areas: Placing potted zonal geraniums near seating areas can help repel mosquitoes and other flying insects.
    • Make a zonal geranium spray: Boil a handful of zonal geranium leaves in water for a few minutes, strain the mixture, and then add the liquid to a spray bottle. Use this spray on plants, garden beds, and seating areas to repel pests.
    • Use white zonal geraniums in and around plants heavily affected by Japanese beetles. Studies have shown that white zonal geraniums repel and even kill Japanese beetles.

    Zonal Geraniums can help protect your garden from the following:

    • Mosquitoes
    • Leafhoppers
    • Cabbage worms
    • Japanese beetles
    Lovely geranium flowers in blooms of pink, red and coral.

    #8. Marigolds

    Marigolds are a popular choice for gardeners looking to repel pests naturally. Here are some methods for using marigolds around the garden:

    • Plant marigolds as a border: Planting marigolds around the edges of your garden can help create a barrier that deters pests from entering. The strong scent of marigolds is known to repel many insects, including aphids, whiteflies, and mosquitoes.
    • Use marigolds as companion plants:  Plant marigolds around specific crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, and beans, to ward off the most common garden pests. Planting marigolds alongside these crops can help repel pests and attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, which prey on pests.
    • Make a marigold spray: Boiling marigold flowers in water can create a potent spray to repel pests. Strain the mixture, let it cool, and spray it on your plants.
    • Use marigold petals in compost:  Add Marigold petals to your compost pile to help repel pests from the area. If your compost pile has a pest problem, marigolds may help. 

    Fun tip, marigolds are edible!

    Marigolds can help repel:

    • Aphids
    • Whiteflies
    • Mosquitoes
    • Root Knot Nematodes (only works if marigolds are tilled under the ground after they bloom) 
    • Mexican bean beetles

    Learn More: See the following Marigold guide for tips, tricks, and inspiration on how to use these wonderful flowers in the garden.

    Flower background of orange flowers marigolds in the garden in summer.

    #9. Mint Plant

    Mint plants are known for their strong and refreshing fragrance, which is pleasant to humans but repels many common garden pests. Here are some ways to use mint plants in the garden to repel pests:

    • Plant mint around your garden: Planting mint around your garden or in between other plants can help repel a wide range of pests, including ants, aphids, beetles, moths, and fleas.
    • Crush and sprinkle mint leaves: Crush fresh mint leaves and scatter them around the base of plants to repel pests. This method is especially effective for repelling ants and aphids.
    • Make a mint spray: To make a mint spray, blend fresh mint leaves with water in a blender, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or strainer, and then pour the resulting liquid into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on plants and around the garden to repel pests.

    ****It’s worth noting that mint plants can be invasive and may take over your garden if not contained. Planting mint in a container or designated garden area can help keep it from spreading too much.****

    • Ants
    • Aphids
    • Cabbage moths
    • Fleas
    • Mosquitoes
    • Spider Mites

    Learn More About Mint: We have several guides you may find helpful if you are starting out growing mint in your garden.

    Mint plant growing in the vegetable garden.

    #10. Nasturtiums

    Nasturtiums are effective in repelling pests in the garden. Here are some methods of using nasturtiums: 

    • Companion planting: Plant nasturtiums around other plants to protect them from pests. The strong scent of the plant can help repel aphids, whiteflies, cucumber beetles, and other insects that can damage plants.
    • Trap plants: Use nasturtiums as trap plants to lure pests away from other plants. For example, plant nasturtiums near brassicas, such as cabbage and broccoli, to attract cabbage white butterflies, which will lay their eggs on the nasturtiums instead of the brassicas.
    • Insecticide: Crush nasturtium leaves and flowers and mix them with water to create an insecticidal spray. Nasturtium spray can help repel pests such as aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.

    Here are some of the insects that nasturtiums can help deter away from your plants: 

    • Aphids
    • Cabbage moths/Cabbage worms 
    • Whiteflies
    • Squash bugs
    • Spider Mites

    Learn More: See our guide on growing the best nasturtiums in your neighborhood, or for some verticality check out our guide to growing climbing nasturtiums!

    Bright orange nasturtiums in full bloom.  The image is intended to show what plants repel bugs and pests in the garden.

    #11. Lavender

    Lavender plants are known for their fragrant aroma and ability to repel garden pests. Here are some ways to use lavender to repel pests:

    • Plant lavender around the garden:  The scent of lavender is a natural insect repellent that can keep pests at bay.
    • Make a lavender spray: You can make a homemade one by steeping lavender flowers in boiling water for several minutes, then straining and letting it cool. Spray around plants to repel insects like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
    • Hang lavender sachets: Dried lavender flowers can be placed in sachets and hung around the garden or patio to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects.
    • Use lavender essential oils: Lavender essential oil can be added to a carrier oil and sprayed on plants to repel pests. (always test before spraying directly on plants) 

    Here are some pests lavender can help repel in your gardens:

    • Mosquitoes
    • Flies
    • Fleas
    • Moths
    • Whiteflies

    Resources For Growing & Using Lavender:

    Spikes of purple flowers in full bloom against a light blue sky.

    #12. Sage

    Sage contains compounds such as camphor and thujone, which are toxic to many insects. There are several ways to use sage in the garden effectively:

    1. Companion planting: Plant sage near vegetables and herbs prone to insect infestations, such as cabbage, carrots, and rosemary. The pungent aroma of sage helps to repel pests and protect the nearby plants.
    2. Sachets and sprays: Dried sage leaves can be placed in sachets and hung around the garden to repel pests. Sage essential oil can also be mixed with water and sprayed on plants to deter insects.
    3. Garden borders: Planting sage around the garden can help repel pests and prevent them from entering. The strong scent of sage can act as a natural barrier against insects.

    Here are the pests sage can help keep at bay:

    • Carrot Flies
    • Cabbage Moths
    • Slugs

    Learn More About Sage: Our guides help you choose what type of sage to grow in your garden and how to start sage from seed.

    Healthy sage plants bundled together.

    #13. Thyme

    Thyme is a great addition to the garden, and there are several different ways you can use thyme as a pest repellent:

    • Plant thyme in your garden beds:  The herb is particularly effective at repelling cabbage moths, slugs, and tomato hornworms, so plant thyme around plants impacted by these specific pests. It is important to note that thyme requires very well-draining soil and full sun, so try not to add thyme plants around shaded areas that remain moist.
    • Use thyme oil: Thyme oil is a natural insecticide that can repel various pests, including ants, mosquitoes, and flies. You can make thyme oil by steeping thyme leaves in olive oil for several weeks. Once the oil is ready use it to make a natural insect spray.
    • Dried thyme: Dried thyme can repel moths and other flying insects. Tie a bundle of dried thyme with a piece of string and hang it in your closet or pantry to keep pests at bay.

    Deter the following pests by planting Thyme:

    • Cabbage moths
    • Whiteflies
    • Tomato hornworms

    Learn More: See our guide for growing thyme from seed to harvest.

    Fresh green thyme herbs growing in garden.

    #14. Rosemary

    Rosemary is a fragrant herb that can also be a natural insect repellent. Here are some ways to use rosemary to repel pests in the garden:

    • Plant rosemary around the garden’s perimeter: Rosemary plants can create a natural barrier that helps keep pests away from the garden.
    • Use rosemary as a companion plant: Plant rosemary near other plants susceptible to pests. Rosemary can repel insects and also attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.
    • Use rosemary as a mulch: Spread fresh or dried leaves around the garden beds. As the leaves decompose, they release oils that help to repel insects.
    • Burn rosemary as incense: Light a bundle of dried rosemary and let it smoke. The smoke will help to repel pests and create a pleasant aroma in the garden.

    Rosemary can help deter the following pests:

    • Cabbage Moths
    • Mosquitoes
    • Fleas
    • Ticks
    • Carrot Rust Flies
    • Mexican Bean Beetles

    Learn More About Rosemary: See our guide for growing and keeping rosemary healthy.

    Healthy dark green rosemary plants.

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