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You Can Grow It: Plants that bug bugs

Jim Duthie shows us some plants that we can grow that naturally repel bugs.

With our wet spring this year, and the arrival of summer, mosquitoes are already out in full force, raising concern for the spread of diseases like Zika and West Nile virus. And then there are those other pests, like flies and hornets, that can ruin our fun outside on the patio or in the garden.

Garden master Jim Duthie shows us some plants that we can grow to naturally repel those bugs, as well as make an attractive addition to the deck, patio and garden.

One sure sign of summer is when the bugs come out. Some critters eat at our gardens, while others, like flies and mosquitoes, eat at our patience. Some plants have strong scents that bugs don’t like, making them good insect repellents. And, at the same time, they make attractive additions to our home landscapes. Here are some of my favorite plants that bug the bugs.

Many of us grow marigolds as colorful additions to our flower beds, but they have a distinctive smell which repels mosquitoes and other garden pests, including squash bugs and tomato worms. Marigolds contain a natural compound used in many insect repellents. Plant some marigolds in the garden among your squash, melons and tomatoes, or near open windows and doorways where mosquitoes might be tempted to enter.

About the only insects you see around lavender are bees. They love the flowers, but other bugs stay away. Lavender has a pleasant scent that comes from the essential oils in the leaves of the plant, but the bugs hate it. Hang some dried lavender in your closet and you won’t have to worry about moths eating your clothes. Lavender is drought resistant, so it does well here in southwest Idaho.

Lemon grass can grow up to four feet tall, but the best thing about this decorative grass is that it contains citronella, a common natural ingredient in many mosquito repellents. You’ve probably heard of citronella candles and torches. The plant itself does even better at deterring mosquitoes, since it has a stronger smell. Lemon grass tolerates heat and drought, but not frost, so it’s best planted in a pot that can be moved indoors in winter.

Garlic has long been regarded as a deterrent to blood-sucking vampires and werewolves, but it’s the buzzing blood-suckers, mosquitoes, that it really deters. Planting garlic around the garden will also ward off other insects and creepy crawlers. Garlic extract sprayed in the garden is harmless to the plants, but the bugs don’t like that garlic breath.

There are more benefits to planting an herb garden than just for use in cooking. Rosemary and basil both repel flies and mosquitoes. Rosemary has a pungent scent that also drives away other bugs, including cabbage moths. It does well in hot, dry weather, and thrives in containers, so you can set it in various places around the garden. Basil tastes great in our favorite dishes, but it also doubles as a bug repellent. Basil’s strong smell keeps mosquitoes away, and if you put a potted basil plant near your picnic table, you won’t have to worry as much about flies, either.

Cat’s love catnip, but mosquitoes won’t come near it. In fact, some studies show that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial insect repellents. Roll up a few catnip leaves and rub them on your skin. The bugs won’t bother you, but the neighbor’s cat might. Catnip grows almost anywhere, and it will spread in your garden, so best to grow it in pots.

Finally, who doesn’t like the taste of mint? It’s a beautiful plant that smells and tastes great to people, but ants and mice absolutely hate it. It can spread quickly in the garden and is hard to remove, so you might want to keep it in a pot. Put some containers of mint around your patio or in your garden and it will ward off other insects, including mosquitoes.

These are just a few of the many plants that bugs find distasteful. Surrounding yourself and your patio with a few them will keep the bugs away from you, too.

Some of the plants that Jim talked about are perennials, which will come back from year to year, while others need to replanted annually.

You can find all of these plants at most nurseries and garden centers in southwest Idaho.

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