by David Fried
Sometimes what a cat likes, an insect hates.
Throughout time, people who have time outdoors have known what to plant to keep insects from biting them constantly. We seem to have forgotten some of these plants and their usefulness and ease of growing.
Many of our ancestors lived where rosemary can be grown year round. Rosemary is good at repelling fleas and ticks from the area it is planted in. As a cat or dog or person rubs against a rosemary bush, the oils from the plant rub off on their coats or on our clothes. This may have been the original bug repellant. For us in the north, we can bring a rosemary plant indoors in the winter and back out in the summer. If we rub against it on our way to the garden, we will be using our ancient wisdom, remembering what worked for those who came before us.
Catnip has been found by an Iowa State University study to be ten times more effective than deet. The essential oil contains nepetalactone and most insects cannot stand this. It is easy to grow, but you will want to plant it where you do not mind it spreading. Rub it between your fingers and hope there are no catamounts lurking. You can plant some along a cedar chip path to define your walkway and keep grass down, thus both repelling insects like ticks and mosquitos from the cedar mulch’s qualities and confining the catnips’ nature to spread where it is most useful.
Lemonbalm reminds me of citronella candles, and it also reminds bugs of them. Plant it where you do not mind it spreading or grow it in pots. Another advantage over the candles is that there is no smoke fumes. Mosquitos do not like to be around this plant and it is not a tick’s favorite, either. Ticks prefer hanging out in the tall grasses where there is no lemonbalm, catnip or rosemary around. So it is a good idea to keep the grasses mowed low, at least in the pathways where you are walking to and fro.
Some people will burn a little sage and rosemary as the smoke is unpleasant to most insects. Thyme also discourages insects so planting a creeping thyme walkway is a good idea. Eating parsley can help us be healthy and along with eating garlic helps our sweat to be unattractive to mosquitos and other biters. The original line of Simon and Garfunkel’s song was “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and garlic,” but the record company thought it would sell better if they dropped one of the plants, and the rest is history.
It could be a good idea to repel deer from your living and gardening area, which also can help to keep the tick population down. Some plant sage, yarrow, oregano, lemonblam, and blackeyed susan as a border perimeter that some deer seem to not like browsing though. We have used laboratory-strength “garlic clips” attached to plants or bamboo stakes near plants to keep deer off of them. Reportedly, deer are forty times more sensitive than humans to smell, and most of them do not like the smell of garlic.
Other plants have been used to keep insects at bay. Chives, dill, fennel, rue, pennyroyal, basil, marigolds, bee balm, scented geraniums, lavender, wormwood and tansy have been planted all over but obviously not enough. There are still a few annoying insect types lurking in the high grass. I recommend planting a few of these pest repelling plants along your walkways this summer and also near your home and along your garden borders. Hopefully the only scratching you will still be doing is of your head, in wonder, as you are saying: “wow, this really helped!”.
David Fried grows hundreds of useful plants at Elmore Roots Fruit Tree and Berry Nursery in Elmore, Vermont