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Bug Free Barbecues the Natural Way

Bug Free Barbecues the Natural Way
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by Julie Robitaille

Barbecues, patios, warm summer nights – a perfect recipe for casual parties and gatherings with friends, right? And you’ve got it all planned, from the mojitos to the mixed grill of vegetables and meats to the grilled fruit to top the ice cream for dessert. No heating up the kitchen and plenty of room around the grill to chatter while you’re cooking.

There’s only one problem – bugs: those mosquitoes, flies, gnats and other pests that always show up to the party uninvited to spoil the fun.

If you want to keep these bugs away without having to worry about the chemicals in commercial bug sprays and without walking around with dryer sheets hanging from your pockets, there’s a natural and attractive way to do it with plants. Here are seven of the best common garden plants that will make the pests head in the other direction.


Citronella is probably the best known of the bug-repellent plants. It’s got a very distinctive odor that many of us know as the dominant scent in most insect repellent sprays and candles.

Plant this perennial right in the ground or in large pots; that same unmistakable smell emanating from the tall (5 ft. or taller) clumping grass will keep the pests away by covering the scent of mosquito attractants…like us! Make sure your plants get full sun and have good drainage.


These small, cheerful flowers look great as borders, in pots, or in a garden with mixed flowers. The vivid reds and oranges of this little flower create a bright display of color wherever it’s needed. Marigolds, like citronella, have a unique scent that is easy for any gardener to recognize. Happily, mosquitos seem to recognize it, too…and want to turn in the other direction when they smell it.

Marigolds in pots are particularly useful since you can pick them up and move them around to different areas; if you have open windows, place pots of these flowers in them and you won’t have to worry about pests buzzing around and biting when you are trying to sleep. If you have kids or grands, planting marigolds from seed is a great way to introduce them to gardening. And if you grow tomatoes, plant the marigolds among them to deter the insects (tomato worms – ugh!) that prey on them.


This beloved herb is familiar to anyone who has ever grown herbs and vegetables. With its sweet, peppery scent and taste, basil can do double duty for you – as a cooking herb and as an insect repellent.

Basil comes in many varieties of scents and tastes, from anise to lime to Thai basil. The basils that seem to work best as bug repellents are lemon basil and cinnamon basil, but don’t stop there: plant a basil garden using six or seven varieties and see where that leads you in in your culinary adventures while keeping your yard, patio and guests bug free!

Lemon Balm

A fragrant member of the mint family, lemon balm is a perennial that can be grown in the ground or in pots, although pots may be preferable because of lemon balm’s tendency to become invasive. Also called horsemint, it’s a fairly hardy, fast-growing plant that is also drought-resistant – certainly a plus for anyone trying to conserve water.

One of the coolest things about lemon balm is that it serves a dual purpose in the garden: its scent repels mosquitoes but attracts butterflies and bees. That is a winning combination for any gardener!


Who doesn’t love the sweet smell of this favorite garden plant? Used in sachets, in relaxing oils and sleep masks, lavender also functions as one of the plants keeping mosquitoes, flies and gnats from invading your party and ruining it.

Lavender loves the sun, so if you have sunny spots near entryways or your patio, the fragrant plants will thrive and repel pests there. You can also hang tied bunches of lavender upside down on the patio and in the kitchen. And if you want to extract the oil from the flowers yourself – or buy the extracted oil – you can apply it to your skin to keep you mosquito-free.


Rosemary is another wonderful herb that is easy to grow and serves both as a staple culinary ingredient and as a mosquito repellent. There are many varieties of this plant, which is hardy, easy to grow and flourishes even in extremely hot climates. Rosemary loves full sun, so plant it where it gets at least four to six hours of sunshine daily.

Among other pests it repels are fleas and ticks. Use dried rosemary leaves that have been ground or powdered to dust where your cats and dogs sleep as a natural alternative to the chemical repellents available at the store.


This kitty-pleasing herb is an incredibly strong mosquito repellent that is related to mint and is easy to grow in the garden, either planted directly in the soil or planted in pots. A hardy perennial, catnip has been shown to repel mosquitos that get near the plant, so use it in the garden, by the patio and in window boxes. And if you are highly attractive and/or sensitive to mosquito bites, you can simply crush the leaves and apply them to your skin.

The only drawback with catnip is, well, cats! Cats will respond to catnip on your skin just like they respond to the catnip plant. So if you aren’t crazy about cats being overly affectionate (and overstimulated!) you might want to keep this particular natural r

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