Garden guardians — plants that keep mosquitos, insects away in summer

A citronella plant at Cindy's Produce on Harpers Road in Virginia Beach. [The Independent News]

A citronella plant at Cindy’s Produce on Harpers Road in Virginia Beach. [The Independent News]


VIRGINIA BEACH — Got mosquitoes?

Get plants.

That’s the advice of local outdoor enthusiasts, who swear by the insect-repelling properties of some common herbs, including citronella, mint and lavender.

Even some wild plants, including bayberry, may repel mosquitoes and biting flies, according to herbalist and Blackwater resident Vickie Shufer, founder of Eco Images.

Citronella, or scented geranium, is a time-tested Princess Anne country favorite for repelling mosquitoes, said Pungo farmer Cindy Weatherly, who remembers that her great-grandmother always grew them and other scented plants.

In addition to repelling mosquitoes, citronella is a lovely plant that produces scented leaves and blooms, and it is available in a variety of scents, including rose and lemon.

Weatherly sells the citronella and other fragrant herbs, including mint and lemon balm, at Cindy’s Produce, her produce stand on Harpers Road. Customers, she said, grow them in containers and sometimes carry the containers around with them when they are doing yardwork.

“One family comes in here, and each one gets their own plant,” she said. “Then they carry these plants around with them whenever they’re outside.”

Another advantage to growing citronella in containers is that they can be covered and kept in a sheltered place during the winter.  The plants will sometimes, but not always survive Virginia Beach winters if left in the open. 

Your ability to attract pesky insects may also diminish by using pine tar soap and applying lots of pressed oils, such as peanut oil, sweet almond oil or grapeseed oil, according to Shufer.

Pine tar soap also helps to repel chiggers and ticks, and Shufer thinks that it may even help to repel biting beach flies.

 These small, irksome black flies  sometimes swarm on the beach, particularly when there is a land wind.  These flies travel in large groups, sting painfully and don’t seem deterred by conventional repellants.

“But they don’t seem as attracted to me as they are to other people, so I think that it must be the soap,” said Shufer.

If you’re planning to go hiking or camping, or it it’s just a particularly bad year for mosquitoes at your house, try making your own repellant by infusing the scented plants into the oils. Pour the oil over the leaves, combine a few drops of essential oils of mint or lavender, and let it set in a warm place for several days, Shufer said.

Rosewater and aloe also enhance the oil’s ability to repel mosquitoes, Shufer said.  

Beautyberry, which is native to the area, is a folk remedy for biting flies, but it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug administration, Shufer added.

“What I use depends a lot on what I have on hand,” Shufer said.

If there’s no time to make the repellant, you can also just crush a leaf from a citronella or lemon balm plant and rub it on your clothes and skin, Weatherly said.

© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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