Whether you're trying to stop ants from entering your kitchen or struggling to protect your vegetable garden from hungry little critters, keeping pests at bay can be a pesky chore. But it doesn't have to be—and you don't need to resort to using harmful chemicals to get the job done, either. In fact, there are many plants that can help keep some of the most common household and garden pests at bay. Though the scientific jury is still out on whether or not these planting techniques truly repel pests 100% of the time, many home gardeners have a few go-tos they swear by.
Choose Fragrant Herbs
If you find yourself constantly swatting away flies on your porch or batting at mosquitos by the pool, consider planting more fragrant herbs like lavender, basil, rosemary, and oregano. "I plant lots of mint—which is especially good at keeping mosquitos at bay—in pots both inside and outside," says Lauri Kranz of Edible Gardens LA and author of A Garden Can Be Everywhere. If you choose to plant mint, she recommends keeping this herb in its own bed or pot since the plant is so invasive. If you're opting for basil, consider diversifying with varieties like Thai basil, tulsi basil, and lemon basil, in addition to the more commonly used Italian basil. "They will each add a different kind of beauty and wonderful scent to the home," says Kranz.
If your vegetable garden is home to one too many aphids, Kranz also recommends planting dill to attract a different kind of bug: ladybugs. "Ladybugs love to feast on the destructive aphids!" And if your broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflowers patches are pest-ridden, try planting thyme to help repel hungry cabbage loopers.
According to Martha Stewart Living's features and gardening editor, Melissa Ozawa, these bright, easy-to-grow blossoms may also help keep common garden pests like aphids, thrips, and tomato hornworms from getting too close to your vegetables. Dan Scott, associate director of horticulture at the American Horticultural Society, points to recent studies that show how marigolds can also be effective at repelling whiteflies on your tomato plants. "A chemical called limonene in marigolds was identified as the active ingredient that repels the whiteflies," says Scott.
Go for the Garlic
Similar to the effects of fragrant herbs, planting stronger-smelling vegetables can help keep common pests from poking into your produce. "Garlic is a great help in deterring stink bugs, snails and many other garden pests plus you can harvest and enjoy the garlic when it has matured," suggests Kranz. "I sometimes plant garlic around the entire permitter of the garden bed as its scent helps keep all kinds of critters away."
Bring in the Borage
These star-shaped flowers are not only a beautiful way to accent any green space and even attract important pollinators, but they can also be great for fighting off certain unwanted critters. Both Kranz and Ozawa recommend planting borage to keep destructive tomato hornworms at bay. "They can also be beneficial by attracting bees," says Kranz.
Don't Forget Diversity
While it may seem frustrating to have certain bugs around, especially in your garden, it's also important to remember that not all pests may actually be harmful. "Rather than focusing on particular plants to help repel any individual pests, it's generally more effective to include a diverse array of plants with different kinds of flowers and bloom times in your garden," recommends Scott. "These will provide food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, including some that will be predators of insect pests."