- Merlisa Lawrence Corbett, For the AJC
According to the CDC, the Zika virus is primarily spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. With mosquito season in full effect, metro Atlanta residents may want added protection against these blood-sucking insects.
A solution could be rooted in mosquito-repellent plants.
"We have a lot of people, especially women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant that are calling, urgently asking questions about mosquito control," said Jason Smith, co-founder of Mr. Mister Mosquito Control Systems Atlanta.
The leaves, fragrance and oils produced by these plants can aid in the fight against mosquitoes, Smith said. He recommends three basic ways of using these plants: grow them, crush and rub or make home-made liquid repellents.
Most of these plants are easy to find and some are even edible, according to Joan Casanova, a spokesperson for Union Springs, Ala.,-based Bonnie Plants.
The largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in the U.S., Bonnie Plants can be found at Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and many other home and garden stores across the country, including metro Atlanta.
The following are seven mosquito-repellent plants you can get at your local garden shop:
Citronella: Sometimes marketed as the "mosquito plant," this is a citrus-scented geranium. It carries the fragrance of citronella in its foliage. "When a leaf is crushed and rubbed on the skin, it smells wonderful and is known to assist in naturally repelling mosquitoes," said Casanova.
She recommends placing Citronella near a gate or path where you brush against the leaves as you walk by.
Cinnamon Basil: Known for its darker color and spicy, cinnamon-like scent, this plant is the main ingredient in a home-remedy repellent recipe provided by Casanova. "Boil four ounces of water and add four to six ounces of clean, fresh basil leaves (stems can be attached). Allow leaves to steep for several hours, then remove the leaves and squeezing all the leaves' moisture into back into the mixture. Mix approximately four ounces of inexpensive vodka with the basil-water mixture. Store in the refrigerator and apply as a spray when going outdoors."
Lemongrass: These plants thrive in moist soil and full sun. Often used in fragrances and other toiletries, lemongrass contains a form of citronella that has a pleasant aroma.
Lemon Balm: The leaves have the scent of lemon with a hint of mint. The aroma repels mosquitoes. However, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Fast growing and drought resistant, "consider planting in a pot rather than in your yard to avoid a lemon balm takeover," said Casanova, who suggests crushing the leaves in your hands and rubbing on the skin for an instant repellent.
Mint: Like lemon balm, mint is invasive and spreads as fast as weeds. But the oils extracted from mint leaves can be combined in apple cider vinegar or witch hazel to create a mosquito repellent.
Smith said his company uses a natural repellent that includes peppermint oil. As a bonus, mint also repels rodents.
Catnip: Catnip is a perennial herb, related to mint and grows best in full sun. Nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip, is reportedly "more effective than DEET," said Casanova.
Lavender: Often used in aromatherapy, this lovely plant generates a scent mosquitoes detest.
Oils extracted from leaves can be rubbed on the skin. The plant also wards off gnats and moths.
When adding mosquito-repellent plants to your yard, Smith suggest grouping them around the back porch or in other areas frequented by people.
"The more you have the better," said Smith. Although Smith cautioned that plants alone won't keep mosquitoes away, he added that "everything helps, and they look pretty."