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13 Plants That Repel Flies

My son recently asked what “possible good flies were” as he attempted to swat away the worst of them during an outdoor family meal. Equally annoyed, I wasn’t even going to attempt to explain the role they play in the ecosystem since I was too busy gathering up our dinner to bring it back in the house- and right there decided I needed to find a solution to get rid of these pesky creatures.

Flies come only second to mosquitoes on the annoyance scale in our household, and are number one in what I most want to eradicate since they can spread germs (and not to mention are obnoxious). It doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed with flies in some of your favorite outdoor spots no matter what time of day.

There are many plants that are touted as repelling the worst of our biting and buzzing insects, and below I’m going to provide you a healthy list that will help aide in keeping flies away. Combined with other proactive attempts to eradicate your fly problem (keeping animal feces picked up, covering your compost pile, and dusting damp areas with lime or diatomaceous earth to name a few), plants CAN, and WILL help deter these annoying little critters.

Perennial Plants To Repel Flies

There aren’t many plants that are touted as able to repel flies, but there are a few little beauties you may either have in your garden beds already, or want to place there. Not only are they lovely to have around to aide in fly eradication, but they are genuinely pretty and smell good!

Some of these plants help keep away flies simply by growing nearby due to their potent fragrances, but others needs a little help to extract their oils. Look to the bottom of this article for oil extracting techniques!

#1 Sweet Basil

Both fresh and dried, the scent given off by basil deters flies. Since this is a plant that thrives in patio pots, adding some to your summer flower arrangements near areas of home entry can help keep the worst of your flies away. Used near a vegetable patch you can also repel many of the problem insects that tend to feed on squash and tomatoes. As an additional plus, it keeps away bugs from roses as well.

It also tastes great in many beverages and culinary dishes! But be sure to keep the plant from flowering as it will fail to continue to propagate the best of its popular, sweet smelling leaves! Simply snip off leaves and branches when it starts to send out flowering stalks to allow for new growth.

Basil is considered an annual, although it can reseed itself in warmer climates if allowed to bloom. Despite this, inexpensive plants can be purchased each spring from local garden centers, and seeds can be easily cultivated indoors and transplanted outside after the last frost. Basil also makes a good choice for indoor herb gardens and can be kept alive year round.

#2 Bay Laurel

For centuries, the glossy bay leaves from the bay laurel has been used as an aeromatic in cooking, and placed within cupboards to keep insects, weevils, and mice away. It’s pungent scent is useful when both fresh and dried, and can be bundled to hang near home entryways during fly season as well.

As a warm climate evergreen this large tree (can get to 40’ high if allowed) cannot handle any sort of freeze, but does exceptionally well in a pot and is often used for topiary to be brought inside once cold weather sets in. It also can handle some cramped conditions since it is a very slow grower, so you won’t have to repot constantly. Be sure to give it rich, well drained soils – especially during its first few years of growth as it gets established.

Bay leaves combined with sprigs of rosemary (see #5) create a lovely scent, as well as providing a great fly deterrent when placed around the house.

#3 Lavender

By far one of my favorite plants, lavender thrives in well-drained, hot, and sunny climates. Both the foliage and blooms are fragrant and fend off many types of insects, flies included. During flower bloom, harvesting of the flowers for drying results in bundled, rich smelling sachets to place in closets, drawers and cupboards to keep creepy crawlies away. Plus it makes your clothes smell great!

This is a very easy plant to propagate and comes in quite a few different varieties to fit your climate needs and growing spaces. I prefer those that do best in pots so I can place them in different places around my property as both added interest and pest control. Depending on your planting zone, take care about how you winterize your potted plant. They are tough to kill, but freezing out the roots can do just that, so putting them up for the winter in a shed, wrapping the pots, or even burying the pot in northern zones is a smart move.

It takes around 3 years for your plant to produce an abundant flower crop and get really established. At its height, one plant can put out over 1000 flower stems!

#4 Tansy

Tansy is best used by extracting the oils and creating a spray to either use on your body, or in the areas you are in inhabiting (such as spraying along the door frame, or window frame where flies can enter your house).

Both fresh and dried leaves can be used in this potent spray recipe, but dried leaves will create a stronger repellent since the oils will be more concentrated. Easy to make, leaves are soaked in hot water before cooling and straining to be placed in a spray bottle. Feel free to add in other fly repellent oils as well (such as lavender, see #3).

Tansy is a simple and pretty plant to grow, but it can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. There have been reports of livestock falling sick and even dying after eating large quantities of the plant. Because tansy reproduces through it’s roots, be sure to keep it in a contained area if you have any worries about it getting into livestock fields.

#5 Rosemary

Many growing zones will find that rosemary will stay evergreen for them with the correct care and protection. It can grow to heights of 3-4 feet and up to 5 feet wide, so make sure to give it room! They can also do well in well-drained planters as long as it receives the sun it loves and craves for healthy growth.

Because of it’s heady scent, rosemary is a popular flavor and aromatic herb to use in many culinary dishes and beverages. These properties are also the same that keeps away many flies as it is the leaves that put forth the most scent.

Many gardeners will grow it as an annual in the North, but rosemary does surprisingly well through the winter. In northern climes above zone 5 you may want to bring plants indoors if your plant is unprotected, and the winters have consistent deep freezes.

Propagate new plants using growth from existing plants and mix them into containers around your yard. You can also take cuttings and hang fresh or dried rosemary around to repel insects. As mentioned above, when mixed with bay leaves you have a nice, natural way to keep flies at bay. Having a fresh supply of rosemary to cook with and dry for the winter also saves a lot of money since it’s a fairly costly herb to purchase.

#6 Mint

The mint family contains peppermint, spearmint, sweet mints, citrus mints, and even chocolate mints! But what they all have in common is the ingredient mentha, which is what makes it so potent against many insects, flies included. All mints are aromatic either fresh or dried, but the extraction of their oil really brings about their true properties, and potency.

Whether you keep it growing nearby (I keep some nearby back porch door), rub it on your skin, or use the oil extracts- you will have an effective fly repellent.

Mints are hardy, rapid growers and self-pollinate through runners. They can quickly take over a yard if left unchecked, and are often best kept in containers, or within bricked areas where they are more easily thinned out. The effort of care is well worth it as this multi-purposeful plant does so much more than keep insects at bay. Mints are popular in cooking, beverages, and has been used as a digestive aid for thousands of years.

#7 Pennyroyal

A highly potent plant, the use of anything other than as a decorative plant to help repel most biting insects (and even mice) should be done with caution. Rubbing fresh cuttings and releasing the aromatic oils into clothing and on hats has been found to be very effective, however I should note the ingestion of the plant, or plant oils, are only used under supervision of a doctor.

Pennyroyal can be most helpful in your garden as well to help deter many bugs from your susceptible veggies. By simply planting this low-grower under and around your plants, you are providing a natural insecticide to help keep them pest-free.

As a member of the mint family, be sure to re-transplant them come fall, or rip them out since they can become invasive quickly if left unchecked.

#8 Wormwood

Easy to grow and beneficial to your garden, wormwood leaves leaves contain a resinous particle which can be used as a natural insecticide. When picked fresh and rubbed on your arms or clothing, it will help to keep flies away. It also can be dried and bundled to be placed in doorways, closets, etc.

Wormwood is famously known as absinthe, and has been used for over 3000 years for medicinal purposes. It also became a popular flavoring for certain beverages, and has since been banned in many countries due to its potent properties and negative side effects when ingested in large quantities. Despite its many uses, only external applications are without caution. If using this plant in any other way, be sure to consult a doctor to avoid any side effects.

#9 Citronella Grass

Citronella grasses are a popular ornamental, and can be found dotting many landscapes in frost-free zones within the United States. Because of its intolerance of the colder climes, it also can thrive within a patio planter with the correct care, and can be brought indoors as the weather begins to chill.

Contrary to many beliefs, the plant itself is not effective in warding off biting insects. Rather it is the oil found in the fronds that provides relief despite the strong fragrance it gives off when brushed against.

Effective insecticidal usages include breaking off a frond to rub into your skin or clothing. This typically wears off after two hours so you’ll need to reapply. Or you can also create a spray using the extracted oils that has been found to be comparable to deet. As an added bonus, the oil also has both antibacterial and antifungal properties making it a common ingredient in many over the counter aides.

#10 Sweet Woodruff

This hardy growing, carpet-like plant will only grow to 10 or 12” in height, but it’s umbrella like leaves, and white delicate flowers are a favorite in shade gardens because of its sweet, fresh scent.

Popular in areas of bulb plantings, sweet woodruff also repels flies naturally – no cutting or drying needed. You can also add a breath of fresh air to sitting areas by planting within patio pots by propagating from existing garden plants. Just be sure to keep the soil moist!

#11 Eucalyptus

Famous for their silver-dollar foliage, many health benefits can be derived from the leaves as eucalyptus oil. Many over-the-counter products contain eucalyptus as well to aide in common household ailments. Most importantly, it was registered in the U.S as an insecticide and miticide in 1948, which is why it can be so handy to have around.

Because of the varying species of this tree (some can reach 130 feet in height) it is best to choose a variety of species that do better in pots. On its own it does produce a heady scent that can deter flies, but the oils derived from the leaves are even more potent and can either be crushed from the leaves and rubbed on, or extracted to further uses.

When mixed with water and made into a spray it can be as effective as DEET. If you should get bit using this oil, it doubles as an antibacterial agent and will help keep swelling to a minimum.

#12 Catnip

Once believed to draw in cats to keep rodents away, European farmers planted catnip around the foundations of both house and barn. Even more telling is the amount of insects and mice it will repel when planted in conjunction with areas that open into your house. A pretty plan to have amongst your pants with it’s silvery foliage- catnip is related to mints and can quickly grow out of control so be sure to keep it contained.

Catnip contains citronella oil as well as other insect deterrents, and can be used in a similar manner as citronella grass as explained previously. But be warned, it isn’t called catnip for nothing! It will bring in your feline friends!

#13 Rue

Rue is a strongly scented woody plant that repels many insects, has disinfectant properties, and is also often used as a calming aide. Because of its potent properties, rue is usually best left in its natural environment unless you have knowledge of correct usage of the plant and its oil extracts. Even rubbing against the leaves can cause light sensitivity and blistering if you have an allergy.

Growing to approximately 2 feet in height, this blueish leafed plant tolerates poor soils, and is a good addition mixed into perennial gardens to help keep out insects and to provide you, the gardener, and natural aromatic border to keep away unwanted flying insects. Rue is best started from seed in the spring, and in the correct environment can reseed itself year after year, but the leaf potency is best when it is kept from flowering.

Extracting and Using Oils

As mentioned in conjunction with a few of the plants above, oil extractions can create a much more effective and potent fly repellent. For best results, be sure to harvest in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the sun burns off any newly formed essential oils.

Even though you can get some relief by simply crushing or rubbing the foliage on your skin or clothing, long-term effects are optimized when extracted oil is made into a spray, or is mixed with other fly deterrent plant oils.
Primitive oil extraction is a fairly simple process that you can do in your own kitchen with a minimum of fuss. Be aware that by using the linked methods you will not be getting 100% pure oils and they should not be ingested although they will be good for use in . homemade insect sprays and some topical applications.

Anything to Add?

Flies are a common place annoyance, and many times a combination of techniques to repel these small winged creatures is your best defense. This more extensive list of plants that can help aide in your fight against these cook-out invaders was hopefully helpful, and gave you some ideas as to wear you can add some garden interest as well!

So experiment away and share your experiences with what works, and what doesn’t below! Questions? Feel free to ask, and as always, share this article to help spread the word!

About The Author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod cuts a tragic figure in the High School English classroom teaching literature by day, and moonlighting as a writer and graphic artist by night. Published in a variety of travel magazines, and now a blog, Danielle enjoys coming up with home and garden projects to complete with her two young boys. A native of Michigan, she resides in Southeastern New Mexico with her variety of horses, poultry, and variable mix of rescue dogs (there’s a cat or two in there as well). In her free time she enjoys travel, art, photography, and a good book!

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