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 to keep flying away, and below I provide you with a healthy list of natural fly repellants. 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), some plants repel flies. These can be some of the best fly repellants to have in your home.
Perennial Plants to Repel Flies
If you’ve wondered how to get rid of flies in the backyard, the answer is through plants! 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 aid 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 need a little help to extract their oils. Look to the bottom of this article for oil extracting techniques!
Both fresh and dried, the scent is 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. These 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.
For centuries, the glossy bay leaves from the bay laurel have been used as an aromatic in cooking and placed within cupboards to keep insects, weevils, and mice away. Its pungent scent is useful when fresh and dried and can be bundled to hang near home entryways during the fly season.
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 rosemary sprigs create a lovely scent and provide a great fly deterrent when placed around the house.
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! On top of that, if you’re concerned about beneficial insects and how they support your garden, you need some lavender to provide food for all those benefits.
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 of 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 established. At its height, one plant can put out over 1000 flower stems!
Tansy is best used by extracting the oils and creating a spray to either use on your body or in the areas you are inhabiting (such as spraying along the door frame or window frame where flies can enter your house).
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 its roots, be sure to keep it in a contained area if you have any worries about it getting into livestock fields.
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 its 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 keep 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.
The mint family contains peppermint, spearmint, sweet mints, citrus mints, and even chocolate mints! What they all have in common is the ingredient mentha, which makes it potent against many insects, including flies.
All mints are aromatic, either fresh or dried, but the extraction of their oil 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 have been used as a digestive aid for thousands of years.
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 hats is very effective. However, I should note the ingestion of plant or plant oils is only used under the supervision of a doctor.
Pennyroyal can be most helpful in your garden and help deter many bugs from your susceptible veggies. By simply planting this low-grower under and around your plants, you provide 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.
Easy to grow and beneficial to your garden, wormwood leaves contain a resinous particle that 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.
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 are comparable to deet. As a bonus, the oil also has antibacterial and antifungal properties making it a common ingredient in many over-the-counter aids.
This hardy growing, carpet-like plant will only grow to 10 or 12” in height, but its umbrella-like leaves and white delicate flowers are a favorite in shade gardens because of their 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!
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 aid 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 for 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.
Once believed to draw in cats to keep rodents away, European farmers planted catnip around the foundations of both houses and barns. Even more, telling is the number 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 its 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 and other insect deterrents and can be used similarly to citronella grass, as explained previously. But be warned, it isn’t called catnip for nothing! It will bring in your feline friends!
Rue is a strongly scented woody plant that repels many insects, has disinfectant properties, and is often used as a calming aide. Because of its potent properties, rue is usually best left in its natural environment unless you know the 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 kitchen with a minimum of fuss. Be aware that by using the linked methods you will not be getting 100% pure oils. They should not be ingested, although they will be good for use homemade insect sprays and some topical applications.
To Wrap Up
Flies are a commonplace 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 aid in your fight against these cook-out invaders was hopefully helpful and gave you some ideas as to where you can add some garden interest as well.
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!