Summertime in the Sunshine State beckons us outdoors for beach time picnics, backyard barbecues, frosty cold drinks and digging around in the garden. Unfortunately, this time also has become synonymous with invisible no-seeums and buzzy mosquitos, which can turn a few hours planned for yardwork into the most dreadful of days.

The easiest way to avoid bites is to cover up, but let’s be honest, once August arrives, the heat and humidity often makes us want to wear less clothes, not more. To ward off pesky flying and stinging bugs, we’re offering a few recommendations.

Do They or Don’t They? A Word on the Repelling Power of Plants

Before we dive in, it is important to understand that research does not support, generally, keeping insects at bay simply by planting plants with oils that repel them. It is when the oils of those plants are dispersed into the air or spread on your skin that insects turn their, um, noses up and dissipate. Similarly, using repelling scents in the form of incense is an effective way to keep pests away, most notably due to the scented tendrils of smoke alone. However, a recent study published through Mississippi State University did find that Florida’s native beautyberry shrub (Callicarpa) was enough to send mosquitoes buzzing over to the neighbor’s yard.

Essential Oils

Repellents featuring DEET and other chemicals have shown to be hazardous to our health, so plant-based essential oils are always a better option. The plants discussed below produce scents that are unfavorable to mosquitos, gnats, and a few other arthropods. Luckily, with the surge in popularity for aromatherapy, you can find these scents in an abundance of places, from online retailers to in-store selections at big box pharmacies and specialty candle shops, for example.

Making Sense of Scents

Witch Hazel: Derived from bark of Hamamelis virginiana, the oil from this shrub has great attributes as an anticoagulant and can be thought of as “pre-bite” care.

Neem: From the Indian tree, Azadirachta indica, this oil has long been used as a natural pesticide. The Neem tree grows well in our tropical climate, providing ready access to a great repellent and wonderful product for all sorts of medicinal and self-care products.

Rosemary: As a general rule, the tastes and smells appreciated by humans are not usually appreciated by flies or bugs.

Lemongrass: Those strong scent of citronella candles you very likely have used at some point is from a type of lemongrass. The plant can be grown year-round in Florida and, luckily, the oil is readily available as well.

Lemon Balm: This is a hardy plant that can thrive in sandy soils and the rubbing the crushed leaves on your skin can help to deter mosquitos.

Lavender: Lavandula angustifolia is further proof that if it smells sweet, flies probably will fly on by. This purple flowering plant has the bonus of being naturally calming and stress relieving, a big win-win!

Cedar: Extracted from cedar oil, this has been used to control fleas on pets for decades. It is also effective against other arthropods such as ticks, biting gnats, and mosquitos. That it is safe for pet use is a serious plus. The price is worth it as a small amount goes a long way.

Follow the recipe below and try a few combinations to find your own unique Buzz Off Mosquito repellent blend!


I find a 4 oz plastic bottle (easily found in bulk or in travel size section of stores) is convenient to carry and still allows enough room to shake up contents. Glass bottles also work well.

Now it’s time to put together a simple sprayable solution that will help keep the bugs away in a chemically-free solution that is kind to your skin and to the environment.

Base Ingredients

This is the solution you will blend with your favorite oils to create your own Buzz Off blend.

• 2 tablespoons of Witch Hazel
(you can also use Vodka in a pinch)
• 2 tablespoons of Neem Oil
• ½ teaspoon of Vodka
(it makes a great preservative)
• 100-120 drops of Essential Oil Blend
• Repellent Blend

Different arthropods are repelled by different scents, so it is in your best interest to combine several types. This combination has successfully worked for me and it smells amazing.

• 55 drops of Lemon Eucalyptus
• 15 drops of Cedarwood Oil
• drops of Lavender Oil
• 15 drops of Rosemary Oil

Blend & Apply!

– Add base recipe to a spray bottle
– Mix in the essential oil blend
– Be sure to give the bottle a good shake before each use, as the oils will be oils and separate from the mixture.
– Reapply every few hours (as you would sunscreen) to ensure effectiveness.

Note: If this scent is too strong for you, try other blends to find the right combination for your skin and your surroundings.

Amanda Rose Newton
Gardening Information and Education Specialist, Rockledge Gardens Instructor of Horticulture, Eastern Florida State College

Amanda Rose Newton is a Florida certified horticulture professional; board certified entomologist, beekeeper, and educator. She holds an Associates of Science in Horticulture Technology, A Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, a Master’s of Science in Entomology with a specialization in Integrated Pest Management, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate at Florida Institute of Technology.