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Gardening

Use house plants to repel insects

Basil
Basil produces aromatic oils known to repel most insects, including spiders. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Indoor plants not only act as decor while refreshing the house, but also can keep off those pesky house pests away.

Lilian Mogiti, the director of Tendai Plants and Flowers, a Nairobi-based gardening enterprise states that scented plants, strategically placed around the house are effective in achieving this effect.

“Basically, all strong-scented plants keep away stubborn pests from the house. They also bring out some sparkle, while others like the Snake plant (Mother-in-law's tongue), are fresheners as well as therapeutic,” say Mogiti.

Depending on the aesthetic appeal and area, she says the following plants can play the role of insect repellant:

Citronella (lemongrass)

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A beautiful, ornamental grass, also used in medicinal and food recipes. It is also best known as a mosquito repellent but its lemony scent also works well in driving away other flying bugs.

Compounds in its leaves are an ingredient in commercial pest repellent products, making it a good household repellent for potential spider food –including insects, ensuring fewer spiders in the house.

The plant has long, grass-like leaves, is suited for tropical conditions and grows well indoors if there is plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. Its pot or vase should therefore be placed where it is able to get good amount of sunlight.

Chrysanthemum

They are perfect for growing on porches, patios, balconies, and terraces, where they mostly repel spiders. Pyrethrins, the insect-repelling compounds in chrysanthemums are a common ingredient in many natural insecticides.

The plant thrives in mild temperatures, and should be grown on relatively sunny but not too bright spots as this could hamper their flowering. It is the plant’s flowers and not its leaves that have the repelling effect to mosquitoes. As each flower dies, pluck it off to stimulate more flowers to blossom.

Lemon-balm

It does not just look lovely, but also its scent is considered a mood booster. A type of mint plant, lemon-balm leaves smell faintly citrusy and a hint of mint when crumpled. The leaves are also repellants useful in driving away common insects.

According to Mogiti, it is not so dependant on sun, however, one should try to give it as much direct sunlight as possible.

To ensure its potency, it is ideal to limit it to one growing season for any lemon-balm plant, so it hardly is likely that you will re-pot the plant, but rather shed it and plant a new one.

When flower buds start appearing, they should be pruned as they tend to cause the leaves to lose their aromatic traits and be less effective.

Lavender

It is among the most beautiful and recognised scents, but insects hardly find lavender scent as appealing. Their repugnance to the fragrance would keep mosquitoes, moths, fleas, and flies, away from your house.

Sometimes it is possible to use dried lavender as a repellent, but it is better if it is grown as a houseplant. They should be grown in pots and prefer sunny and dry spaces.

The plant could outgrow its pot so pruning once in a while is necessary.

It may not be an easy plant to grow indoors, but still remains a beautiful and beneficial plant if provided with the right conditions.

Good airflow is a trick that can sustain it in the house. This may require frequently opening windows or using a small fan to keep the air moving.

Rosemary

It is native to the Mediterranean region and ideally grows best with as much direct light as it can get to make it develop lushly.

Rosemary, which is used as a herb in cooking is also great for deterring bugs using its intense fragrance.

“It is good for keeping away irritating gnats, flies, mosquitoes and other insects. Put it on raw beef and you’ll notice that flies hardly land on the meat,” Mogiti says.

It, should ideally be placed in the kitchen, where it is close at hand for both cooking and keeping away insects.

Ensure the plant does not get too dry in its first year, as then, it will still be establishing its root system.

Peppermint

Its hard scent is an insect deterrent. The plant should be grown in a pot next to a window that allows in enough sunlight.

The plant’s pot should also be moved around after every few days to ensure it maintains an even appearance, as it sometimes tends to bend towards a light source, becoming somewhat disproportionate.

It is known to be able to colonise large areas outdoors, and will usually do the same indoors, and should be re-potted as it grows.

Basil

Basil produces aromatic oils known to repel most insects, including spiders.

It grows well indoors in locations not too cold, as long as direct sunlight is provided for at least four to five hours daily.

If the air in the house is dry, the pot containing the plant can be placed in a tray filled with shingles to help the plant trap additional humidity.

The moisture that drips onto the pebbles during watering evaporates gradually helping enhance humidity around the plant.

Basil comes in many varieties which one can use for their varied pest control properties.

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