Don’t let mosquitoes spoil balmy summer evenings. Jane Griffiths has advice on growing your own anti-bug herbs. Grow them in pots and move them to where they are needed or plant them in your herb garden and use them to make an insect-repelling balm.
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This fast-growing, aromatic herb is a native of South America. It’s seldom found at the greengrocer, so it’s worth growing your own.
In the garden
Lemon verbena likes full sun and will easily grow up to two metres tall in one summer. If you want a bushier shrub, cut the top off the main stem to encourage side sprouting. It likes well-drained soil and is quite drought hardy. A tropical plant, it won’t survive severe frosts, but in mild frost areas the tops will die back in winter. Give it a severe pruning in mid-spring after the danger of frost has passed and it’ll bounce back.
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Lavender is a popular and ancient herb. There are many different varieties that can be used for ornamental, culinary and medicinal purposes.
In the garden
A native of the Mediterranean, this hardy perennial likes full sun and is drought tolerant. However, it adapts well to a range of climates. It flowers nearly all year round, attracting many beneficial insects with its fragrant purple spears. Its strong-smelling leaves repel moths, mosquitoes, aphids, whitefly and other harmful insects. It is also a rodent repellent, and if rats are a problem, a lavender hedge around a vegetable garden is a good deterrent.
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Grow lavender from seed in seed trays or purchase seedlings. Plant it in well-drained soil with plenty of space for air circulation. Prune in early spring, cutting back about 8cm of growth. Cut the flowers regularly and it will keep producing more.
The strongly scented citronella pelargonium is also known as a mosquito plant because of its insect-repelling qualities. Other pelargoniums that repel insects include the lemon and rose-scented varieties.
In the garden
Pelargoniums like a sunny position with well-drained soil. They don’t like having wet feet or being overwatered. Quite drought tolerant, they’ll survive mild frosts. They are easily propagated from cuttings and I take these towards the end of summer and pot them up. This ensures I still have plants in spring if I lose them to a winter frost. In spring, trim plants back to encourage new leafy growth.
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Rub this moisturising balm on your skin to keep mozzies away. It can also be used in an oil burner heated with a candle.
1 cup olive or coconut oil
1 cup chopped anti-mozzie herbs
25g beeswax, grated
5 drops each lavender, lemon grass and citronella essential oils
Mix the oil and herbs together in a double boiler or a bowl over water and heat gently for about 3 hours. Strain the mixture into a bowl or jug. Wipe the double boiler with paper towel and heat the beeswax until it is just melted. Add the infused oil and stir until mixed. Remove from the heat, stir in the essential oils and transfer to a storage jar.
SOURCES Jane’s Delicious Herbs by Jane Griffiths (Sunbird Publishers, jonathanball.co.za) janesdeliciousgarden.com