For most of us, the thought of a blood-sucking parasite is like something out of a horror film. But people are bitten by blood-sucking, parasitic arthropods all the time. These include mosquitoes, bed bugs, and ticks. These vampiric arachnids are small enough to go unseen, which lets them sneak onto the bodies of humans and animals, get their fill, and then detach themselves, spreading diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever in their wake.
The best tick-prevention strategy is to keep them away from you and your family so they can’t bite you. One way to do this is by planting tick-repelling plants.
How do Plants Repel Ticks?
Plants can help control ticks in two important ways:
Plants produce all sorts of powerful chemicals to deter animals from eating them. While ticks do not eat plants, some of the chemicals that plants produce can work to keep ticks at bay.
Keeping Mice and Deer Away
The bigger secret of these tick-repellent plants is that they aren’t appetizing to the animals that ticks live on. While ticks will definitely bite humans too, animals like mice and deer are a core part of the tick life cycle and are their main means of getting around. If you keep these animals away from your yard, you are much less likely to find ticks.
10 Plants that Repel Ticks
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is a very common herb used in cooking. It has a beautiful, earthy smell, which indicates that the plant produces a lot of essential oils. These oils have been shown to be repellent to ticks. Additionally, deer hate rosemary, along with most herbs.
Rosemary is a pretty easy plant to grow. It’s easiest to grow it from a cutting rather than directly from seeds. Wait until the new cutting roots in a pot indoors before transplanting outside. Rosemary is pretty hardy, so it can survive most conditions, but it prefers things hot and dry. If you somewhere especially cold and wet, consider keeping your rosemary in a large planter so you can move it if you need to.
Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium) is a bitter, perennial herb that is commonly grown as an ornamental plant in the United States (there are also many native Artemesia species that are also tick-repellent). Artemesia plants produce tick-repellent compounds, and they are also ignored by tick hosts like deer and mice because of their bitter taste.
Some Artemisia species grow happily in the wild, so you may already have some around your property. If you’d like to put some in your flowerbed, it should be planted in spring in a sunny location with well-drained soil.
Garlic (Alium sativa) is a close relative of the onion and one of the most delicious plants for humans. It is also one of the smelliest plants. This makes it highly unappetizing to animal pests. Extracts from garlic have been shown in lab studies to repel ticks, and, like all smelly plants, deer can’t stand the stuff.
Garlic can be planted in the fall or the spring and is one of the easiest edible plants to grow. You can grow a whole garlic plant from a single clove from the grocery store – just plant it in a sunny location with well-drained soil and cover in about 1-2 inches of soil (adding a layer of mulch for winter protection).
Lavender (Lavandula) is a genus of flowering plants that are close relatives of mint. They are known for their lovely purple flowers and beautiful scent. Lavender essential oil is also used as a tick repellent, so these are great tick-repelling plants to keep around.
Lavender grows in most climates, but it grows best in hot and dry places since it is native to the Mediterranean. It is best grown from a living plant, so check with your local nursery or neighbors to get some. Plant in the spring, and consider keeping it in a planter if you live somewhere with cold, wet winters.
Mint (Mentha) is a group of closely related herb species that also includes pennyroyal. They have a high concentration of essential oils, which is exactly what you want in a tick-repellent plant. This also gives them their distinctive minty scent.
Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow, so it’s a great start if you’re new to gardening. Start seeds in late winter so you can plant outside in the spring. Mint will spread like wildfire, so use mulch to prevent this if you like. But if you’re trying to prevent ticks, you may want as much as you can get!
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon) is a group of grassy, lemon-smelling species that are a pleasant complement to lavender. This plant is also the source of citronella oil. Like any oil-rich plant, they are repulsive to tick-carrying animal and their concentrates have been shown to kill ticks. Another bonus is that lemongrass is delicious as an extra flavoring in many styles of cooking.
Lemongrass is a sub-tropical plant, so it is best kept in pots to bring in for the winter in all but the hottest, swampiest states. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward to grow. It needs full sun, plenty of water, and well-draining soil. It’ll spread on its own, too! Make sure to fertilize with compost if you are growing it in a pot as well.
Geraniums are a large group of flowering plants that also go by the name cranesbill. They are very beautiful, so they make a great addition to a garden. But like many beautiful things in nature, they are also highly toxic, so deer and ticks stay far away. Unfortunately, they’re also toxic for your cats and dogs, so be careful. Most animals can instinctively keep away from toxic plants, but accidents happen!
Geraniums require extra digging and pruning to maintain over the winter, so they are usually sold as annuals. This means buying new plants every year. Plant in the spring in a spot with morning sun and afternoon partial shade.
Marigold (Tagetes) is a group of plants that make puffy, yellow-orange flowers. They give off a strong scent that is very repellent to ticks and mice. Deer will eat it if there’s nothing else tasty around, but don’t prefer it.
Marigolds are easy to grow from seeds or can be bought from a nursery. Marigolds are annuals, but they leave seeds behind that can overwinter and grow the next year, so sometimes they get confused for perennials. If you grow from seeds, start them about two months before the usual last frost date. Otherwise, plant in the spring in full sun.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a great plant for repelling pests and animals. It is an evergreen herb with lustrous, blue-green leaves. Rue is a strong disinfectant and can also be used as a flea treatment by rubbing the leaves on animal fur. Extracts from Rue have been shown to be toxic to ticks.
Rue can thrive even in poor soil. It needs a lot of light, but not much water. Rue is also an evergreen, so it will last through the winter. Take care when handling Rue, since the same oils that keep pests away can also cause blistering and rashes on human skin.
Chrysanthemums are the original pesticide, since one of the most common pesticides for ticks and other arthropods (permethrin) is designed to mimic the compounds naturally produced by chrysanthemums. They are certainly one of the most beautiful plants on this list, so they make a great addition to any garden.
These are hardy perennials that are most beautiful in the fall. If you’re just getting started, plant in the spring so they have time to get comfortable before the fall. Buying beautiful fall mums and trying to plant those seems easier, but planting in spring is a better long-term investment.
Tick-Repelling Plant FAQ’s
Oftentimes, yes! While the exact effects of each plant on each pest may vary (and is hard to predict with certainty because there are so many factors involved), most compounds that are repellent to one pest are repellent to others. For example, lemongrass is good for ticks, but also is where citronella (a mosquito repellent) comes from.
Some of the plants on this list like geraniums and chrysanthemums can be toxic to cats and dogs. However, in general, these animals know to keep away from them because they are naturally turned-off by the smell. This is evolution’s way of keeping them safe. Unless your dog has a habit of eating everything in sight in the garden, you should be safe. You can also try hanging pots that pets can’t reach if you’re very concerned.
Unfortunately, most of the research around these plants for ticks specifically is using high-concentration extracts or essential oils, so it’s not entirely proven that whole plants have a significant effect. This would be really hard to prove in any case because there are so many factors at play in a garden ecosystem. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the plants on this list keep away ticks and the animals that carry them so that definitely counts for something.
Plant-based defenses will only go so far, since the animals that carry ticks can be persistent. The only surefire way to keep these animals away is to fence them out. To keep ticks away from you, your family, and pets, repellents (DEET-based for humans, permethrin for animals) will do the job nicely. It’s also important to check for ticks every day. This is especially true if you spend a lot of time outside in the woods.