Pets are wonderful, but fleas…not so much.
Unfortunately for those of us in warmer climates, fleas can be a nearly year-round nuisance, even with indoor animals.
Luckily, many common can help you repel fleas to keep your family safe without resorting to chemical pesticides. As a bonus, most of these plants smell great to humans, have lovely flowers, and have culinary uses, too!
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of plants that repel fleas and how you can incorporate them into your home gardening.
Garden Plants That Repel Fleas
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Incorporating garden plants that repel fleas is a good idea even if you’re already using houseplants that repel fleas, too. If you can keep fleas and other insects from the grass around the thresholds of your home, the less chance there is that fleas will linger long enough to hitchhike indoors and colonize your home.
Many flea-repellant plants have culinary uses, too. Additionally, a number of these plants also help repel other insects like flea beetles, aphids, and whiteflies.
Below you’ll learn about some of the best plants you can utilize in the garden to keep the fleas away.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Zones: zones 7-11 as a perennial, cooler zones as an annual or container plant
Needs: Well-drained soil and full sun
The essential oil and the powdered versions of rosemary both work well to repel fleas. Planting rosemary near your doors can also help fleas away. While rosemary plants have a pungent herbal scent that most people find pleasant, insects don’t like the scent of it at all.
I used to make a rosemary wash for my dogs to help keep fleas at bay naturally and economically. To make a rosemary flea wash, boil four cups of water with one cup of fresh rosemary leaves. Allow the mixture to steep for at least half an hour. Cool fully before using it to wash your dog. Many sources state to avoid using a rosemary on your cat, but according to the ASPCA rosemary is not toxic to cats.
Along with their ability to repel fleas, sprigs of rosemary can also be harvested from rosemary plants year-round to serve as culinary herbs or to collect for household potpourri.
Rosemary is cold hardy in zones 7 and warmer. It can also be grown in containers and brought inside for the winter in colder climates. Learn more about growing rosemary in this guide to harvesting rosemary. A few varieties, such as “Hills Hardy” are cold tolerant to zone 6.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate rosemary as a flea repellent:
- Prune rosemary in the summer to encourage your plant to produce more tender sprouts. Keeping a rosemary bush pruned keeps the plant from becoming leggy and woody over time.
- Give rosemary plants plenty of room. Rosemary bushes can grow quite large, sprawling to four feet across and four feet tall if allowed space. Spacing out rosemary bushes properly keeps them from becoming rootbound or stunted.
Rosemary is great for repelling fleas, and it also serves to attract beneficial insects to the garden such as bees and other pollinators. This makes it one of the most versatile herbs you can plant.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Zones: zones 5-8 as a perennial, warmer zones as an annual
Needs: Well-drained soil and full sun
Like rosemary, sage is a woody perennial herb that can be grown in the same location again and again each year, making it a great addition to the outdoor garden. It also contains strong aromatic oils that fleas find repellent.
Unlike some flea-repellant plants that can’t survive in cold weather, sage doesn’t like the heat and humidity in zones 9-11.
Along with its ability to keep fleas out of your yard, planting sage in the garden also gives you plenty of access to fresh culinary herbs. Medicinally, sage is used to calm digestive problems.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate sage as a flea repellent:
- Don’t offer too many nutrients. The flavor of sage is somewhat improved by withholding nutrients from it to concentrate the oils inside the leaves. This means it’s a good idea to avoid offering plant food or fertilizers to sage.
- Don’t overwater. Sage benefits from being allowed to dry out, and since it can’t stand to have its roots in soggy soil it’s better to wait until the plant shows visible signs of needing water before giving it some. Sage plants may seem to wilt dramatically when they’re dry, but they perk up easily once they’ve been rehydrated.
The delicious smell of sage lends itself just as well to a Sunday chicken dinner as it does to keeping fleas out of the house. Plant plenty of sage and you’ll have more organic flea repellent than you know what to do with.
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Zones: zones 3-11 (depending on the type)
Needs: Moist soil, full to partial sun
Even though it has long been associated with holiday treats and toothpaste, the strong aromatic oils in peppermint and spearmint are also effective for helping keep fleas away from your yard. The pleasant smell it lends to your yard and its benefit as a plant for pollinators are nice fringe benefits.
As with many other aromatic herbs, mint has been used in the kitchen as well as for its flea-repelling properties. Mint flavoring is commonly added to candies, cookies, cakes, and other desserts. It’s also a popular flavor in tea mixes and can be used to calm digestive issues.
I have to add a note: “Everyone” says that mint needs rich, well-drained soil. I don’t personally think this is the case. Mint is very vigorous and is likely to thrive in virtually any conditions, as long as it receives adequate water. Do not stress the soil conditions for mint too much. I’ve seen mint run wild in clay soil along a creek that floods regularly. At the time of writing, I’ve had a mint plant growing vigorously in a cup of water (I haven’t even added nutrients) for almost two months.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate mint as a flea repellent:
- Keep mint in containers. Mint is a highly invasive plant and planted directly in the garden, mint plants can strangle and take over the entire plot. Once mint has started to run, it can be difficult to eradicate. To avoid this, plant mint in pots. In the garden, planting mint in a pot buried in the ground can help keep the plant contained to one area. This is not foolproof, however: check your mint frequently for runners that are attempting to get out of bounds and trim them back aggressively.
- Cut mint back to keep it from sprawling. Even if you restrict the root system of a mint plant, the plant will tend to spread along the surface of the ground if you don’t keep it trimmed back. Harvesting often can influence the mint plant to grow into a more bushy and compact appearance.
Bonus – mint also makes a delicious fresh tea! Stop by this post on how to harvest mint for ideas on what to do with your bounty of mint.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Zones: zones 9-11 as a perennial, other zones as an annual or container plant
Needs: Moist, rich soil and full sun
Lemongrass is an aromatic herb that thrives in warmer climates. It is frost tender and will die each winter in cooler areas. Lemongrass is one of the best plants you can use in borders and garden beds to help deter insect pests like fleas. The green grassy leaves of the lemongrass look great when paired with other decorative garden flowers outdoors, and this herb can also be used to create herbal teas and recipes.
Like other strongly-scented aromatic oils, fleas and insects can’t stand the smell of lemongrass. Lemongrass oil can be added to dilutions to spray around your home to help repel fleas from the indoors as well as in outdoor areas.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate lemongrass as a flea repellent:
- Grow in a warm sunny spot. Lemongrass is a tropical plant and doesn’t do well in areas that get cool or have shade. Lemongrass plants will usually do best in those areas of your garden which get the most direct sun during the day.
- Plant lemongrass along walkways and sidewalks. Not only is this the perfect place to plant lemongrass where passersby can smell the lemongrass while it’s growing, it’ll also help deter fleas from following visitors inside.
Lemongrass is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines and makes a delicious, refreshing tea. Learn more about lemongrass in this guide to harvesting lemongrass
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Zones: 2-11 (as an annual, zones 10-11 as a perennial)
Needs: Moist, well-drained soil and full to partial sun
Basil is much better known for its use in cooking than its use as a flea repellent, but like other pungent culinary herbs, this herb is another good option for driving off insects. The oils generated by the basil plants are great for using as a flea repellent. These plants are also a welcome addition to many types of traditional cooking cuisines such as Italian and Greek.
To use basil as a flea repellent in the yard, basil should be planted throughout the garden in areas where pest control is required. Because it also grows well indoors and in containers, basil is a good option for placing around the patio to keep fleas from making their way to the doorways from the yard. While these plants won’t kill fleas, the smell of them does a good job of keeping fleas away.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate basil as a flea repellent
- Keep basil watered. Basil struggles when it doesn’t have enough moisture, so keep an eye on basil and make sure that it never dries completely out before you top it off with water.
- Pinch basil back. Pinching off the leaves that sprout up at the tips of your growing basil can help keep the plant bushy and compact. Discover how to harvest basil the right way to keep your plants producing all season long.
- Don’t over-fertilize. Like most herbs, basil is most aromatic when it isn’t fertilized.
Basil is one of the easiest plants to grow in the outdoor garden. It’s beginner-friendly and delicious, too!
I have a popular post on how to harvest basil for an abundant harvest. Follow the instructional video to ensure you have an abundant basil harvest all season long.
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)
Zones: zones 5-9
Needs: Loamy sand, full sun
Citronella is a type of lemongrass with a reddish color, as shown in the photo above. Another plant, frequently called “mosquito plant” is sometimes called citronella. Mosquito plant smells like citronella, but is actually a member of the geranium family. This mosquito plant does not actually produce citronella essential oil, which is what repels insects. Yikes!
If you see something labeled “citronella” or “mosquito plant” that doesn’t look like grass, it doesn’t produce true citronella oil and won’t repel your pests.
Citronella is the main ingredient in several major brands of insect repellent, so it’s no surprise that it acts as an effective flea repellent too. (Citronella oil is actually an EPA registered insect repellant.)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Zones: zones 3-9
Needs: Loamy sand, full sun to partial sun
Chives can be grown outside or indoors as a container plant, if you have enough light. Chives are a member of the allium family (which means they’re related to onions and garlic).
Growing chives indoors is convenient because they can easily be cut for meals. Chive oil can be pressed from chives to add to solutions with other aromatic herbs to form a natural flea repellent spray.
Since it is the chive’s foliage that is repellent to insects, these plants can be grown indoors without worrying if they have enough light to flower.
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Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Zones: zones 2-10
Needs: Well-drained, dry soil and full sun to partial shade
Many people know about thyme’s delicious flavors in the kitchen, but it acts as a fragrant insect repellent for fleas too. An advantage of thyme in the garden is that it grows low to the soil as a ground cover.
This means that thyme can be planted in pathways where it will repel fleas any time someone walks on it. When crushed underfoot, thyme releases a fragrance that naturally repels many insect pests including fleas. Along with being useful as a flea repellent, thyme can also be picked and used either fresh or dried as a savory herb.
Thyme is also a forgiving herb. You basically plant it and ignore it. It’s drought tolerant and does not need fertilizing. It’s cold hardy and will revive itself in the spring after going dormant during the cold of winter.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate thyme as a flea repellent:
- Thyme is friends with rosemary. Both rosemary and thyme like the same type of soil conditions and watering habits, so these two herbs can be planted together to act as a dynamic duo against fleas and other insects. Both plants also enjoy getting plenty of full sun. Learn more about which herbs to plant together in this post.
- Do not overwater or fertilize your thyme. Only offer supplemental water to your thyme if it appears overly dehydrated or off-color. Thyme does not need to be fertilized. A handful of compost or worm castings in the spring will keep it happy all year long.
Thyme grows easily in a wide range of climates and temperature zones. This makes it a steadfast ally against fleas in the garden. Discover more about growing and harvesting thyme in this post.
Zones: zones 3-11
Needs: Loamy sand, full to partial sun
Marigolds need plenty of strong sunlight to thrive, which makes them a good choice in your flea repellent arsenal in the garden. You can also cut marigolds and bring them indoors.
Here are some tips for how to cultivate marigolds as a flea repellent:
- Deadheading encourages blooms. Once a bloom on a marigold starts to fade, cutting it off will encourage the plant to put out new flower buds. Doing this every day or every other day can drastically increase the number of blooms you get from a marigold plant.
- Use potted marigolds as borders. Marigolds can be planted in pots both in the vegetable garden and around the edge of the patio to form an insect repellent barrier that will not only drive off fleas but also other annoying backyard pests such as mosquitoes.
There are so many types of marigolds that anybody can find at least one type that they like. These flowers also do double duty by deterring other garden pests such as flea beetles and cabbage moths.
Marigolds are easy to grow from seed and will self-seed readily. This means you can plant marigolds once and have them re-seed themselves year after year.
Zones: zones 5-9
Needs: Loamy sand, full sun
Lavender has long been sought out by gardeners and farmers for its strong perfume, beautiful flowers, and culinary qualities. This fragrant herb is also a great flea repellent. Lavender is often used in borders for its beautiful scent and its ability to attract butterflies and bees. It is also used in both bath products and culinary creations, especially southern French cuisine.
As a flea repellent, lavender can be grown outdoors and picked for fresh-cut flowers. It can also be harvested for its essential oil to be used in spray solutions, or dried in sachets to place in nooks and crannies where insects might be likely to hide indoors.
Unfortunately, lavender is not a fan of humidity. Make sure to seek out varieties that are known for their humidity tolerance if you live in the Southeast. Lavender also does not tolerate acidic soil or wet feet. If you have acidic soil or poorly-drained soil, grow lavender as a container plant.
Here are a few tips for cultivating lavender as a flea repellent:
- Soil is important. Lavender will not grow well at all in heavy or clay soils, and would prefer a soil that is more sand than dirt in many cases. Keep in mind the dry, hot, sunny Mediterranean origins of this plant to help keep it happy.
- Don’t overwater. Lavender doesn’t like soggy roots. Overwatering and selecting the wrong type of lavender for more humid climates are major causes of failure when people try to grow lavender. Watering should not be performed unless the first few inches of soil that the lavender is planted in are dry when you put a finger down in it. High levels of humidity in the air can also lead to problems with lavender.
Lavender may drive the fleas out of your yard, but it’ll bring the pollinators in droves. For this reason, you should be careful when planting lavender near entryways where houseguests might have to dodge bees on their way in the door.
Lavender is challenging to grow from seed. Instead, opt for a live lavender plant.
Flea-Repellent Plants for Cats
One of the reasons gardeners may want to invest in flea-repellent plants indoors is if they have cats. With indoor cats, it’s important to choose plants that have some degree of repellent properties for insects like fleas without being toxic to the cats if the cats decide to nibble on them.
The best indoor plant to grow as a flea repellent for cats is catnip, also known as catmint. This relative of the mint family holds a special significance as a flea-repellent plant for cats. Cats can safely chew or eat it without being at risk from toxins like they would be with some other houseplants.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Zones: zones 3-9
Needs: Well-drained soil, full sun to partial shade
This European relative of mint was introduced to the Americas in the 1800s, and people have been using it to make their cats silly ever since. Catnip has also been used historically in medicinal preparations and cooking.
A major benefit of using catnip as an indoor plant for deterring fleas is that your cat gets to enjoy the plants and get a dose of flea repellent at the same time. By chewing on and rubbing up against these intoxicating plants, cats cover themselves with a scent that fleas hate.
Here are a few tips for cultivating catnip as a flea repellent:
- Be sure to plant extra. Cats love to eat and chew on catnip, and this means that if your cat takes a particular liking to it, it might not be long for this world. Be sure to get plenty of backup pots so that if one of the catnip plants gets too much attention and becomes tattered, it can be replaced with cuttings from the others.
Be aware that catnip will draw any cats in the house to investigate it, so you probably don’t want to put an indoor catnip plant on a windowsill where it can be easily knocked over. Instead, placing catnip under a grow light ensures that it gets plenty of sunlight for growth whether it’s near a sunny window or not.
Because catnip is so popular, it’s easy to find affordable catnip plants online.
If you are trying to control a flea problem in the yard or indoors without having to resort to harsh chemical insecticides, filling your home and garden with plants that fleas naturally find repulsive will go a long way towards making sure you never have to deal with a flea infestation.
Using fresh flea repellent plants and also processing them into forms such as potpourri and sprays can help spread the influence of these plants throughout the household. The greatest thing about using flea repellent plants in your home is that most of these plants smell great to people. It’s a win-win!
Natasha Garcia-Lopez is an avoid home-gardener and proud owner of 88 acres of land in rural West Virginia. She was a member of the Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums for many years and is currently enrolled in the Oregon State University Master Gardner Short Course program so she can better assist you with your gardening questions.She holds a certificate in natural skincare from the School of Natural Skincare.