Plants that Repel Bees & Wasps

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It may be hard for fellow bee-lovers to hear that some folks want to keep bees away. However, there are some good reasons for wanting flowers that don’t attract insects. Plants that repel bees are often desired by gardeners for several reasons. Perhaps, someone in your family is allergic to stings. Or you may have young children that are very afraid of insects.

Geraniums planted near walkway to repel bees image.

Even a bee friendly garden may have spaces near walkways etc-where a couple of bee repellent plants would fit in nicely. You can have both – those that invite bees and and those that say – no food here!

Use Flowers that do Not Attract Bees

Whether it’s a fear of getting stung, an allergy concern, or simply wanting a bee-free zone, the concept of using plants that repel bees has gained popularity.

There are not a large number of flowering plants that deter bees and wasps. This is because of the beneficial relationship between these two life forms that has developed over millions of years. 

Many plants depend on insect visitors for pollination and seed production. But, not every plant needs insects.

And, some can actually ward off insects through the use of scents or smells. Insects are very sensitive to odors. They show this through their clear preference for some flowers over others.

Bee-repellent plants emit fragrances that can overpower the floral attractants usually found in the surrounding environment, making it harder for bees to detect and locate potential food sources.

Top Garden Plants that Repel Bees

For those spots in the garden where you really want to see color, try to choose plants that are not so attractive to our flying insect friends. Here are a few ideas:

  • basil
  • citronella
  • geraniums
  • marigolds
  • roses (most)
  • wormwood

1. Basil

Basil is a popular plant in most herb gardens. When in bloom, the herb will attract honey bees. However, when not in bloom – insects do not seem to care for the scent of basil.

2. Citronella

Citronella is know for being a plant that repels mosquitos. However, the unique fragrance can also repel wasps and bees.

Do not let get to the bloom stage – prune to prevent flowers. You can also use the essential oil from this plant to make some DIY citronella candles.

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3. Geraniums

Geraniums are not very attractive to bees. They have a strong scent that is off-putting to many insects. They also contain almost no pollen that would entice foragers.

If you choose red geraniums, that is even better because bees see red as black. This dark color is not inviting to a foraging worker.

Red geraniums in a large pot not attractive to bees image.

Geraniums are a tender annual in most locations but they can be grown very well in pots. Include them in your bee friendly landscape if you are particularly fond of the flower or foliage. They are a good choice for seating areas or walkways.

4. Do Marigolds Attract Bees?

Marigolds are often used as a companion plant in the garden because of their capacity to deter some insects that damage our vegetables.

They can also discourage stinging insects from hanging around due to their pungent odor. Marigolds are a human favorite. But, they have very little pleasing fragrance and little pollen. 

Dark orange marigold in field can repel some bees and insects image.

Just having some marigolds does not necessarily discourage hungry honey bees from visiting your garden area.

However, I have not found them to be especially attractive to my bees-even when I had 25 beehives in my apiary.

The bolder oranges and deep reds might be the best color combinations to use if you want to be less inviting to foragers.

During the time of year when marigolds are blooming, the bees often have other nectar sources that they prefer.

5. Roses

Roses are a popular landscape plant that come in many different varieties. You can find roses in every color, shape and bush size. You can even find roses that have been developed for large beautiful blooms and less thorns.

Red rose bushes not as attractive to bees and wasps image.

Roses are not very attractive to honey bees. To increase your chances of seeing fewer of them around your rose bushes, choose red or other dark colors.

Also, avoid roses that are highly scented. Insects are so sensitive to smell. A fragrant aroma is very enticing to a working bee.

6. Wormwood Repels Insects

Wormwood (Artemisia) is one of the few plants that noticeably repel most insects. The strong odor is not offensive to humans but is not favored at all by bees.

This plant is actually a herb that is used for various folk remedies. It is native to Europe but grows well in many other parts of the world. Though many flowering herbs are attractive to bees, this one is not a favorite.

Wormwood plant with silver green leaves  image.

This herbaceous perennial can be found growing wild as it has naturalized wildly across the landscape. Reaching heights of up to 3 ft, the silvery-green leaves are very attractive.

Due to the unique color and leaf structure, Wormwood can be grown as an ornamental. Because it is pollinated by the wind, it has nothing to offer hungry insects.

It is a pretty plant but you may need to stake it if not supported by other foliage. Mine tend to sprawl and fall down in later Summer.

Are There Plants that Repel Wasps But Not Bees?

Honestly, you won’t find many plants that repel wasps. This is because meat eating wasps are actually helpful to plants.

They eat the bugs and pests that harm the plants leaves. So, it would be counterproductive for the plant to want to keep wasps away.

In fact, wasps and bees share some common characteristics – even though – they are very different.

You many certainly see wasps in your garden as they hunt for bugs. And, they visit do flowers and sometimes drink sweet nectar-even though it is not their main diet. 

Try Mint for Wasp Repellant

I have heard that wasps do not like the scent of mint – including the plant known as pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). But, keep in mind that this plant is toxic to pets so it is not suitable for every yard.

Also, mints can go wild, so take care when deciding where to add them. Containers are strongly recommended.

Also, when some types of mint are in bloom you will probably have visiting honey bees who love to work the flowers. Be sure that this temporary influx of bees will not be a problem.

This is something to keep in mind when you are practicing companion planting with bee balm or similar flowers.

In my book, Choosing the Best Flowers for Your Honeybee Garden, I talk about the importance of considering the bloom habit of each flower. If you don’t want bees, avoid those plants most loved by bees.

Don’t Plant Flowers that Bees Love

This may sound like obvious advice but refrain from using bee plants or flowers that attract bees near the areas of the garden that you wish to keep bees away.

Honey bees are attracted to bright colors and sweet-smelling flowers. They visit them to collect plant nectar to make honey and to gather pollen to feed their young.

It is a bit unreasonable to plant flowers they love and expect them to stay away. That sounds rather unnatural doesn’t it?

Do Your Research

Even insects that do not produce large quantities of honey, such as bumble bees, will visit the garden in search of food.

As you plan your garden for this year, do a bit of research. Take the time to read a Flower Gardeners Bible or similar guide.

Know the characteristics of the flowers you want before you buy them. This saves a waste of money, time and effort.

Potted marigolds on porch image.

Non Blooming Plants are Another Option

If your goal is to have more plants that repel bees around, you do have a few choices. The first choice is to consider plants that don’t bloom. 

If there is no food source, hungry bees will spend their time elsewhere. Many shrubs and trees provide shade and border without a nectar rich bloom.

And this does not mean that your garden is “blah”. With various shapes, leaf texture and color, non-blooming plants can be very beautiful.

Interestingly, there are some plants that may be poisonous or harmful to bees. If you have a lot of pollinators in your area, try to avoid these when possible. Our hard working pollinators will appreciate it very much.

Keep Bees Away From Favorite Flowers Naturally

If you have a few special blooming plants that you feel you just can’t live without and want to keep bees away, there are a few things you can try. Just remember you are fighting about nature and you may not win.

Try sprinkling some of these items near the plants you wish to remain bee free and it may discourage them.

  • cucumber peels
  • peppermint leaves
  • organic baby power
  • crushed garlic
  • vanilla extract spray
  • powdered cinnamon
  • apple cider vinegar mixed with water in spray bottle

Please understand that there is a difference between the odor of cucumber peels or crushed peppermint leaves versus having the plant itself growing.

Cucumber plants rely on bees and other pollinators in order to produce fruit. Planting a cucumber plant will not keep wasps or bees away from your patio!

The same is true for peppermint plants. Honey bees love them when they are blooming. While the peppermint oil might discourage visitation – do not let the plant reach bloom stage.

I have also seen articles stating that trumpet flowers repel insects. Well, my honey bees sure don’t know this as I have video of them visiting the blooms.

Sharing the Garden

The final word is that clearly – some flowers are more attractive to bees and wasps than others. If you seek a garden with fewer buzzing insects – don’t choose the plants they love.

If the particular plants that you love are also favorites of pollinating insects, maybe have a bee friendly section of the yard off to one side away from humans.

If a family member is really overly fearful of bees, it is especially important to carefully consider any outside planting. Utilize some of the plants that may help repel some bee traffic in your yard to reduce the number of visiting stingers.

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