How to Plant Citronella


The summer season has here, and with it comes the buzzing of mosquitoes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could avoid using DEET while simultaneously taking pleasure in a beautiful plant with a pleasant aroma on your patio? To be fair, the citronella plant does have a pleasant aroma, but contrary to popular belief, it does not successfully ward off mosquitoes. At least, this is not the case when the plant is contained inside a container and is only serving as an ornamental addition to your space.

Does Citronella Repel Mosquitoes?

To begin, a brief explanation on the nature of the citronella plant is in order as follows: The fragrant geranium Pelargonium citrosum ‘Van Leenii, sometimes known as the “mosquito plant” for its capacity to ward off mosquitoes, is typically what is meant when people talk about the “citronella” plant. According to the CAB International’s Invasive Species Compendium, citronella is actually a tropical plant that is a grass that can grow up to 6 feet in height and is known scientifically as Cymbopogon nardus (L.) Rendle. This grass is the source of the citronella oil that is used in commercial products. According to Floridata, citronella grass can thrive in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12 and has stems that resemble canes. Its leaves are flat and a grayish-green colour. In order to successfully cultivate citronella grass or scented geraniums, you’ll need plenty of sun and mild weather.

In spite of the fact that they are not related, Pelargonium citrosum and Cymbopogon nardus both exude a peculiar aroma that has been described as having a hint of lemon and is said to be effective in warding off mosquitoes. But is this really the case? According to the findings of research cited by the National Gardening Association, the plant Pelargonium citrosum has no impact on mosquitoes until the leaves are crushed in order to release the aroma contained inside them. When this occurs, they briefly give somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the potency of the repellent DEET, which is routinely marketed.

However, there are other plants that give a higher level of protection; for instance, it has been shown that crushed lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus) provides 62 percent of the protection that DEET does. Even more amazing is the fact that lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, has 400 times the amount of citronella smell than the citrosa plant has. In addition to this, lemon balm is known to bring in helpful insects to your yard.

How to Grow Citronella Geranium (Pelargonium citrosum)

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the “citronella geranium,” also known as Pelargonium citrosum, is a member of the group of scented geraniums. This group includes a number of different varieties, some of which have a rose perfume while others have an apple or lemon aroma. It is often cultivated as an annual, with a height range of 14–18 inches, and a spread range of 12–18 inches. It thrives in USDA zones 10–11 and grows to a height of 14–18 inches. Once it has established, this plant can withstand a fair amount of drought and requires very little maintenance after that. The majority of people think of it as having a perfume similar to citronella, despite the fact that it has a scent that is slightly reminiscent of lemon.

This “mosquito plant” should be planted in the spring after the last frost when the soil is warm. Bonnie Plants suggests growing citronella at the same time you plant tomatoes. A sunny site with some afternoon shadow is ideal for growing pelargonium, and the soil should be fairly rich and have good drainage. Your plants will benefit from the addition of three inches of old compost, which should be raked into the top six inches of soil. This plant has the potential to become extremely woody by the end of the summer.

How to Grow Citronella Grass

According to Floridata, citronella grass does not do well in winters that are cold and wet since it requires a warm environment, consistent irrigation, a lengthy growth season, and full light. Because of this, it is often cultivated as an annual and must be transplanted each spring in order to maintain its growth. According to Mountain Valley Growers, it also demands soil that has a good drainage system. Plant it in your garden in a sunny place after the last frost for your region has passed, and make sure to give it enough of water during the growing season. It’s quite similar to the Pelargonium citrosum.

Instead of spreading via runners as many types of grass do, citronella develops into dense clusters as it matures. Plant it in a container and bring it inside well before your first frost if you want to keep it alive over the winter. The staff at Mountain Valley Growers suggests cutting it down to just three inches and placing it in a location that gets enough of sunlight.