How To Plant And Care For Citronella Plant

Citronella plants, known for their aromatic leaves and natural mosquito-repelling properties, make an excellent addition to gardens and outdoor spaces.

To ensure these fragrant wonders thrive, it’s essential to understand the nuances of planting, fostering growth, and providing proper care.

In this guide, we’ll explore the steps to planting, growth and care for vibrant citronella plants.

What You Will Learn?

What is Citronella Plant

Citronella Plant
Citronella Plant
Common NameCitronella Plant
Botanical NameCymbopogon nardus or Pelargonium citrosum
Plant TypePerennial grass or scented geranium
FamilyPoaceae (Cymbopogon nardus), Geraniaceae (Pelargonium citrosum)
Native toSoutheast Asia (Cymbopogon nardus), hybrid cultivar (Pelargonium citrosum)
Soil NeedsWell-draining, sandy or loamy soil
Sunlight NeedsFull sun
Growing ZonesUSDA zones 10-12 (Cymbopogon nardus), typically grown as an annual in cooler climates; Pelargonium citrosum is often grown as a potted plant
Height/SpreadVaries by species, commonly 2-4 feet in height (Cymbopogon nardus); Pelargonium citrosum is typically smaller, around 1-2 feet
Pot Type NeedsSuitable for containers, hanging baskets, or garden beds
Soil pH NeedsSlightly acidic to neutral (Cymbopogon nardus); adaptable (Pelargonium citrosum)
ColorsGreen foliage (Cymbopogon nardus); green leaves with a lemony scent (Pelargonium citrosum)
Where to PlantGardens, outdoor containers, near seating areas
PestsGenerally resistant to pests, may repel mosquitoes
DiseasesResistant to most diseases, no serious disease issues reported
Growth HabitUpright, clumping grass (Cymbopogon nardus); compact, bushy habit (Pelargonium citrosum)
ToxicityNon-toxic to humans and pets
PropagationDivision (Cymbopogon nardus); cuttings (Pelargonium citrosum)
MaintenanceRegular watering, pruning to control size
Drought TolerantModerately drought-tolerant
LifespanPerennial (Cymbopogon nardus); often grown as an annual in colder climates (Pelargonium citrosum)
Watering NeedsKeep the soil consistently moist
Feeding NeedsFertilize in the growing season with a balanced fertilizer
FragranceCitrusy, lemon-scented leaves (Pelargonium citrosum)
An informative table about the Citronella Plant (Cymbopogon nardus or Pelargonium citrosum).

What is a Citronella Plant good for?

Grow Citronella Plant
Grow Citronella Plant

Here are compelling reasons why growing Citronella (Mosquito Plant) is a wise choice for both seasoned gardeners and those just beginning their horticultural journey.

Natural Mosquito Repellent:

  • Citronella Oil: The leaves of citronella plants contain citronella oil, a natural mosquito repellent.
  • Outdoor Protection: Planting citronella near outdoor seating areas provides an effective, chemical-free defense against mosquitoes.

Fragrant Ambiance:

  • Lemon-Fresh Scent: Citronella plants exude a refreshing lemon fragrance when their leaves are crushed.
  • Outdoor Atmosphere: Enhance the ambiance of your garden or patio with the natural and invigorating scent of citronella.

Low-Maintenance Beauty:

  • Adaptability: Citronella plants are hardy and adaptable, making them suitable for both beginners and experienced gardeners.
  • Versatile Growing Options: They thrive in gardens, flower beds, and even in containers, providing versatility in planting choices.

Container Gardening Convenience:

  • Move Indoors: Container-grown citronella plants offer the flexibility to be moved indoors during colder seasons.
  • Decorative Containers: Showcase the beauty of citronella in decorative containers that complement your outdoor decor.

Homemade Insect Repellents:

  • DIY Bug Sprays: Extracted citronella oil can be used to create homemade insect repellents.
  • Safe Alternatives: DIY repellents made with citronella are a safe and natural alternative to commercial chemical-based products.

Companion Planting Benefits:

  • Strategic Pairing: Planting citronella alongside other mosquito-repelling plants, like lavender or rosemary, creates a synergistic effect.
  • Holistic Pest Management: Companion planting contributes to an overall pest-resistant garden.

Harvesting for Practical Use:

  • Home Fragrance: Harvested citronella leaves can be used to make scented candles and potpourri.
  • Personalized Decor: Infuse your living spaces with the invigorating scent of homemade citronella creations.

Visual Appeal in the Garden:

  • Green Elegance: The vibrant green leaves of citronella plants add a touch of elegance to any garden.
  • Contrasting Beauty: The visual appeal of citronella plants enhances the overall aesthetics of your outdoor space.

Therapeutic Benefits:

  • Stress Reduction: The scent of citronella has potential stress-relieving properties.
  • Outdoor Relaxation: Enjoy the therapeutic benefits of citronella while unwinding in your garden.

How To Plant Citronella Plant

Plant Citronella Plant
Citronella Plant

Choosing the Right Location:

  • Full Sun Exposure: Citronella plants thrive in full sunlight. Pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight every day.
  • Avoid Shade: Avoid planting in shaded areas, as citronella plants require ample sunlight for optimal growth.

Well-Draining Soil Conditions:

  • Preventing Waterlogging: Citronella plants prefer well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging. The best soil is sandy or loamy with good drainage.
  • Soil pH: Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH for optimal nutrient absorption.

Planting Time:

  • Spring to Early Summer: The best time to plant citronella is in the spring to early summer when the soil has warmed up.
  • Frost Protection: If in a region with late frosts, consider waiting until after the last frost to avoid potential damage.

Container Planting:

  • Versatile Containers: Citronella plants adapt well to containers. Use well-draining potting mix and ensure containers have drainage holes.
  • Mobility: Container planting allows you to move the plants indoors during colder seasons, providing year-round enjoyment.

Digging the Planting Hole:

  • Ample Space: Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball of the citronella plant.
  • Proper Depth: The depth should be equal to the height of the root ball.
  • Breaking Up Soil: Loosen the soil in the planting hole to improve aeration and root penetration.
  • Mixing Amendments: Incorporate organic matter like compost to enrich the soil.

Placing and Planting the Citronella

  • Careful Extraction: Gently remove the citronella plant from its container.
  • Inspecting Roots: Check the roots for any signs of damage or entanglement.
  • Center Placement: Position the citronella plant in the center of the planting hole.
  • Adjusting Depth: Ensure the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.

Filling the Hole:

  • Using Existing Soil: Backfill the hole with the soil you removed during digging.
  • Gentle Tamping: Tamp the soil gently around the base of the plant to remove air pockets.

Watering Thoroughly:

  • Initial Hydration: Water the newly planted citronella thoroughly to settle the soil.
  • Moist, Not Waterlogged: Ensure the soil is moist but not waterlogged.

How To Care For Citronella Plants

Care For Citronella Plant

Caring for citronella plants involves more than just watering and sunlight. To ensure these aromatic wonders thrive and provide natural mosquito repellent benefits, follow this comprehensive guide on how to care for your citronella plants.

Total Time: 365 days

Full Sun Requirements:

Ideal Temperature

Sunlight Duration: Citronella plants thrive in full sunlight. Make sure they get at least 6 hours of sunlight directly every day.
Avoiding Shade: Choose a location that avoids shade to maximize the plant’s growth and fragrance production.

Watering Routine:

Watering Practices

Regular Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry spells. Give the plant water when the upper part of the soil feels dry.
Avoid Overwatering: Citronella plants are susceptible to root rot, so avoid overwatering and ensure proper drainage.
Establishment Period: Water the newly planted citronella regularly during the first few weeks to support establishment.
Gradual Reduction: Gradually reduce the frequency as the plant becomes established.

Well-Draining Soil Conditions:

Prepare the Soil

Choosing Soil: Citronella plants prefer well-draining soil. Opt for sandy or loamy soil with good drainage to prevent waterlogging.
Soil pH: Aim for a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH for optimal nutrient absorption.

Rainwater Preference:

Natural Rainfall: Whenever possible, use rainwater for irrigation. Citronella plants respond well to the natural nutrients present in rainwater.
Collecting Rainwater: Set up rain barrels to collect and store rainwater for your citronella plants.

Balanced Fertilizer Application:


Slow-Release Fertilizer: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer during the growing season to provide essential nutrients.
Frequency: Fertilize every 4-6 weeks, following package instructions for proper application rates.
Organic Alternatives: Consider organic fertilizers rich in nitrogen to promote lush foliage. Well-composted manure or organic plant food can be beneficial.
Avoid Over-Fertilization: Moderation is key to prevent excessive growth that may compromise the plant’s natural aroma.

Pruning Citronella Leaves:


Encouraging Bushy Growth: Regularly prune the tips of the plant to encourage bushy growth and maintain a desirable shape.
Trimming Spent Leaves: Remove yellow or damaged leaves to keep the plant healthy and visually appealing.

Harvesting Citronella Oil:

Timing for Harvest: Harvest citronella leaves when the plant is actively growing. The oils are most concentrated during this period.
Distillation Process: If interested in extracting citronella oil, consider the distillation process using the harvested leaves.

Overwintering Citronella Plants:

Before Frost Sets In: In colder climates, consider moving potted citronella plants indoors before the first frost.
Protecting Roots: If planted in the ground, provide a thick layer of mulch around the base to insulate the roots.

Mulching for Moisture Retention:

Benefits of Mulch: Apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the citronella plant.
Preventing Weeds: Mulch helps retain soil moisture, regulates temperature, and prevents weed growth.

Monitoring Growth:

Planting Lollipop Plant Photo

Observing Leaves: Regularly inspect the leaves for signs of pests or diseases.
Pruning Damaged Parts: Prune any damaged or yellowing leaves to encourage healthy growth.

Dealing with Common Citronella Plant Issues

Yellowing Leaves:

  • Possible Causes: Yellowing leaves may indicate overwatering, underwatering, or nutrient deficiencies.
  • Solution: Adjust your watering routine, ensuring the soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged. Consider applying a balanced fertilizer if nutrient deficiencies are suspected.

Common Pests Affecting Citronella Plants:


  • Identification: Small, soft-bodied insects often found on the underside of leaves.
  • Damage: Aphids eat the juice from plants, making the leaves bend, turn yellow, and change shape.


  • Identification: Small, white, cottony insects often found in clusters on leaves and stems.
  • Damage: Mealybugs suck sap from the plant, leading to stunted growth and a weakened appearance.

Spider Mites:

  • Identification: Tiny, spider-like pests often visible in fine webbing on the plant.
  • Damage: Spider mites suck sap from leaves, causing stippling, yellowing, and eventual leaf drop.

Scale Insects:

  • Identification: Small, round or oval-shaped insects that attach themselves to stems and leaves.
  • Damage: Scales feed on plant sap, leading to yellowing, wilting, and a general decline in plant health.

Natural and Chemical Pest Control Options:

Insecticidal Soap:

  • Application: Use insecticidal soap to control aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites.
  • Effectiveness: This organic option is effective in reducing pest populations without harming beneficial insects.

Neem Oil:

  • Application: Neem oil is a natural insecticide that controls a range of pests, including mealybugs and scale insects.
  • Mode of Action: Neem oil disrupts the feeding and reproductive cycle of pests.

Predatory Insects:

  • Introduction: Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs and predatory mites to control aphids and spider mites.
  • Natural Balance: Predatory insects help maintain a natural balance in the garden ecosystem.

Chemical Insecticides:

  • Caution: If infestations are severe, chemical insecticides can be used as a last resort.
  • Read Labels: Follow product instructions carefully and choose products labeled for the specific pests affecting your citronella plants.

Common Diseases Affecting Citronella Plants:

Root Rot:

  • Cause: Overwatering and poorly draining soil can lead to root rot.
  • Symptoms: Yellowing leaves, wilting, and a foul odor from the soil are indicative of root rot.

Powdery Mildew:

  • Cause: Humid conditions and poor air circulation contribute to powdery mildew.
  • Symptoms: White, powdery spots on leaves, which can affect plant vigor.

Preventing and Managing Diseases:

Well-Draining Soil:

  • Prevention: Ensure well-draining soil to prevent waterlogged conditions leading to root rot.
  • Amendments: Add organic matter to improve soil structure.

Proper Watering Practices:

  • Prevention: Avoid overwatering by allowing the top inch of soil to dry before watering.
  • Consistent Moisture: Maintain consistent soil moisture without creating waterlogged conditions.

Pruning for Air Circulation:

  • Prevention: Prune the plant to promote air circulation, reducing the risk of powdery mildew.
  • Remove Affected Parts: If powdery mildew is present, remove affected leaves to prevent its spread.


Citronella Plants
Citronella Plants

Planting citronella is not just about adding a fragrant plant to your garden; it’s an investment in natural mosquito control and a sensory delight.

By following these planting guidelines, you lay the foundation for a flourishing citronella plant that will bring both fragrance and functionality to your outdoor space.

Cultivating citronella plants is not just about growing a green addition to your garden; it’s a strategic decision that combines practicality, aesthetics, and a natural solution to pesky mosquitoes.

As you embark on the journey of growing citronella, you’re not just nurturing a plant; you’re investing in a fragrant and functional oasis that enhances your outdoor living experience.

Embrace the allure of citronella, and let its fragrant presence elevate your garden into a haven of both beauty and practicality.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does citronella repel mosquitoes?

Citronella is a fragrant plant known for its lemon-fresh scent. It contains citronella oil, a natural mosquito repellent.
The strong aroma masks other scents that attract mosquitoes, making it an effective deterrent.

Can I grow citronella indoors?

Yes, citronella can be grown indoors, especially in colder climates. Use well-draining potting mix, place the plant in a sunny window, and consider moving it outdoors during warmer seasons.

How often should I water my citronella plant?

Give your citronella plant some water when the upper part of the soil feels dry. Keep the soil always a little wet, but be careful not to give too much water to avoid root rot.

Does citronella plant like sun or shade?

Citronella plants thrive in full sunlight. Ensure they receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal growth and fragrance production.

Can I use citronella leaves to make mosquito repellent at home?

Yes, citronella leaves can be used to make homemade mosquito repellents. Crush the leaves to release the citronella oil, which can be applied directly or infused into oils, lotions, or candles.

Are there different varieties of citronella plants?

Yes, there are different varieties of citronella plants. While the true citronella plant is Cymbopogon nardus, other plants with a similar lemony scent, like citronella geranium, are often referred to as citronella.

How do I protect my citronella plant from frost?

In colder climates, consider moving potted citronella plants indoors before the first frost. For plants in the ground, apply a thick layer of mulch around the base to insulate the roots.

Can I plant citronella alongside other herbs and flowers?

Yes, citronella can be planted alongside other herbs like lavender and rosemary, creating a synergistic effect for enhanced mosquito resistance. It also pairs well with flowers like marigolds and petunias.

Is citronella safe for pets?

Citronella is generally safe for pets, but some animals may be sensitive to the scent. Monitor your pets for any adverse reactions, and consider consulting with a veterinarian if you have concerns.

Do citronella plants really keep mosquitoes away?

Citronella plants contain citronella oil, which is known for its mosquito-repelling properties. However, their effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes may vary, and they might not provide complete protection.

Do citronella plants smell?

Yes, citronella plants have a distinct citrus-like scent due to the presence of citronella oil in their leaves. When the leaves are crushed or rubbed, they release this aromatic oil, which is often used in candles, sprays, and other products to repel mosquitoes.

What is the number one plant to repel mosquitoes?

The number one plant often recommended for repelling mosquitoes is the citronella plant (Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus). It contains citronella oil, which is known for its mosquito-repelling properties.

Do citronella plants come back every year?

Citronella plants are typically grown as annuals in cooler climates, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season and do not come back the following year. However, in warmer climates where temperatures do not drop below freezing, citronella plants may survive and return year after year as perennials.

Author Profile

Leafy Lines
Leafy Lines
Step into the world of plants and flowers brought to you by Leafy Lines, a devoted gardening lover and someone who enjoys playing with words about all things botanical.
With a love for nature and a talent for growing things, Leafy Lines is here to be your companion in the vibrant world of plants and gardening.
Leafy Lines started a gardening adventure driven by a passion to create, nurture, and feel connected to the earth. From the initial steps into potting soil to the thriving garden today, the path has been filled with trying new things, gaining knowledge, and a profound recognition of the therapeutic joys that come with gardening.

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