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How to Take Care of a Citronella Plant

Are you wondering How to Take care of a Citronella plant? Maybe you’re thinking about growing a few of these Tropical grass-looking plants need to know how to plant Citronella before you begin?

Today’s article is all about Citronella Plant Care, or specifically, How to care for Citronella plants.

How to grow them, why you should grow them, and how to care for them after you get them home.  You also may be interested to know whether citronella plants are perennials.  And the answer is Yes –  in USDA plant zones 9b-11 it should come up every year, and in other colder climate zones, it is either removed, left in the ground to die, or moved indoors to enjoy for the winter season.

Are birds eating your grass seed? Read how to keep them off your grass here!

Over the years many people have touted that the Citronella plant is capable of keeping mosquitoes away. And although this isn’t totally false (the citronella oil extracted from crushing the leaves acts as a mosquito repellant), it may not be the miraculous anti-mosquito plant botanists have claimed it to be.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any reason to get some of these plants, as they really are quite beautiful.  Just be aware that the most common “Citronella” plants sold at the big box stores are actually a Citronella “Geranium”, which is shown in our photo above – the image with “pink flowers”.

Citronella Plant - Best Home Gear
Citronella Plant – Besthomegear.com

The “Real Citronella plant” commonly called the Mosquito plant, is actually a Citronella “Grass” plant. Citronella is also referred to as Lemongrass.  It looks like this image to the left:  It’s a beautiful, ornamental grass that is also highly used in Asian Medicinal and Food recipes.

This is an extremely fragrant plant and is also the same Citronella that is used in candles and Essential oils.

So whatever name you refer to, It’s the real deal, and holds its own in the plant world, in spite of its lack of a pink or lavender bouquet.


What Does the Citronella Plant Need for Survival?

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has taken elementary science classes. This plant needs sunlight, food, and water (huh, come to think of it, plants aren’t all that different from us).

But of course, plants aren’t all created equally. You’ve got to care for each one separately, and very few of them have the same needs.

Thankfully, these lemony plants aren’t nearly as picky as a lot of other breeds, making them perfect plants for almost any household. Even if you don’t have anywhere to put them outside.

Which Plants actually Do Repel Mosquitos?

If you would like to know which 9 plants Are in fact rated the highest for repelling mosquitoes, check out this video:




How To Grow Citronella Plants (FAQ)


Where Do Citronella Plants Grow Best?

The Citronella plant is one of the most versatile plants to grow. These plants can flourish both indoors, as well as outdoors. They are a great year-round plant that survives in a multitude of climates.

However, they should be brought inside before the winter frost begins to hit, That is if you want them to still be around when springtime rolls back around.

How Much Sun Does a Citronella Plant Need?

As we all know, plants need the sun in order to grow and synthesize. Without sunlight, they simply wither and die. Care for the Citronella plant, like many other plants, requires no less than six hours of sunlight per day.

Even though they require up to six hours a day of sunlight, it doesn’t necessarily require direct sunlight.

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Citronella plant is that it is able to survive in shade, as well as direct sunlight.

How Do You Prune Citronella?

prune citronella plant - best home gear
How To Prune Citronella Plant – Besthomegear.com


Citronella plants can grow quite large (anywhere between two and four feet in height), and because of this, you are going to have to prune them.

Pruning the plant will allow the beautiful lavender blooms to show themselves, creating the scenic blossom and heavenly fragrance that Citronella plants are so well known for.

You should prune these plants in the late winter and/or early spring in order to get the perfect shape, along with the beautiful blooming flowers.

You should also pinch off any yellow or dead foliage on the plant. This will stimulate growth.

Pruning these plants is also important because they are typically placed along entrance walkways and patios. Nobody wants plants spilling over into their line of travel.

What Type of Food Do Citronella Plants Require?

Plants are just like us, and they need food just as we do. If you want your new Citronella plant (or plants) to grow to its maximum potential, then you can’t skimp on prices when it comes to the soil that you purchase.

The fastest-growing type of fertilizer for these plants  – and this rings true for pretty much all plants – is 5-10-15 fertilizer.

This means the fertilizer is 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 5 % potassium. You can also use 10-10-10 if you’d like to.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure you water the soil too. But make sure you are watering around the plant (especially as it is in its stages of infancy) to keep the water from damaging the foliage.

Where Should You Plant Citronella?

As we mentioned earlier, one of the best things about the Citronella plant is that it can survive almost anywhere. They can especially look great near walks, porches, and even in gardens.

Whether you choose to keep them indoors or out, this plant is going to thrive wherever you put it.  It can also make for an attractive hedge in your landscape beds.

How Do You Plant Citronella “Indoors”?

When Planting your Citronella plant inside you are likely going to be using a pot. But, because these plants can grow so large you are going to have to get a pretty large pot for your new plant.

It is recommended that you get a container ranging anywhere from 8-inches to 12-inches high.

You will want to fill the container to about the halfway mark using high-quality potting soil.

The reasoning here is that it provides the plant with all the nutrients needed. The large pot will allow the plant enough room to grow, as well as let the roots spread out and keeping the plant healthy.

Make sure you put the pant in the container in a way that keeps the Citronella root around a couple of inches below the top of the container, keeping the root at the same depth it was at when you pulled it out of its original pot.

Next, make sure you water the soil enough to press it together, this eliminates any air pockets and keeps the roots being fed properly throughout its life cycle.  This ensures that the roots won’t become saturated when you water the plant.

Lastly, you will need to make sure you put your newly potted plant in an area of the house that gets a good amount of sunlight.

Remember, citronella plants require 4 to 6 hours of sunlight per day, or they will not grow properly.

How Do You Plant Citronella Outdoors?

Planting Outdoors In the Garden is, in my opinion, the best place to plant Citronella. Personally, I don’t like having plants inside the house that thrive incredibly well outside. This is especially true when it comes to plants, like citronella, that can grow up to 4 feet tall.

When you choose to place your citronella plant in your garden outside, you should make sure to find a place that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight on a daily basis.

If possible try to put it in a place that receives sunlight during the morning hours, this helps keep the plant from being scorched by the afternoon sun.

Dig a hole in your garden that is the same depth as the pot the plant came in.

This basically means that the root ball of the Citronella plant needs to be planted at the same depth in your garden as it was in the original pot that it came in.

Tip: If you are planting multiple Citronella plants, then make sure you keep no less than eight inches apart. Failing to do this will put the plants in direct competition with each other, and once the roots start to take hold they will either kill one another or they won’t reach their full potential.

Next, you’ll need to put roughly two inches of organic compost around the plant (remember 5-10-5 slow-release fertilizer is best for these plants). Make sure you follow the packaging instructions while planing.

This ensures you have the correct amount of room for the roots to “breathe” allowing the plant to grow to its full potential.

Water the soil around the plants. This compacts the soil around the root and keeps air pockets from forming. Of course, you won’t want to allow the soil to dry once you have planted them.

The Citronella Myth (Mosquito Plant?)

We touched on this earlier in the post, but the idea of Citronella plants being a mosquito repellant is large enough that it bears its own section in today’s post.

These plants are often touted as the best way to keep mosquitoes away. In fact, this myth has been around for so long that people have even begun to call this plant the “mosquito plant”. The idea behind this is that, while humans love the citrusy scent of the plants, mosquitoes cannot stand the smell of it. It sounds like the perfect solution to the peskiest problem we face in the warm months of the year.

The Citronella Myth Origins

In 1984 a man by the name of Dirk Van Leenen began developing a plant that he said would eradicate mosquitoes for your backyard. In the early ’90s his “miracle plant” finally caught worldwide attention, and the mosquito plant was born. Subsequently, that is when people began to put this plant to the test and see if it did what it claimed to do.

Many people claimed that the plant actually worked, one greenhouse owner purchased roughly 50 plants for his annual Fourth of July party. After the party, he stated, “Historically people are eaten alive. This year nobody complained at all about the insects.”

This claim sounds legitimate enough. That is until you realize he merely trying to sell his plants.

Is the Citronella Myth Valid?

It wouldn’t be much longer until actual researchers began to test the claim. A University in Ontario decided to take on the task, and immediately got the answer to their question. When a volunteer first picked up the plant they were bitten “40 times in 30 seconds”. An hour later, the bites were cut nearly in half with a volunteer-only being bitten “26 times in 30 seconds”.

That sounds a lot like a success right? Not so fast!

An hour later the test was done again, and this time the volunteer was bitten “43 times in 30 seconds”. The next day, the mosquitoes had bitten the volunteer “61 times in 30 seconds” All of this begs the question; Why would anybody volunteer for a test like this?

The conclusion of this study was that Citronella plants do little to nothing to keep mosquitoes out of your yard. This was also corroborated by Michigan and Florida A&M researchers, all of which said that their studies offered no evidence that Citronella plants had substantial mosquito repelling qualities. There is one caveat to these results though. If you crush up the leaves of the Citronella and rub it on your skin, it will be effective in reducing the number of bites you get. But only up to 6.5%.

Citronella Plants are Worthy of Purchasing

Anyone who has them can attest that Citronella plants have little mosquito repellent properties. Nearly all of us who have these plants still need to take other measures to keep mosquitoes away.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the investment. These plants are some of the prettiest out there. They go great in basically any setting, smell incredible, are easy to take care of, and versatile enough to live in nearly anywhere. Add in some well-timed grooming, and proper pruning techniques, you’ll get a plant with gorgeous lavender blooms that perfectly accent its lemony scent.


Citronella plants are one of the most popular geraniums out there. And it isn’t because they are highly effective mosquito repellants. Instead, it is because they are easy to care for, can flourish almost anywhere, and most importantly, they look and smell amazing.

Just keep watering the soil, give them six hours of sunlight each day, then add in a little pruning and you’ll be able to enjoy the scent and scenery they provide in no time.

Got some more great ideas about Citronella Plant Care? Leave us a Comment Below, we’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for visiting and don’t forget to check out more “Gear” for Homes at BestHomeGear.Com

References & Further Reading:

Photo Credits: Forest and Kim Starr, Enrique DansErik F. Brandsborg via Flickr CC, See the CC License.

About the Author: As a Builder, Realtor, and Property Manager for 25+ years, Kevin has used Tools and Outdoor Equipment for the bulk of his career. Managing property in Michigan and Arizona, he also tests many of the products he reviews firsthand, in vastly different climates and conditions. Our goal at BestHomeGear.Com is to share first-hand experience - Providing "Unbiased" Product Reviews, DIY Guides, and useful Home & Garden Techniques for our faithful readers - Homeowners just like you!

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