Many people grow citronella grass on or near their patios as mosquito repellents. Oftentimes, plants that are sold as “citronella plants” aren’t true citronella plants or Cymbopogon. They are, instead, citronella plants scented geraniums, or other plants that simply have a citronella-like scent. These citronella scented plants don’t actually have the same oils that repel mosquitoes. So while they may be pretty and smell nice, they’re not effective in doing what they were probably bought to do – repel mosquitos. In this article, learn about growing citronella grass and using citronella grass vs lemongrass or other citronella scented plants.
What is a Citronella Plant?
True citronella grass, Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus, are grasses. If you are purchasing a “citronella plant” that has lacy foliage instead of grass blades, it is probably a citronella grass scented geranium, which is often sold as mosquito repelling plants but are actually ineffective at repelling these insects.
Citronella grass is a clump-forming, perennial grass but many gardeners in northern climates grow it as an annual. Citronella grass can be a dramatic addition to containers, but it can grow 5-6 feet about 1.5-2 m tall and 3-4 feet about 1 m wide.
Citronella grass plant originates from tropical areas of Asia. It is grown commercially in Indonesia, Burma, Java, India, and Sri Lanka for use in insect repellents, soaps, and candles. In Indonesia, it is also grown as a popular food spice. In addition to its mosquito-repelling properties, the plant is also used to treat lice and other parasites, like intestinal worms and mosquitos. Other herbal uses of citronella grass plant include:
- relieving migraines, tension, and depression
- muscle relaxer or antispasmodic
- anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal
- fever reducer
- oil from the plant is used in many cleaning products
Though citronella grass may sometimes be called lemongrass, they are two different citronella plants. Lemongrass and citronella grass are closely related and can look and smell quite the same. However, citronella grass has reddish brown colored pseudostems, while lemongrass is all green. The oils can be used similarly, though they are not the same.
Citronella Grass like Repel Mosquitoes
The oils in citronella grass are what repel mosquitoes. However, the plant does not release the oils when it is just growing in a spot. For the mosquito-repelling oils to be useful, they need to be extracted, or you can simply crush the grass blades and rub them directly on clothes or skin. Make sure to test a small area of your skin for an allergic reaction first.
As a companion citronella plant in the garden, citronella grass can deter whiteflies and other pests that are confused by its strong, lemony scent.
When growing citronella grass plants, place it in a location where it can receive bright but filtered sunlight. It can scorch or wilt in areas with too much intense sunlight. Citronella grass prefers humid, loamy soil.
It has high watering requirements, so if grown in a container, water it every day. Citronella grass plants can be divided in spring. This is the good time to give it an annual dose of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.