How to Care for Citronella Plants?

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Also known as Mosquito Plant Geranium or Pelargonium citrosum, Citronella is a widely available plant believed to have mosquito repelling properties.

The beautiful foliage and pleasant citrusy fragrance of this plant make it a great choice both as a potted plant and as a beautiful landscape plant. Plus, the citronella plant requires very little care.

If you want to grow a healthy and vibrant citronella plant, I’ve put together a quick primer on the essentials.

Citronella Plant Watering

The citronella is relatively tolerant to drought and it should only be watered when the top inch of soil feels dry. As with any other plant, you won’t be doing it any favors by overwatering it.

Because it can put up with a bit of drought and summer stress, it can adapt to a hectic watering schedule. That said, it’s best to water the plant every time the top soil feels dry to the touch.

Citronella will adapt to any type of soil as long as its well-draining. If you’re prone to overwatering your plants, fast-draining soil can help mitigate some of the damage caused by overwatering.

But I urge you to check the dryness level of the soil each time you plan on watering and you’ll never overwater your plants again.

Simply stick your finger into the soil and only water your citronella if the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.

Citronella Light Requirements

This is a sun-loving plant, so don’t be afraid to keep it outside in the sun. Whether you keep your citronella indoors or outdoors, make sure it gets plenty of sunlight.

For best results, provide your citronella at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. Although citronella will grow best in full sun, it can tolerate some partial shade as well.

You will be able to tell if your citronella gets too little sun — it will grow lanky and fall over. If this happens, move your plant to a sunnier location and cut back on stretchy branches to bring it back to shape. If your citronella is happy with its light requirements it will grow full and bushy.

Citronella Plant Propagation

The best and easiest way to propagate your fragrant citronella geranium plant is to harvest cuttings during the fall.

Here’s what you need to know about its propagation and how to do it best:

  • Water your plant before harvesting cuttings
  • Make sure you’re harvesting cuttings from a pest-free and disease-free plant (you don’t want your cuttings to go off on a bad start!)
  • Select cuttings that are around 3-4 inches long
  • Make sure the cuttings have around 3 leaf nodes
  • Remove leaves at the bottom of the cut end and keep leaves only at the top
  • Go for softwood stem cuttings over hardwood stem cuttings (softwood roots more easily and quickly)
  • Keep cuttings in water while you prepare the potting medium
  • Choose a well draining potting medium or prepare a mix using one part coarse sand and one part quality potting medium (alternatively you can use ⅓ perlite to ⅔ potting soil)
  • Keep your potted cuttings in a warm location, preferably at a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Your citronella plant will root in about 4 to 6 weeks

If you want your citronella to root faster, you can cover the cuttings with a clear plastic wrap to close in moisture and warmth. Likewise, you can dip the cut end of the citronella cutting in rooting hormone for a faster rooting time.

Neither of these two are essential, your citronella will root without these measures too, but it may take a bit longer than 4 weeks.

If you’re planting citronella outdoors, take note of the fact that they can grow to 2-3 feet in height, so space them 18 to 24 inches apart to give them plenty of space to expand.

Does the Citronella Plant Really Repel Mosquitoes?

While citronella is touted as a mosquito repellent (hence the name mosquito plant geranium), its efficiency against mosquitoes is minimal at best.

Crushing the leaves of the citronella will have a stronger effect on mosquitoes, but the plant in itself does not efficiently repel mosquitoes.

Therefore, unless you’re willing to crush the leaves of your citronella every time you step outside, you can’t expect a strong mosquito repellent effect from your citronella plants.

That said, the lemony fragrance and lavender pink flowers of this plant make it a beautiful choice for a landscape plant.

Is Citronella Plant Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

Citronella is toxic to both dogs and cats. In some dogs or cats even rubbing against the plant can cause dermatitis.

If ingested, citronella can cause the following problems in your pets:

  • Vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hypothermia
  • Depression

While both dogs and cats are susceptible to the side effects of ingesting citronella, cats are more susceptible to experience severe symptoms.

Therefore, if you keep pets around the house, take precautionary measures like keeping the citronella plants in a location that’s not accessible to your pets.

If you suspect your pet may have ingested citronella, contact your vet for advice.

Does Citronella Grow Back Every Year?

In the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 -12, citronella is grown as a perennial, and regrows every spring.

The plant is not frost-tolerant, so it dies back in winter. Therefore, in other climates, it’s grown as an annual.

In temperate climates, where winters are frosty, citronella plants must be taken inside, or they must be replanted every year as they will not survive a cold winter.

Wrapping Up

Citronella plants can be used in flower beds or plant groupings. Its citrusy fragrance and lavender pink blooms will give your garden a nice touch.

Because it’s so easy to look after this plant and despite its minimal effect on mosquitoes, it’s a top choice of gardeners.

Don’t forget that citronella plants require lots of sunshine and should not be overwatered. Plant them in well-draining soil and enjoy them either as potted or landscape plants.

Updated: October 12, 2020

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