Growing Mosquito Plant (Citronella)

growing mosquito plant (citronella) in a pot

A member of the geranium family, mosquito plant carries the fragrance of citronella in its foliage. When a leaf is crushed and rubbed on the skin, it smells wonderful and helps naturally repel mosquitoes. (The plant itself does not act as a deterrent to the pests.) Though growing mosquito plant is not as effective as using bottled repellents, mosquito plant works gently, and when you grow it in your garden, it is always on hand.

Plants owe their medium green texture to the lacy leaves. Growing upright to 2 to 3 feet in height, they can be used as a summer border or one of several contrasting textures in a garden composition or a large mixed container.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Citronella mosquito plant is a geranium that flowers in summer.

Mosquito plant is actually a scented geranium. The plant produces a pretty pinkish colored blooms in summer.

Plant in spring after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed, about the same time you plant tomatoes. Select a location with a little afternoon shade, and space plants 18 to 24 inches apart.

Though mosquito plants are tolerant of a wide range of well-drained soils, moderately rich, moist soil will produce the best growth. Good news for gardeners in drought-prone areas: Mosquito plant is relatively tolerant of summer stress.

An evergreen perennial in zones 9 to 11, mosquito plant will be a cold tender annual where freezing temperatures occur. In addition, the stems can become quite woody by summer’s end. If you want to overwinter your plant, propagate a new one during the late summer months by layering. Set a pot filled with potting soil beside your big plant. Bend a stem (still attached to the big plant) gently toward the pot, being careful not to break it. Bury the stem sideways at a point at which a leaf is attached, keeping the growing tip uncovered. Place a rock or piece of brick over the buried stem to hold it in place. After a few weeks, roots will emerge from the stem and grow into the potting soil. At the end of the season (and before frost), cut the stem free from the mother plant and move the new, young plant indoors for the winter.

Troubleshooting

You will know if a plant does not have enough light, as it will stretch and fall over. Make a mental note to give it more sun next year, then cut back long, lanky branches to bring it back into shape.

Harvest and Storage

Mosquito plant has a citronella aroma that is released when you rub the leaves. The leaves have a pretty, frilly shape.

The citronella fragrance comes from the plant’s leaves. Rub the leaves to release the scent. The lacy shape of the leaves, as well as the fragrance, make it a nice addition to flower arrangements.

Plants respond well to pruning, so don’t be afraid to cut branches for inclusion in summer bouquets, especially if you are dining outdoors. The fragrance will be a welcome addition, blending with more floral scents. In addition, the way the leaves are attached to the stem means that one branch of mosquito plant will help hold other flowers in place in the vase.

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FAQs

Are there any culinary uses of mosquito plant, like other scented geraniums?

Yes, you can use mosquito plant with its citrus scent as you would use other scented geraniums, in jellies, teas, fruit salads, and in desserts. One traditional use is to place the leaves in the cake pan before pouring in the batter. Once baked, the cake will carry the flavor throughout.

Do you have suggestions for what to plant with mosquito plant?

The sun-tolerant caladiums and coleus would be excellent paired with mosquito plant. For flowers, consider zinnias, dahlias, shrub roses, hibiscus, vinca, or black-eyed Susans, to name a few. Just be sure to give each one room to mature without crowding the others.

What is the best way to keep my plant alive through the winter?

If you live where the temperature outdoors will not drop below the 20s, cutting plants back and mulching well should get them by, allowing them to sprout and grow in spring. If your winters are more severe, however, lift plants with a fork or spade, cut them back, and plant them in a pot. After a week or two, apply a timed-release fertilizer to the surface of the potting mix. Keep the plant in bright light and water when the soil begins to dry out. Replant in spring, cutting back any thin or weak growth from the winter months indoors.

67 Comments

Ginny Schoggins

Recently I bought four mosquitos plants… I repotted and placed on/around the lawn furniture on my back porch. My husband asked me… Do they attract or deter the mosquitos?? I panicked… because I naturally thought deter; however if they were to attract, then it would make sense to place then away from where we would be sitting. Please help. Thank you and I promise to read the tags better before I throw them away. :0)

Danielle Carroll

Hello Ginny,
Rest easy… these plants are not attractive to mosquitos :) – danielle, Bonnie Plants

janeen

i have 4 of these plants and did not know not to leave them out in winter can they be saved or do i need new ones ?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Janeen,
What do the plants look lik now? If they have green leaves, they can be saved! – danielle, Bonnie Plants

Beth

Recently purchased 3 mosquito plants and have them growing in backyard in Gainesville Fla. They receive full sun most of the day and part shade. The problem I’m having is that the stems fall over at the soil line. When I planted, I put them far enough in the soil and have even “shored” them up a bit by putting some extra soil around the bases. This doesn’t seem to be working and I’m wondering if the fertilizer I used is the problem. The person where I bought them, garden store, told me to use vegetable and flower fertilizer, it’s 14 14 14. Is this causing the problem?
Thanks for any help. They get plenty of water and sun.
Beth

Danielle Carroll

Hi Beth,
Sorry to hear you are having problems with your mosquito plants. The problem may not be the fertilizer, but the planting depth! Tomatoes are one of the only veggies that you want to plant deep. The rest should be buried no further than they are in the containers or growing media. Covering the stem with soil may result in a rotting stem – the plant will fall over at the soil line. Too much fertilizer usually results in scorched roots and leaves. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Danielle Carroll

Hi Leia,
Bonnie Plants does not sell seeds only transplants. I am sure a google search online will lead you to some seed companies that sell it. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

Joann

Do you know if clippings from the citronella plant can be put in the henhouse? Everyone says that chickens eat mosquitoes, but my girls apparently don’t like them. Would love to put some leaves in their nesting boxes to repel mosquitoes if it won’t hurt the hens.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Joann,
I could not find any information on this :( I do not see how it would hurt the hens – I do know some people who have skin allergies break out when subjected to certain plants – citronella being one of them (when applied directly to skin). This website has helped me out numerous times when I had questions about my own hens. Wish I could be of more help. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Kristy

It says will grow to only be 2 to 3 feet. I keep mine inside in winter and bring outside in summer and its pushing 5 feet tall.

gina

a few years ago i was lucky to find them in home deopt where is it that i can buy these plants i cant seem to find them last year i was able to find them on line at carol wright ‘s web sight they never shipped them. it seems they are not that easy to find ‘

thanks for any help Gina

Danielle Carroll

Hello Gina,
To find Bonnie Plants retailers, just use this Find Our Plants tab. Just plug in your zip code to find the stores that sell Bonnie Plants near you. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Dana Wrady

Found mine at Walmart! Best of luck to you!

Tammie

I just purchase six Mosquito Plants from Walmart for my deck I hope they work here in Md. we have really bad mosquito here the sales lady recommended Mosquito Plants to me I haven used my deck in two years because of the mosquito hoping to use it this year !!!!!!

Danielle Carroll

Good Luck! I lost a pint of blood to the pesky mosquitos last week. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Dennis

Hi. I would like to take cuttings from a healthy citronella to cultivate more plants. I’m kind of a novice at this growing stuff- can you help me? Thanks!
Dennis

Danielle Carroll

Hello Dennis,
You can propagate by layering as described here. If you would like to try to propagate your plant by cuttings, try this method from the North Carolina extension System. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Carla

Is the Citronella plant poisonous to Dogs or Cats if they eat it?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Carla, I did a little reading and ingesting the leaves can cause stomach upset – vomitting in dogs and cats. I have dogs and citronella plants, but the doggies do not seem too interested in the plants. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Kara

Just purchased a Citronella plant as well as a basil plant from my local gardening store. I know Citronella plants are poisonous to dogs, but is it safe to plant it in the same pot as vegetables and herbs that we humans consume?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Tim,
A mosquito plant is a scented geranium. They are grown for the foliage, but will bloom. Mosquito plant produces flowers throughout the summer when it is grown in optimal conditions….sun to part shade and has received adequate water. The blooms are not showy like other flowering plants.
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Ken G

I have a big indoor Citronella plant that actually does the opposite of everything I have read about the care of the plant. This is going to sound crazy but its true. I started to notice that when I put my plant is direct sunlight, it would look like it was wilting and the whole plant would droop down. I would then take it and put it in the shade, and then it would perk back up in a matter of hours. I decided to experiment and tried putting it in direct, bright sunlight several times and shortly after each time, the plant would droop until I put it in the shade and then back to normal. Why would this be happening?

Mary Beth

Hi Ken,
You aren’t crazy and your plant isn’t either. It’s probably accustomed to being an indoor plant and reacting to the severe change in conditions. You’ve probably heard of “hardening off” seedlings to sun and wind with gently increased lengths of exposure to the elements. Also, we’ve had another gardener mention the same reaction, deeper into this comment board below. If you want to move the plant permanently outside, try putting it out in the mornings for increasing amounts of time. Secondly, ensure that your plant has healthy and developing roots with no presence of fungus gnats. It’s important that the root system be healthy and capable of supporting the plant in those conditions. Just a few ideas! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Betty

I have a mosquito plant and its stem recently started to turn brown and so did the edges of the leaves. Is the stem just becoming woody or is something wrong with it(I live in Singapore)?

Mary Beth

Hi Betty–in Singapore!
What’s the weather in your garden right now? Mosquito plants are in the geranium family and will not tolerate heavy frosts and chilly temps, which will indeed damage the foliage and kill back the plant. You can overwinter them in garages, basements or indoors. I don’t think that is your problem now, though! If you have ever cared for other geraniums, you know they like regular watering. Try picking off the browned leaves, watering it and watching for a week. Or, you can always send us a photo with questions to Ask An Expert to help with foliar issues and diagnosis visually. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Laureen Dycus

Hello, Thanks for all the information. We were given two citronella stems in April and finally planted them in the ground mid July. WOW, did they take off and turn into a beautiful bush each. Now, we are pruning for the winter and do not want to move the bushes again. Can I leave them outside? They are on the side of the house in a well drained area that gets some sun each day even in winter. Will they come back? Any suggestions? I have a dog and have heard I should not bring into the house, she is a bluetick hound and I would be afraid she might try to eat them! Yicks!

Thanks for any and all help you can offer!
Laureen

Mary Beth

Hi Laureen,
You are correct. This statement verfies your safety concerns for your pet: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cautions that all members of the geranium family, Pelargonium, are toxic to dogs. They contain the active toxins geraniol and linalool.
If you are in Zones 9-11, your citronella will survive the moderate winter. If you experience freezing winter where you live, it will be considered an annual and die each year. If you wanted to save the plant to replant next year, you can easily take cuttings to propogate or pot up the plant to bring inside your garage. However, your pet’s safety sounds a higher priority. Just buy a new 5″ pot next spring and see it grow to great heights all over again! Hope that helps. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Rita

I do not have any room INSIDE to bring in my Mosquito Plant. Is it just going to die and be gone forever? What should I do? Is there any possibility of it coming back next spring after being left outside?

Mary Beth

Hi Rita,
As you see in this article, the happy ‘zone’ for citronella to overwinter is in Zones 9-11. If you experience freezing winters where you live, it will indeed “die and be gone forever.” The great thing, though, is that it quickly grows from a tiny 5″ pot in spring to a sizeable shrub-like appearance in summer. If you don’t have room to bring it in, just buy another with your other annuals next spring. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Kay

I wanted to comment on the overwintering of Citronella I live in Northern East Tx and have a container plant that is now 3 yrs old. I made a small green house made out of pvc pipe and thick clear plastic that I put around the plant in the winter with a light bulb that comes on when it is below 45 degrees. It seem to do fine in the winter here. It is now almost 5′ tall.

Steve

My citronella is planted in a pot and the center stem is approx 2 ft tall. The plant has approx 20 stems and a couple of months all fell except the center one and are now growing downward toward the ground. It is a terrible site and I am sure it needs pruning. It is in full sun. Can you tell me how and when to prune so this plant will start growing upward again. Thanks.

Mary Beth

Hi Steve,

Mosquito plants are a scented geranium that smells a bit like citronella–thus the common name. Make sure you aren’t watering too much (they need watering when the top inch and half or so of potting soil becomes dry to the touch), but you can cut them back as much as you like. As you cut them back, root some of the cuttings to make more plants. Scented geraniums are extremely easy to root. The whole plant should begin to bush out, once you have pruned it.

Happy Gardening, Mary Beth

Judy Underhill

I have a mosquito plant that did very well this summer I
wanted to try to save it thro the winter , brought it in weather
was getting so cool, and after a week, the leaves started turn-ing, yellow. and I am not watering it anymore than when I
did before. What should I do to save it?
Judy

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Judy,

Did you prune the plant back first before bringing it indoors? That would help. Also, see above in the “Soil, Planting, and Care” tab for our advice on saving your plant for next season by propagating a second plant. I hope this info helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Jacki

It’s finally cooling down up here in Northern Indiana and by that I mean that I think we’re finally out of the continual 80’s. Our lovely citronella has grown like crazy this summer and is just too big for the pot at this point (very leggy and bushy). I want to cut it back and bring it in for the winter, but is it too late in the year for that? Can I “split” the plant into two pots? Thanks in advance for your help.

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Jacki,

The best way to salvage your citronella plant over the winter is to propagate a new plant in late summer and bring it indoors to overwinter. You can read about how to do this in the last paragraph of the Soil, Planting, & Care tab above. You may not have time now to propagate the new plant, so you could try cutting back your existing plant and bringing it inside to overwinter. Our citronella mosquito plant is related to geranium and just as tough, so it should make it with a little care! Happy growing!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Robert Ratajczak

Where do I find mosquito plant seeds…or how do I grow them?

Mary Beth

Hi Robert,
The plant commonly called “mosquito plant” or citronella plant is a form of geranium. We do not sell seeds, but rather 5″ pot or larger started seedlings and transplants. You won’t be able to find those this time of year (December) but they will be available in warmest markets early next spring. If you do a web search for this geranium, you may be able to locate a seed source. Hope this helps! Happy growing. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

David Alan Cottrell

I live in south Florida, purchased one of these wonderful plants and right now its in my dining room in a 80 deg air conditioned environment.
Seems to be doing great, it gets a good 5 hours of sun a day.
I have taken my prize plant outside and all the “branches”just wilt and the whole plant looks like its about to throw in the towel! So I take it back inside and after a few hours all looks good.
How can I get this plant to live outside, with these humid rainy conditions?
Appreciate your help.
David

Mary Beth

Hi David (or is it David Alan?),
First of all, I want to make sure I get your name right, as I am sensitive to double names! Secondly, let’s see about this citronella acclimating to your south Florida temperatures. The plant, which is actually a scented geranium, is very drought-tolerant and loves full sun and warmth. However, I think you have acclimatized it to your cozy home. By bringing it outdoors for longer periods over a few days, you can increase its tolerance for the great outdoors again. Honestly, it should be fine if you simply left it out in one day and checked on it the next, but I don’t want to risk your plant. So you can try it gradually, leaving it out one day for 4 hours, the next for 6 and all day the third day. If everything else checks out–consistent watering, good drainage–it’s probably just wincing at the bright sun like we’d do… One last thing, though, is that this plant does not like to be overwatered. If it’s constantly raining daily where you are and keeping the pot’s soil too wet, the leaves will wilt and yellow. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Charlene

We bought one of these beautiful plants at a local feed store and it has grown wonderfully, until here lately. I live just west of Atlanta, GA. It was doing great until recently. It is now looking stemy and thin. Before it was really bushy. We haven’t changed our watering habits and I am still waiting for it to bloom. Does it need fertilizer or what would you suggest?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Charlene,

Does your plant get full sun? If it’s in more than a touch of shade, that could be the problem. You can cut the plant back, place it in a sunny spot, and water well, and it should come back bushier. Fertilizer would also help. I hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Charlene

Thanks Kelly, It does get a lot of sun. We used the miracle grow potting soil that feed for 6 months. would 10 10 10 be good for it?

Brett

We have 2 in pots on our back deck. There is plenty of sunlight in morning and evening time as the back deck is built around a tree. However, I did purchase them erect and ready to bush outwards, however, for some reason they both are growing sideways…I mean literally on the stem comes out of the soil, then up a little bit, then the plants lay on their sides. Is there ANYTHING I can do to correct this?! I am unfamiliar with geranium type plants. Thank You, Brett

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Brett,

I’m picturing the deck as you’re describing and wondering if the plants might be stretching for sunlight, around the shade created by the tree? Does that sound possible? Read some of the other comments about pruning these plants, too, as this might help.

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Pam A. Brown

Citronella plant getting brown spots, so is it getting too much water or not enough?? thx Atoka Tn

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Pam,

Citronella prefers moist soil and good drainage. Overwatering is more likely to cause problems than underwatering, as this plant is fairly drought tolerant. This is actually a scented geranium, so if you’ve grown other geraniums before, you know that leaves will sometimes dry out and can just be picked off the plant. If leaves on your citronella are browning, pick those leaves off, water well, and see if the plant perks back up. Happy growing!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Erin

I have a mosquito plant that is growing tall and very well. How do I take the stems to grow more? Will it work like some plants, if I cut some off and place in water, will it root?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Erin,

We have information about propagating a new plant in the “Soil, Planting, and Care” tab above. Check this info and give it a try!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Joy

Can the plant be moved indoors over the winter. Can it be grown as an indoor plant?

Mandy Jo

I have two of these plants in flowerpots on my mostly shaded back porch. One of the plants has its main branch/stem that has grown very tall. Do I trim this one back to make it bush out more or wait for this now tall central stem to grow more leaves?

Kelly Smith

Hi Mandy Jo,

You can cut your Citronella Mosquito Plants back as much as you like. The whole plant should begin to bush out, once you have pruned it. If you cut the central, terminal stem to the height you want the plant to be, you will promote side stem growth. Then you can prune to keep the plant the shape and size you want. Use those pruned stems in flower arrangements for their great fragrance. Happy growing!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

judy duke

how should I cut the plant. I have several leaves that are turning brown.

Kelly Smith

Hi Judy,

You can just pick off those brown leaves and any spent blooms, too. This plant is actually a type of geranium, so treat it like you would a geranium plant. You’ll notice that the plant has a main stem and side stems. Feel free to prune back the side stems to use in arrangements or if they look sparse. Snap the stem at the elbow where it meets the main stem, or use pruning scissors to cut it off.

Happy growing!
Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Debbie

Hello: If I have several citronella mosquito plants outside on my deck (in containers of course)… will their presence deter mosquitoes??? Or must the leaves be ‘rubbed’ onto skin.

Kelly Smith

Hi Debbie,

You can gently rub the leaves as you pass by the plant to release the scent and help deter mosquitoes, or you can rub the leaves on your skin if you like. However, if you have a real problem with mosquitoes in your yard or garden, this plant will only help a little. You’ll need to supplement with insect repellant on your skin, too, to truly repel these pests. Hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Danny Graham

I live Hanahan,S.C. 29410. Were in Charleston, I can find this Pelargonium Citronella plant???

Kelly Smith

Hi Danny,

Enter your zip code into the Plant Finder to find a list of retailers near you. If you don’t see the plants on the store shelves, ask the garden center manager to request Citronella plants from the Bonnie Plants salesperson in your area. I hope you’re able to get the plants you need!

Happy growing!
Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Doris

They are available at Central True Value in Moncks Corner SC. Got mine yesterday.

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