A member of the geranium family, citronella carries fragrance 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 citronella 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
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 citronella is tolerant of a wide range of well-drained soils, moderately rich, moist soil will produce the best growth. To improve your native soil, mix several inches of Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs in with the top layer. Good news for gardeners in drought-prone areas: Citronella is relatively tolerant of summer stress. Wherever you live, give your citronella a boost of nutrition every couple of weeks by adding Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food when you water the plant. (Be sure to follow label directions.)
An evergreen perennial in zones 9 to 11, citronella 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.
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
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.
Are there any culinary uses of citronella, like other scented geraniums?
Do you have suggestions for what to plant with citronella?
What is the best way to keep my plant alive through the winter?