Citronella Plant Complete Guide To Grow And Care

The Citronella plant (Pelargonium citrosum ‘van Leenii’) is a well-liked aromatic geranium that pairs well with pink petals thanks to its huge, wrinkly, lacy green leaves. Belonging to the geranium family, this plant grows well in containers as well as on the ground. It reaches a bushy 2 feet in height and width.

When the plant was first brought to the market in the 1990s, it was strongly promoted as a mosquito-repelling plant. Its leaves release a scent akin to that of lemongrass, or citronella. The claims that it repels mosquitoes have been disproven, while it is still a beautiful addition to the landscape. Remember that this plant can irritate skin and is poisonous to cats and dogs if you intend to include it in your gardening.

Citronella Plant Overview

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Common Name Citronella Plant, Mosquito Plant
Botanical Name Pelargonium citrosum ‘van Leenni
Family Geraniaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 1 to 2 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full to part sun
Soil Type Well-drained sandy loam
Soil pH 5.8 to 6.3
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Pink, purple
Hardiness Zones 10-11
Native Area South Africa

Citronella Plant Care

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The citronella plant has a shrubby growth habit and requires little care. Once planted, in its hardiness zones, it is totally evergreen and drought tolerant. Growers in colder hardiness zones can grow these plants as annuals in the summer garden or overwinter them in containers.


Select a pot that is twice as broad and at least 12 inches deep before planting citronella in it. Use nutrient-rich soil that drains properly, but also make sure it is light enough. A suitable combination includes equal parts sand, sphagnum moss, and potting soil.

Citronella should be planted in the garden in cooler growing zones when nighttime lows are consistently 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In a loam that drains well and is fertile, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. When necessary, amend soil with compost or other organic matter.

One to two weeks following the last frost, when the earth has warmed enough, seeds can be immediately put in the ground by lightly scattering them over the surface. Sow seeds indoors six to eight weeks prior to the last frost for an earlier start. Plants indoors should have one seedling per pot, while outside seedlings should be spaced 18 inches apart.

Transplant citronella in the early spring in zones 10 to 11.

Light Requirements

Citronella plants benefit from afternoon shade, especially in southern growth zones, although they still require six hours of direct sunlight every day.

Soil & Potting

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As long as the soil drains correctly, citronella plants can grow in any kind of soil. It thrives on sandy, chalky, or slightly acidic loams with a pH of 5.8 to 6.3.


During the growing season, potted plants require constant irrigation. Every few days, check the top inch of soil, and water when necessary. Water in-ground plants frequently until they become established, then once every other week after that. Citronella is a mildly drought-tolerant plant that can be cultivated in a garden with little watering. But if the tips and edges of the leaves begin to get crispy and brown, up the frequency of watering to once a week.

Temperature and Environment

Although citronellas are resilient plants that can withstand a variety of conditions, freezing or extremely high temperatures can cause damage. In southern zones where temperatures are high for prolonged periods, garden plants benefit from afternoon shade. This inhabitant of the tropics thrives in temperatures up to forty percent.


Citronella plants don’t need much food, however young, potted plants can benefit from a liquid NPK 20-20-20 fertilizer. Apply fertilizer to plants once every two to three weeks, diluted to half its original level.


Pinch out the growing tips of citronella plants during the growing season to promote bushy growth and a complete shrubby appearance.

Propagating Citronella

Gather some garden snips, a small 4-inch pot, and well-draining potting mix in order to cultivate a citronella plant from a cutting. It’s optional to use rooting hormone and cover the pot with plastic.

  • Take a clipping from the fresh growth of the citronella plant that has at least four leaves. 
  • Keeping two leaf nodes at the base of the stem, remove all leaves save the top two. 
  • Put some well-draining, fertile potting mix in a 4-inch pot. 
  • Cover the two bottom nodes of the cutting by dipping its base in rooting hormone. Although not required, this step can promote root formation. 
  • Make a hole in the middle of the pot using your index finger or a pencil. 
  • Place the cutting into the hole so that the upper leaves are above the dirt. 
  • To keep the cutting upright, lightly compact the soil surrounding the stem. 
  • To increase humidity, cover the cutting with a plastic dome. As an alternative, you might mist the leaves many times a week. 
  • Keep the soil damp and place the cutting in a sunny spot. About a month is needed for the roots to take hold. Gently pull on the stem to make sure. When a plant exhibits resistance, it is ready to be transplanted into a larger container or planted in the ground.

Cuttings of citronella also take root in water. A fresh growth cutting should be placed with its leaves above water and its nodes submerged in a small container of clean water. Set it in a warm, bright area and replace the water once a week. Seek out roots to take hold in approximately four weeks.

How to Grow Citronella From Seed?

Although it may be readily produced from seed, citronella is more frequently bought as a potted nursery plant.

Start Seeds Outdoors

  1. Depending on the growth zone, wait until the earth has warmed up, usually two weeks after the last frost. 
  2. Pick an outdoor space that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. 
  3. Disperse seeds evenly across the ground and gently cover. 
  4. Keep the soil wet to promote germination. 
  5. When seedlings are about an inch tall, thin garden plants to a spacing of 18 inches.

Start Seed Indoors

  1. Potting mix should be lightly moistened and placed into small 4-inch pots or a seed starting tray. A suitable combination is equal parts sand, sphagnum moss, and potting soil. 
  2. Place a few seeds on top of the medium and gently cover. 
  3. To promote germination, cover the pot or tray with a plastic dome or covering. 
  4. Place them in a warm, bright area and make sure they stay wet. 
  5. Take off the plastic when the seedlings appear, then thin the plants to one or two per container. 
  6. As needed, separate seedlings and transplant them into pots that are one or two sizes bigger.

Potting and Repotting Citronella Plant

Citronella plants are annuals in cooler growth zones, so even if you plan to overwinter indoors, you shouldn’t need to repotte them more than once. Remember that the plant reaches maturity when it is about two feet tall and wide, so pick a pot big enough to support its growth.

Since citronella can withstand some drought, you can use a clay or ceramic pot as long as it has adequate drainage. The container must be twice as wide as the rootball and 12 inches deep. Pick a light potting mix that is easy to drain.


When nighttime lows fall below forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, container-grown citronella plants can be brought indoors and placed near a warm, bright window. Trim stems back by up to one-third and remove any dead or damaged leaves, cutting just above a leaf node. Water the soil deeply but infrequently, letting it dry out a little bit in between. During the winter, feed Citronella once or twice a week with a half-strength solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Although scented geraniums are largely disease-free, they do draw pests that feed on sap, such as mealybugs, weevils, aphids, and whiteflies. When issues are identified early on, they can be resolved with a powerful water spray. Should your plant get infested, you might have to treat it with repeated applications of insecticidal soap and repot it with new planting material until the pests are eradicated.

How to Get Citronella to Bloom?

The citronella plant is evergreen and capable of year-round blooming in zones 10 to 11.

What Do Citronella Plant Flowers Look and Smell Like?

Like the blossoms of zonal geraniums, little flowers with five lavender-pink petals appear in clusters. A wide streak of dark purple paints the topmost petals, creating a delicate yet eye-catching two-tone effect. The flowers are odorless since the perfume emanates solely from the foliage.

How to Encourage More Blooms

To give your plant more fullness, nip back growth tips and deadhead spent blossoms throughout the season. Every three weeks, you can apply a half-strength application of a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Common Problems With Citronella

Geraniums with a citronella aroma are hardy plants that rarely have issues. To keep it looking neat, this plant does need some upkeep.

Thin, Leggy Appearance

Less than six hours of sunlight might cause plants to stretch toward available light, giving them a straggly, lanky appearance. Plants or pots should be placed in areas with sufficient light. Throughout the season, pinch back growing tips frequently to promote bushier growth.

Brown Leaf Tips and Edges

Although citronella plants can withstand some drought, they still require frequent irrigation, particularly in hot, dry weather. The plant is dry when the tops and edges of the leaves become brown. Consider watering more frequently and thoroughly.

Citronella Plant vs. Citronella Grass

The citronella plant and citronella grass belong to separate genuses, although having the same namesake. Saltiel asserts, “They aren’t even remotely related.” “One is more similar to a geranium in your flower bed, and the other is more similar to your grass.”

According to Pollak, the only resemblance between them is that they have a distinctive scent. If crushed and applied directly to the skin, citronella plant oil may temporarily repel certain insects. You’re better off using a product that contains citronella oil, which is made from citronella grass, to repel large areas of insects.

Also Read: Meadow Rue Complete Guide To Grow And Care

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