Citronella Grass – and Citronella Geranium – Natural Mosquito Repellent Plants
by Avis Licht
Many of us gardeners like to sit outside in the evening to enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the garden, only to be attacked by the tiny but insidious mosquito. Here are a couple of plants that you can grow for both beauty and also to repel the mosquitoes.
The term citronella plant applies to both citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) and citronella geraniums (Pelargonium citrosum). Both plants boast the insect-repelling aroma but are grown and cared for in slightly different ways. Citronella grass is an ornamental grass that is used commercially to create citronella oil — a potent insect repellent with a lemony aroma. Citronella geraniums, also known as mosquito plants, are hybrid plants that were created by crossing citronella grass with geraniums. These plants release citronella fragrance when they are crushed or rubbed.
1.Citronella grass is a coarse, clump-forming tropical grass that can grow 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall. The stems are canelike and the leaves are grayish green, flat, about 3 ft (0.9 m) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) or so wide. It does not spread by runners, as some grasses do, but the clump increases in size as the plant matures. You can find it online at Colonial Creek Farm. This grass is closely related to Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus), which is used in Asian cooking.
Do not rub the citronella grass on your skin. Some people experience a dermatitis with contact. You can crush it and rub it on your clothes. Some folks claim that just growing it in the garden seems to keep the mosquitoes away. I guess you’ve just got to try it for yourself. At least it will smell good and look good.
Light: Does best in full sun.
Moisture: Citronella grass needs at least 30 in (76 cm) of water a year.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 – 12. Citronella grass is perennial in USDA zones 10-12. It needs a long, warm growing season, and may not survive cool, damp winters. Citronella grass usually is replanted anew each spring after the ground has warmed.
Propagation: Propagate citronella grass by dividing the clumps. Do this before winter and keep some of the smaller clumps indoors to insure live plants come spring.
2.Citronella geranium is a drought resistant, tender perennial. It is evergreen in climates above 25 deg F. You can find it at Mountain Valley Growers nursery online. It also makes a great container plant. You can rub this plant on your clothes to repel mosquitoes. I’m not sure about rubbing it directly on your skin.
I happen to love all scented geraniums. They’re easy to grow and when you crush them in your fingers they smell so good. I use rose scented geraniums in baking. Yummy!
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