How to Grow and Care for a Citronella Plant

Add a delightful citrus fragrance to your garden with this easy-care scented geranium.

Citronella plant is a popular herb that has acquired a variety of nicknames over the years. You might have heard it called mosquito plant or lemon geranium. These monikers usually refer to a specific type of scented geranium, Pelargonium citrosum. Known for the strong, citrus-like fragrance that quickly wafts from its crushed leaves, citronella plant is said to repel mosquitos and other insects, but those claims are not proven. Even if it's not your silver bullet to keep bugs at bay, citronella plant still makes an easy-to-grow and fragrant addition to your garden. Here's how to care for your citronella plant year-round.

'Mabel Grey' lemon-scented geranium
Dean Schoeppner

How to Grow a Citronella Plant

A member of the scented geranium family of plants, citronella plant is often stocked alongside the herbs in the garden center. Sometimes it will even be labeled as a mosquito plant. Look for a plant that has healthy, deep green leaves. Then, gently remove the plant from the container and take a peek at the roots. The roots should be bright white and just beginning to reach the edges of the container. Avoid plants that have tightly matted roots along the outer edge of the root ball.

Citronella plant grows equally well in full sun or part shade. In regions with intense summer heat, give your plant afternoon shade. A porch or patio that receives morning sunlight and some afternoon shade is perfect, especially in containers where you can easily grab a leaf to release some of the refreshing perfume. Or grow citronella plant in the ground along a walkway where you are likely to brush up against the leaves. It only releases its refreshing, vibrant, lemony scent when its leaves are touched.

Citronella plant grows best in well-drained soil and will even tolerate dry soil. Avoid wet or boggy growing areas because citronella plants may rot in soggy soil. In a container, use an all-purpose potting mix.

Watering and Feeding Citronella Plants

Like all scented geraniums, citronella plant grows best when its soil is allowed to dry slightly between waterings. Here's a citronella plant watering plan: water a potted plant deeply, allowing excess water to flow out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Don't water the plant again until the top inch of the soil is dry to the touch. When it's dry, water deeply again. Water citronella plants growing in the ground when the top two inches of soil feel dry to the touch.

Citronella, like other scented geraniums, doesn't require much fertilizing over the course of the growing season. Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time to satisfy its nutrient needs.

How to Overwinter Citronella Plant

To overwinter your citronella plant indoors, move it into your home when night temperatures dip to 45℉ in the fall. If citronella remains outside when temperatures fall much below that point, it will have a hard time adjusting to indoor growing conditions. It's best to bring your citronella inside as soon as cool nights become the norm.

A sunny window is a perfect winter home for a citronella plant; south or west facing windows let in the brightest light. Or you can use grow lights as well. Water your citronella plant whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Move it outside again in spring when all chance of frost is past and night temperatures stay above 45℉.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is citronella plant a perennial or annual?

    Citronella plant is a perennial, but it's only hardy in Zones 9-11. In colder areas, you can either treat your citronella plant like an annual and replace it every year, or you can bring it inside for the winter.

  • Is citronella plant edible?

    Like all scented geraniums, the citronella plant's leaves and flowers are edible and full of flavor. Before using citronella leaves in the kitchen, gently wash them under running water and pat them dry. Citronella leaves can be added fresh to salads for a little kick of citrus flavor. Coat the flowers with sugar and use them to decorate cookies and cakes.

  • Do citronella plants actually repel mosquitoes?

    While citronella plants contain a small amount of citronellal (the lemony component used in citronella oil products like candles and torches), there isn’t enough of the chemical present in the plant alone to have a repellant effect on mosquitoes. For that, consider planting lavender, basil, marigolds, catnip, lemongrass, or lemon balm, all of which are proven to be more effective at deterring pesky pests. 

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