How to Grow Citronella Plants: A Complete Guide

Growing citronella plants is a wonderful addition to your garden and a practical way to repel mosquitoes naturally. With their distinct lemony scent and beautiful foliage, citronella plants offer a fun and functional element to your outdoor space.

In this article, we will guide you through cultivating citronella plants, from understanding their characteristics to choosing the right location, planting them, and providing essential care.

Get ready to create a mosquito-free haven while enjoying the beauty and benefits of citronella plants.

Understanding Citronella Plants

Citronella plants, scientifically known as Cymbopogon, belong to the Poaceae family and are native to tropical regions. The two main varieties commonly cultivated are Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus.

These perennial grass-like plants are renowned for their strong citrus aroma, which acts as a natural mosquito repellent. Citronella plants can reach a height of 5-6 feet and have long, slender leaves that release their aromatic fragrance when bruised or crushed.

Choosing the Right Location

1. Sunlight requirements:

Citronella plants thrive in full sun, requiring at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Choose a location in your garden that receives ample sunlight to ensure optimal growth.

2. Soil conditions:

Ensure the soil is well-draining and rich in organic matter. Citronella plants prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 7.0. If needed, amend the soil with compost or organic matter to improve its texture and fertility.

3. Climate considerations:

Citronella plants are best suited for warm climates. They prefer temperatures above 60°F (15°C) and are sensitive to frost. If you live in a colder region, consider growing citronella plants in containers that can be moved indoors during winter.

4. Spacing:

Provide adequate space between citronella plants for proper air circulation and growth. The recommended spacing is typically 2-3 feet apart, depending on the specific variety.

5. Protection from wind:

While citronella plants enjoy a gentle breeze, strong winds can damage their delicate leaves. Plant them in a location where they are protected from strong gusts of wind to prevent foliage breakage.

Step-by-Step Guide for Planting Citronella Plants:

1. Select healthy citronella plants or start from seeds:

Choose healthy nursery-bought citronella plants, or start from seeds. If starting from seeds, sow them indoors in seed trays 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Keep the soil consistently moist and provide warmth and indirect sunlight for germination.

2. Prepare the planting area:

Clear the planting area of weeds, rocks, and debris. Loosen the soil using a garden fork or tiller to a depth of 6-8 inches. Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil to enhance its fertility and drainage.

3. Dig the planting holes:

Dig holes slightly larger than the root ball of the citronella plants. Ensure the depth is equal to the height of the nursery container or the root ball itself. Space the holes according to the recommended spacing for the specific variety you are planting.

4. Planting techniques:

Gently remove the citronella plant from its nursery container, careful not to damage the roots. Place the plant in the center of the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with or slightly above the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the roots to eliminate any air pockets.

5. Watering:

After planting, thoroughly water the citronella plants to settle the soil and encourage root establishment. Provide enough water to moisten the soil but avoid excessive saturation, as citronella plants prefer slightly moist conditions.

6. Mulching:

Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, around the base of the plants. This helps retain moisture, suppresses weeds, and regulates soil temperature.

7. Regular care:

Maintaining a regular watering schedule ensures the soil remains consistently moist but not overly saturated. Monitor for pests and diseases, and address any issues promptly to ensure the health of your plants.

Citronella Plant Care Tips

1. Watering schedule:

Water citronella plants deeply once a week, providing enough water to reach the root zone. Adjust the frequency based on weather conditions, ensuring the soil doesn’t dry out completely between watering sessions.

2. Fertilization:

Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer formulated for ornamental grasses in early spring. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging for proper application rates.

3. Pruning:

Prune citronella plants regularly to maintain their shape and encourage bushier growth. Remove any dead or damaged foliage, and trim back excessive growth to keep the plant tidy.

4. Pest management:

Monitor your citronella plants for common pests such as aphids or mealybugs. If detected, use natural remedies like neem oil or insecticidal soap to control the infestation.

5. Disease prevention:

Citronella plants are generally resistant to diseases. However, watch for signs of fungal infections like powdery mildew. Ensure proper air circulation around the plants and avoid overhead watering to prevent disease development.

6. Overwintering:

Citronella plants are sensitive to frost and won’t survive in colder climates. If you live in an area with harsh winters, consider growing citronella as an annual or bring potted plants indoors before the first frost.

7. Propagation:

Expand your citronella plant collection by dividing mature clumps or taking stem cuttings. Follow proper propagation techniques to ensure successful growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can citronella plants be grown indoors?

Yes, citronella plants can be grown indoors in containers. Place them near a sunny window or provide supplemental grow lights to ensure sufficient light exposure.

How long does it take for citronella plants to mature?

Citronella plants typically take 3-4 months to reach maturity when grown from seeds. Nursery-bought plants are already mature and ready for immediate planting.

Are citronella plants toxic to pets or humans?

Citronella plants are not known to be toxic to pets or humans. However, it’s always advisable to keep them out of reach of curious pets and children.

Can citronella plants survive winter?

Citronella plants are sensitive to frost and colder temperatures. In regions with harsh winters, it’s best to bring potted citronella plants indoors or treat them as annuals.


Incorporating citronella plants into your garden adds beauty and provides a natural solution for repelling mosquitoes.

By understanding the characteristics of citronella plants, choosing the right location, following the step-by-step planting guide, and providing proper care, you can enjoy the benefits of these fragrant and useful plants.

From regular watering and pruning to addressing pests and diseases, maintaining your citronella plants will ensure a mosquito-free outdoor space.

Embrace the joy of cultivating citronella plants and create a pleasant environment while keeping those pesky insects at bay.

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