Skip to content

How to Grow and Care for Citronella

full frame overhead view of citronella scented geranium plant with serrated green leaves and pink and small pink and white flowers

Fenneke Smouter/Getty Images

Citronella plant is one of our favorite garden multitaskers. This easy-to-grow perennial offers lush greenery, charming pink flowers, and a pleasant, citrusy scent.

While its reputation for repelling mosquitoes is (unfortunately) a myth, this attractive, low-maintenance plant makes a welcome addition to any garden, whether grown in containers or in the ground. Here's everything you need to know to grow this beautiful, fragrant plant.

  • Botanical Name: Pelargonium 'Citronella' or Pelargonium 'Citrosum'
  • Common Name: Citronella, mosquito plant, citrosa plant, citronella scented geranium
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature Size: 12 to 24 inches tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full to part sun
  • Soil Type: Rich, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 5.8 - 6.3
  • Toxicity: Toxic to dogs and cats

Plant Care

Water citronella plants in containers when the top inch or so of soil has dried out. Keep in-ground plants well watered, especially in the hotter months, to ensure abundant growth.

To encourage blooms in the spring and summer, feed potted citronella plants monthly with standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. For in-ground plants, apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer for edible plants once per month according to package directions.

full frame overhead view of scented geranium citronella plant with serrated light green leaves

daoleduc/Getty Images

Best Growing Conditions for Citronella

Plant citronella outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. Choose a site with bright sunlight and, if possible, a little afternoon shade to protect the plant's delicate leaves during the hottest parts of the day.

Citronella plants grow best in well-drained soils. Give in-ground plants 18 to 24 inches of space between plantings. If planting in your garden, add compost to the hole when planting.

Types of Citronella

Citronella (mosquito plant) is a type of scented geranium. These attractive, fragrant plants offer beautiful blooms and have been bred to give off a variety of scents, from mint to nutmeg to apple. Citronella is sometimes confused with citronella grass, a different species of plant.

How to Propagate Citronella

Citronella is easy to propagate using stem cuttings. You'll need a healthy mother plant, a cutting tool, a small plant pot, potting soil, and optional rooting hormone powder.

  1. Choose a healthy stem and identify a portion in the middle of the stem with several leaves growing from it. This will be your cutting, as the lower portions of the stem tend to be woody and the young tops may be too fragile.
  2. Use a clean, sharp blade or pruners to cut a six-inch section in that middle portion of the stem. Trim away all but the top two leaves from the cutting.
  3. Dip the bottom end of the cutting in rooting hormone, if using. Plant the cutting in a small container of moist potting soil, ensuring that at least one leaf node is below the soil line and at least one is above it (to allow for new leaf growth).
  4. Put the cutting in a warm place with bright, indirect light. Spritz the soil to keep it consistently moist. After a few weeks, you should see new growth emerge from the cutting. Once new growth emerges, care for the plant as usual.

Common Problems With Citronella

Browning leaves can indicate too much direct sunlight. Move potted plants to an area with partial shade. For citronella plants growing in the ground, use shade cloth or plant taller species nearby to protect the plants from the harsh sun.

Brown spots on leaves could also indicate that the plant is getting too much water. Cut back on watering and allow the soil to dry out before watering again.

Drooping leaves could indicate that the plant isn't getting enough water or light. A citronella plant that's become etiolated (tall and leggy) is stretching to get more sunlight. Prune back the leggy growth and move the plant to a sunnier spot.


What’s the difference between citronella grass and citronella geranium?

Two different plants are commonly called citronella. Citronella grass (Cymbopogon) is an inedible relative of lemongrass that grows in tall, upright clumps resembling its edible relative. The citronella we know as mosquito plant, Pelargonium spp., is a type of scented geranium. Both release a citrusy aroma when the leaves are crushed thanks to the essential oils in the plants.

Does citronella repel mosquitoes?

Despite their reputations as mosquito-repelling plants, neither citronella grass nor citronella scented geranium can repel mosquitoes by growing in your garden. While the essential oils in the leaves can be somewhat effective at keeping pesky insects away, you're better off planting these attractive specimens as ornamental plants instead.

Can citronella grow indoors?

Citronella plants grow best outdoors in warm weather, and they can be kept outdoors as perennials year-round in hardiness zones 9 to 11. In cooler climates, winter temperatures will kill citronella. Grow it in containers and bring plants indoors for the winter if you'd like to keep them growing in the spring.