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How to Take Care of a Citronella Plant

By Barbara Fahs ; Updated September 21, 2017

Citronella is a scented geranium in the Pelargonium genus that is said to help keep mosquitoes and other flying insects away from areas where it grows. It’s an attractive annual with small lavender flowers that does very well as a potted plant, although you can plant it in your garden if you like. It grows to about 2 feet tall. Because the citronella-scented geranium is a patented hybrid, it is available only as a starter plant and not as seeds. You can most likely find this fragrant plant in a small pot at your local nursery.

Transplant your young citronella geranium to a larger pot or into your garden. If you’re repotting it, use a good potting soil that will provide good drainage. If you’ll be planting it in the ground, choose an area with good drainage that receives full sun 6 to 8 hours each day. This plant also thrives where air circulation around it is good.

Water your citronella geranium well after you plant it and keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Pinch off any leaves that turn yellow—this is a normal occurrence. You can also prune any spent flowers or rambling branches to keep it looking attractive.

Fertilize with a high nitrogen plant food once each month to keep the leaves green.

Control insects such as scale with insecticidal soap or a combination of canola oil mixed with it. One tablespoon of oil to 1 qt. of soapy water is the correct proportion.


Things You Will Need

  • Citronella geranium plant
  • Well-drained potting soil
  • Clay or ceramic pot with drainage hole
  • Area with full sun
  • High nitrogen plant food
  • Insecticidal soap
  • Canola oil


  • A type of tropical grass is also called citronella (Cymbopogon nardus). It is considered the "true" citronella---citronella essential oil is derived from this plant and not from the scented geranium that bears its name. The scented geranium we typically think of as citronella is more common and because it has a strong citronella scent, it can be effective in keeping mosquitoes at bay.
  • For maximum effectiveness as an insect repellent, grow several potted citronella geraniums in areas where you want to deter insects, such as your patio.
  • To make a liniment that you spray or rub on your skin, fill a glass jar half full with citronella leaves (and flowers, if present) and then fill it with isopropyl alcohol. Cover and allow it to steep for 1 week; strain, and then apply it to your skin as needed.


  • Never drink isopropyl alcohol, or anything that contains it.

About the Author


Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.