By: Raffaele Di Lallo, Author and founder of Ohio Tropics houseplant care blog
Have you enjoyed your citronella plant outdoors and wondered if you can have citronella as a houseplant? The good news is that you certainly can grow this plant indoors. This plant is actually a type of geranium (Pelargonium genus) and is not frost hardy. It is considered an evergreen perennial in zones 9 through 11.
If you live in a colder region, you can bring your plant indoors and continue to grow it there. Although these plants bloom, they are grown for their citrusy scent that is thought to repel mosquitos.
One of the most important parts of growing citronella plants inside is to give these plants as much direct sun as possible. If you can give citronella plants six or more hours of direct sunlight every day, it will keep the plant bushier and more sturdy.
If your houseplant citronella is not getting enough light, the stems will stretch out, weaken, and tend to fall over. If you see this occurring, prune the weakened stems back and place the plant in an area with more direct sun.
Allow the top inch or so of your indoor citronella geranium’s soil to dry out before watering it again. You’ll want to keep the potting mix relatively moist and take care not to allow the soil to dry out completely. Be sure to use a good well-draining potting mix and fertilize regularly for best results.
If you have grown your plant outdoors and you don’t want to take in a large plant, you can easily propagate cuttings at the end of the summer and pot them up for indoor use. To accomplish this, you can use the layering technique. Simply bend one of the plant stems over, taking care not to snap it, and simply bury the stem into another pot of soil that you’ve placed right next to the mother plant. You’ll want to bury part of the stem where there is an actual leaf attached. The roots will grow from this location, called the node. Leave the growing tip of that stem exposed though.
Sometime before frost occurs, after a few weeks’ time, the buried part of the stem should have rooted. Simply cut the stem off of the original plant and move your plant indoors for the winter. Place it in the sunniest window you have, and your new citronella plant will be off to a great start!
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It actually belongs to a family of flowering plants called Geranium, found mainly in the tropical forests of Asia. And as you may have guessed, they are known for discouraging mosquito visitors, even if that’s not necessarily the case.
The smells given off by Citronella plants are fragrant, though not all that effective in warding off unwanted bugs. Homeowners still choose to have these plants amongst their collection for two reasons.
They smell good, and they add a delicate touch with leaves that look like lace.
Small, but mighty might be an accurate way to describe members of Geranium. Being quite resilient, taking care of your own Citronella plant can be easy. If you’re new to plant care, or simply want to double-check your routine, feel free to read on.
This article will focus on all needs that a Citronella plant owner should be mindful of.
While young plants can be purchased from DIY or Garden stores, growing from seed is often more affordable. However it takes both time and space.
You can begin sowing seeds directly outdoors once the last frost has passed. Sow seeds in a light position that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight.
Alternatively, if you want a head start, sow seeds indoors around 6 weeks before the last frost. Many gardeners like to sow the seeds at the same time as they sow tomato seeds.
Citronella seeds are pleasingly easy to germinate. Simply sprinkle the seeds over well worked or fresh damp soil. Sowing on damp soil helps the seeds to stick in place meaning that they won’t be disturbed by the wind. Cover with a light layer of soil.
If you are sowing indoors in trays or pots, cover with a plastic wrap, or lid. Alternatively, sow into a mini propagator such as the EarlyGrow Propagator. This helps to protect the seeds. It also allows you more control over the microclimate, meaning that you can keep the soil warm and encourage germination.
Seeds can be started undercover in containers or trays filled with fresh compost.
Following germination thin the seedlings out once they are a few inches tall. This encourages the remaining plants to become stronger and healthier.
Citronella grass prefers full sun, regular watering and a long growing season, and it is unlikely to survive a cool, damp winter, reports Floridata. For this reason, it's usually grown as an annual and replanted each spring. It also requires well-drained soil, according to Mountain Valley Growers. Similar to Pelargonium citrosum, plant it in your garden in a sunny location after the last frost for your area, and water well throughout the season.
Citronella forms clumps as it grows, rather than spreading through runners as do some grasses. If you plan to overwinter it, plant it in a pot and bring it inside before your first frost. Mountain Valley Growers recommends trimming it back to just 3 inches and setting it in a sunny window.
Citronella can be planted in containers or the garden, but we will explore the method for planting citronella in your garden directly.
Keep in mind that you will need to decide whether you plant the grass or the geranium, but the process is basically the same for each!
The best place in your garden will be somewhere that gets some afternoon shade but still receives sunlight in the morning.
Planting citronella beneath a tree is also a good idea for limiting the harmful UV rays.
If you are planting citronella directly in the ground, make sure you space your plants 18 to 24 inches apart to prevent overcrowding.
Citronella prefers to be planted in the spring, just after the last frost.
Since citronella is native to the tropics, it does not do well in cold conditions and will most likely die if they encounter frost.
It’s a safe bet to plant your citronella at the same time you plant your tomatoes.
When planting citronella, use good quality soil and mix it with a bit of organic compost to help it flourish.
If you do not have access to your own compost, there are also quite a few good options on the market for high-quality, all-purpose soil.
Citronella requires a lot of water, so you need to water it every day to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
You will be able to tell if your plant is not getting enough water because it will try to spread itself out more and will also start to wilt.
When summer comes to an end, you will need to prevent your citronella from dying off.
In climates with harsh winters, citronella will be planted annually.
On the other hand, in milder climates, your citronella can actually be a perennial, in which case, you should take proper precautions to keep it safe until spring.
Before summer is officially over, you can propagate new citronella, which will last until spring.
This is a good idea as it means you don’t have to start the process all over again each year.
You can have your plant ready for when mosquito season is in full swing.
Get a new, large pot and fill it with good quality soil. Set it beside your big citronella in the garden.
Grab a stem that is still attached to the plant and bend it into the soil of the new pot.
Bury the stem sideways, making sure to bury at least one nodule where a leaf is attached.
You want the leaf node buried but the top of the stem exposed.
You can use a rock as a placeholder and put it over the buried part of the stem.
It will take a few weeks for the stem to throw down roots, but by the time the season is finished, it established itself.
Cut the propagated stem free from the original plant and move the new plant inside to wait out the winter.
Even though some aspects of growing and caring for citronella plants seem daunting at times, don’t let that intimidate you. Here are a few tips that help you get the most out of your mosquito plants and avoid the most common problems gardeners have with them.