How To Plant Citronella [ Full Guide ]

Citronella is a popular plant known for its strong lemony fragrance, which acts as a natural repellent for mosquitoes. This perennial grass is native to Southeast Asia and is becoming increasingly popular for both its ornamental and practical properties. Planting citronella requires careful consideration of its preferred growing conditions, soil preparation, and the method of propagation.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the step-by-step process of planting citronella, including selecting the right location, preparing the soil, and the various propagation methods. Whether you are a beginner gardener or looking to add this versatile plant to your outdoor space, this guide will provide you with the essential knowledge to successfully cultivate and enjoy the benefits of citronella.

Quick Answer: How To Plant Citronella

Before delving into the detailed process, here is a quick overview of the steps involved in planting citronella:

  1. Select a well-draining location with full to partial sun exposure for cultivating citronella.
  2. Prepare the soil by incorporating organic matter and ensuring it is slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
  3. Choose the propagation method, such as planting seeds or using stem cuttings.
  4. Plant the citronella seeds or cuttings in the prepared soil at the appropriate depth, spacing, and watering requirements.
  5. Maintain the plant by watering it regularly, controlling weeds, and providing occasional feeding to promote its growth.

Now let’s delve into each of these steps in detail to ensure successful cultivation of citronella.

Choosing The Right Location For Your Citronella

Selecting the optimal location for planting citronella is crucial for its growth and development. Citronella thrives in warm, tropical climates and requires well-draining soil along with ample sunlight to flourish. Here are the key considerations for choosing the right location:

Sunlight Requirements

Citronella plants thrive in full to partial sun, making it essential to choose a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. When planting citronella, select an area in your garden or outdoor space that is not heavily shaded by trees or structures. This allows the plant to photosynthesize effectively and ensures robust growth.

Temperature And Climate

Citronella is best suited for USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, where the temperatures are consistently warm. It is sensitive to frost and cold temperatures, so it is important to consider the climate of your region before planting citronella. If you live in a cooler climate, consider cultivating citronella in containers that can be brought indoors during the winter months to protect it from freezing temperatures.

Soil Drainage

Well-draining soil is crucial for the health of citronella plants. They do not tolerate waterlogged conditions, so it is important to choose a planting location with soil that drains well. Avoid areas prone to water accumulation or heavy clay soil, as these can lead to root rot and other issues. If your soil has poor drainage, consider amending it with organic matter to improve its texture and drainage capabilities.

Protection From Wind

While citronella thrives in warm and sunny conditions, it is also important to consider the impact of strong winds on the plant. Excessive wind can damage the delicate foliage of citronella and hinder its growth. If your selected location is prone to strong winds, consider providing some form of windbreak, such as planting a hedge or erecting a barrier, to shield the citronella from wind damage.

Container Cultivation

If you are unable to find an ideal outdoor location for planting citronella in the ground, consider growing it in a container. This allows you to control the growing conditions more effectively, especially in regions with cooler climates. Choose a large container with adequate drainage holes and use a well-draining potting mix to provide a suitable growing environment for the citronella plant.

By carefully considering these factors, you can choose an optimal location for planting your citronella, setting the stage for its successful growth and development.

Preparing The Soil For Planting

Once you have identified the perfect location for planting citronella, it is imperative to prepare the soil to create a suitable growing environment for the plant. Proper soil preparation sets the foundation for healthy root development and overall plant vigor. Here are the essential steps for preparing the soil for planting citronella:

Soil Ph

Citronella thrives in slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.5. Before planting, it is advisable to test the pH of the soil at your chosen location using a pH testing kit. If the soil pH is outside the optimal range, you can make adjustments by amending the soil with organic matter or specific soil acidifiers to reach the desired pH level. Additionally, incorporating organic matter such as compost or aged manure can help improve soil structure and increase its acidity, creating an ideal growing medium for citronella.

Soil Texture And Drainage

In addition to the pH level, the texture and drainage of the soil are crucial factors to address when preparing the planting site. Citronella plants thrive in well-draining soil with a loamy or sandy texture. To improve soil drainage, especially in clay-heavy or compacted soil, incorporate organic matter such as compost, leaf mold, or peat moss to enhance the soil’s structure and drainage capabilities. This helps prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot and other problems for citronella plants.

Weed Control

Before planting citronella, it is important to clear the planting area of weeds and unwanted vegetation. Weeds not only compete with the citronella for essential nutrients and water but also serve as potential hosts for pests and diseases. Remove any existing weeds and their roots from the planting site, and consider using a layer of organic mulch to suppress weed growth once the citronella is planted.

Soil Enrichment

Enriching the soil with organic matter helps provide essential nutrients and improves the overall fertility of the planting site. Incorporate well-rotted compost, organic fertilizers, or other organic amendments into the soil to supplement its nutrient content. This not only supports the initial growth of the citronella plant but also contributes to long-term soil health.

By addressing these soil preparation considerations, you can create an optimal growing environment for citronella, setting the stage for successful establishment and growth.

Propagating Citronella: Seeds Vs. Cuttings

Once you have chosen the right location and prepared the soil, the next step is to decide on the method of propagation for planting citronella. Citronella can be propagated from seeds or through stem cuttings, each with its own set of advantages and considerations.

Propagating From Seeds

Planting citronella from seeds is a viable option, especially for gardeners who enjoy starting plants from scratch and observing the entire growth process. Here are the steps for propagating citronella from seeds:

  1. Purchase high-quality citronella seeds from a reputable source or collect them from mature citronella plants, ensuring they are fully matured and viable for germination.
  2. Start the seeds indoors in seed-starting trays or containers filled with a well-draining seed-starting mix. Plant the seeds at a shallow depth, covering them lightly with the growing medium.
  3. Maintain a consistent level of moisture and warmth to facilitate germination. Citronella seeds typically germinate within 14 to 21 days when provided with adequate moisture and temperatures ranging from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Once the seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves, carefully transplant them into larger containers or directly into the prepared planting site in the garden.
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While propagating citronella from seeds allows for greater control over the plant’s development from the very beginning, it does require patience and a longer lead time before the plants reach maturity.

Propagating From Stem Cuttings

Propagating citronella from stem cuttings offers a faster and more reliable method of obtaining new plants that are true to the parent plant. Here’s how to propagate citronella from stem cuttings:

  1. Select healthy, mature citronella plants from which to take cuttings. Using a sharp, clean knife or shears, take 4 to 6-inch cuttings from the tips of the plant’s stems, ensuring each cutting has several nodes where new roots can develop.
  2. Remove the lower sets of leaves from the cuttings, leaving a few leaves at the top to support photosynthesis.
  3. Dip the cut end of each stem cutting in a rooting hormone to encourage vigorous root development.
  4. Plant the cuttings in a well-draining potting mix or directly into the prepared garden soil, ensuring they are planted at an appropriate depth and spacing.
  5. Provide consistent moisture and warmth, ensuring the cuttings are protected from direct sunlight and drying out as they establish a root system.

Stem cuttings typically root within a few weeks and quickly establish themselves as new plants, making this method ideal for gardeners looking to propagate citronella efficiently and yield consistent results.

Choosing between seeds and stem cuttings for propagating citronella ultimately depends on your preference, timing, and the available resources. Both methods can lead to successful plant establishment when executed with care and attention to the specific needs of citronella.

Cultivating and planting citronella is a rewarding endeavor that offers both aesthetic appeal and practical benefits, especially in repelling mosquitoes and other insects. By selecting the right location, preparing the soil, and choosing the appropriate propagation method, you can set the stage for the successful growth and development of citronella plants in your outdoor space. With proper care, maintenance, and attention to its specific requirements, citronella can thrive and enhance your garden or landscape with its fragrant foliage and natural insect-repelling properties. Whether you are a novice gardener or an experienced enthusiast, the process of planting citronella presents an opportunity to appreciate the wonders of gardening while reaping the benefits of this versatile and valuable plant.

Best Time To Plant Citronella

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) is a popular herb known for its distinct lemon scent and natural insect-repellent properties. It is commonly used in candles, oils, and sprays to ward off mosquitoes and other bothersome pests. In addition to its practical uses, citronella also makes a beautiful ornamental plant with its tall, grass-like foliage and feathery flowers.

Citronella is a warm-season herb and thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. It is native to Southeast Asia but can be grown in other regions as well. The best time to plant citronella is during the spring or early summer when the temperature stays consistently above 50°F (10°C). This allows the plant to establish its roots properly before winter arrives.

If you live in a colder climate, you can still grow citronella as an annual plant or keep it in a container and bring it indoors during the winter months. It’s important to note that citronella is not frost-tolerant, so if you opt for growing it as a perennial, make sure to provide adequate protection during the frosty periods.

Planting Citronella: Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Choose a Suitable Location: Citronella plants require full sun to thrive, so select a spot in your garden that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. The soil should be well-draining to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot.

  2. Prepare the Soil: Citronella prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. If necessary, amend the soil by incorporating organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve its fertility and drainage. Ensure that the soil is loosened up to a depth of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) to accommodate the plant’s root system.

  3. Dig a Hole: Dig a hole that is slightly wider and deeper than the nursery pot or root ball of your citronella plant. This extra space allows the roots to spread and establish more easily. The hole should be about 2 times the width of the root ball and deep enough that the top of the root ball is level with or slightly above the ground.

  4. Remove the Plant: Gently remove the citronella plant from its container, taking care not to damage the roots. If the roots are tightly bound or the plant is root-bound, gently massage the root ball to loosen the roots before planting.

  5. Place the Plant: Set the citronella plant in the prepared hole, ensuring that it is positioned upright and centered. Backfill the hole with soil, firming it gently to eliminate air pockets around the roots. Avoid burying the stem too deeply, as this can lead to rotting.

  6. Water Thoroughly: After planting, give the citronella plant a thorough watering to settle the soil and ensure good contact between the roots and the surrounding soil. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged during the establishment phase to help the plant develop a strong root system.

  7. Mulch: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, around the base of the plant. This helps to retain moisture, suppress weed growth, and insulate the roots. Leave a small gap between the mulch and the stem to prevent stem rot.

  8. Stake if Necessary: If your citronella plant is tall or top-heavy, you may need to stake it to provide additional support. Place the stake a few inches away from the stem and gently tie the plant to it using soft plant ties. Be careful not to tie it too tightly to avoid damaging the stem.

Caring For Young Citronella Plants

Once you have planted your citronella, it’s important to provide proper care to ensure its early growth and establishment. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Watering: Citronella plants prefer consistent moisture but can be sensitive to overwatering. Keep the soil evenly moist, allowing the top inch (2.5 cm) to dry out slightly between waterings. Avoid allowing the soil to become too dry or waterlogged, as both conditions can stress the plant.

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Pruning: Pruning your citronella plants can help promote bushier growth and prevent them from becoming leggy. Pinch back the tips of the plant when it reaches a height of around 12 inches (30 cm). Regularly removing any dead or damaged foliage will also help maintain the plant’s overall health and appearance.

Pest Control: Citronella is generally resistant to most pests and diseases. However, it is important to keep an eye out for common garden pests such as aphids, mites, or grasshoppers that may occasionally infest the plant. Use organic insecticidal soap or a gentle spray of water to control minor infestations. If infestation persists, consult with your local garden center for appropriate pest control methods.

Weed Control: Regularly inspect the area around your citronella plants and remove any weeds that may compete for nutrients and water. Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plant will help suppress weed growth and conserve soil moisture.

Protection from Wind: Citronella plants can be susceptible to wind damage, especially when young. If your area experiences strong winds, consider planting your citronella near a windbreak such as a fence or wall, or use stakes to provide additional support until the plant becomes established.

Maintaining Citronella Plants: Watering And Fertilizing

Watering: Established citronella plants are relatively drought-tolerant but still benefit from consistent moisture. Water deeply once a week, providing enough water to penetrate the top 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) of soil. Adjust your watering frequency based on weather conditions and rainfall, ensuring that the soil remains evenly moist.

Fertilizing: Citronella plants are moderate feeders and benefit from regular fertilization to maintain their health and vigor. Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in early spring or use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength every four to six weeks during the growing season. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive leaf growth and reduced fragrance.

Overwintering: In regions with cold winters, citronella plants are often treated as annuals or brought indoors for the winter. If you decide to overwinter your citronella plant indoors, choose a bright location with indirect sunlight and average room temperature. Reduce watering during this period, allowing the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil to dry out between waterings.

Propagation: Citronella can be propagated through division or stem cuttings. To propagate through division, carefully lift the plant from the ground and divide the root ball into smaller sections, each with its own set of roots and shoots. Replant the divisions in well-prepared soil. To propagate through stem cuttings, take 4 to 6-inch (10 to 15 cm) cuttings from healthy, mature plants, remove the lower leaves, and place them in a well-draining potting mix. Keep the cuttings consistently moist in a warm, bright location until roots develop.

Planting and caring for citronella can be a rewarding experience. Not only does it provide a pleasant fragrance and an attractive addition to your garden, but it also acts as a natural insect repellent. By selecting the right location, following proper planting techniques, and providing appropriate care, you can enjoy the benefits of citronella all season long. Remember to water, fertilize, and protect your plants to ensure their healthy growth and enjoy their fragrant presence in your garden or outdoor space.

Pruning Techniques For A Healthy Citronella Plant

Citronella, also known as Cymbopogon nardus, is a perennial grass that is native to tropical regions such as Southeast Asia. It is well-known for its strong lemon-like aroma, which is often used in the production of insect repellents. Not only does citronella possess natural mosquito-repellent properties, but it is also an attractive and easy-to-grow plant that can add beauty and fragrance to your garden.

Pruning is an essential aspect of citronella plant care. Regular pruning will not only help maintain the plant’s shape and size but also encourage healthy growth and prevent the plant from becoming overcrowded. Here are some pruning techniques to keep your citronella plant in optimal condition:

1. Start With A Clean Slate

Before starting the pruning process, it is essential to ensure that your tools are clean and sharp. Dirty or dull pruning shears can introduce diseases and infections to the plant. Soaking the blades in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water for a few minutes and wiping them clean with a cloth will help sterilize them.

2. Remove Dead Or Damaged Leaves

Inspect your citronella plant regularly and remove any dead or damaged leaves. These leaves not only diminish the plant’s aesthetic appeal but can also attract pests and diseases. Snip the leaf stem close to the base using clean pruning shears.

3. Trim For Shape And Size

To maintain your citronella plant’s desired shape and size, prune the outermost branches. Start by removing any weak or spindly stems that are growing inwards or appear less vigorous. Cut these stems at an angle just above a leaf node.

4. Encourage Bushier Growth

To promote bushier growth, pinch off the tips of the stems. This will encourage the plant to branch out, creating a fuller and more compact appearance.

5. Prune After Flowering

Citronella plants typically produce flowers in late summer or early fall. Once the flowers have faded, you can prune off the spent blooms. This will not only help maintain the plant’s appearance but also redirect energy towards new growth rather than seed production.

Remember to avoid excessive pruning, as it can stress the plant and inhibit its ability to produce a strong root system.

Common Pests And Diseases In Citronella Plants

While citronella plants are generally hardy and resilient, they are still susceptible to some common pests and diseases. Being aware of these potential issues can help you take preventive measures and ensure the health of your plants. Here are a few pests and diseases to watch out for:

1. Aphids

Aphids are small, sap-sucking insects that can cause curling and yellowing of the leaves. They often congregate at the stem tips and the undersides of leaves. To control aphids, you can spray your citronella plant with a homemade insecticidal soap or use commercially available insecticidal sprays.

2. Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny arachnids that feed on the plant’s sap, leading to yellowing leaves and the appearance of fine webbing. To get rid of spider mites, you can rinse the plant with a strong blast of water or use a commercial miticide.

3. Scale Insects

Scale insects are small, immobile pests that suck plant sap, causing yellowing leaves and a black, sooty mold on the plant’s surface. You can scrape off scale insects with a soft brush or use a horticultural oil spray to control them.

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4. Fungal Diseases

Citronella plants can be prone to fungal infections, such as leaf spot and powdery mildew. Leaf spot appears as dark spots or lesions on the leaves, while powdery mildew appears as a white powdery coating on the leaves. To prevent fungal diseases, avoid overwatering and ensure good air circulation around the plant. If an infection occurs, you can use fungicidal sprays to treat it.

By regularly inspecting your citronella plants and taking prompt action at the first sign of pests or diseases, you can effectively control and manage these issues.

Harvesting And Using Citronella Leaves

One of the main reasons people grow citronella plants is for their aromatic leaves, which can be used in a variety of ways. Here’s how you can harvest and utilize citronella leaves:

1. Harvesting

To harvest citronella leaves, choose mature plants that are at least 12 inches tall. Select healthy stems with vibrant green leaves, as they contain the highest concentration of essential oils. Using clean pruning shears, cut the stems close to the base, leaving enough foliage for the plant to continue growing.

2. Drying

After harvesting, it is important to dry the citronella leaves properly. Lay the stems in a single layer on a clean, dry surface, such as a tray or a screen. Place them in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. The leaves will dry in about two weeks, depending on the humidity levels in your surroundings. Gently shake the stems occasionally to ensure even drying.

3. Storing

Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container, such as a glass jar or a ziplock bag. Keep the container in a cool, dark place to preserve the leaves’ aroma and flavor. Dried citronella leaves can last up to a year if stored correctly.

4. Using The Leaves

Citronella leaves can be used in various ways, such as:

  • Making homemade citronella oil: Crush a handful of dried citronella leaves and place them in a jar. Cover the leaves with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Allow the mixture to infuse for a few days, then strain out the leaves. The resulting oil can be used as a natural insect repellent or as an aromatic oil in candles or diffusers.

  • Adding to culinary dishes: Citronella leaves can be used in cooking to add a citrusy flavor to dishes such as soups, stews, and marinades. Before using, finely chop the leaves and add them to your desired recipe.

  • Making herbal tea: Infuse dried citronella leaves in boiling water to make a refreshing and fragrant herbal tea. Add honey and lemon for additional flavor, if desired.

Tips For Overwintering Citronella Plants

Citronella plants are typically hardy in USDA zones 10-12, where the temperatures do not dip below 30°F (-1°C). If you live in a colder climate, proper overwintering techniques can help protect your plants and ensure their survival. Here are a few tips for overwintering citronella plants:

1. Bring Indoors

Before the first frost, dig up your citronella plants from the garden or container and carefully transplant them into pots. Choose pots that are at least 12-14 inches in diameter and filled with a well-draining potting mix. Trim back any excessive foliage to minimize stress on the plant during the transition.

2. Provide Adequate Light

Citronella plants require bright sunlight to maintain their health and vigor. Place the potted plants in a south-facing window or under grow lights to ensure they receive at least six hours of sunlight each day.

3. Maintain Proper Watering

During the winter months, citronella plants require less water compared to their active growing season. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot. The goal is to keep the soil moist but not soggy.

4. Monitor Humidity Levels

Citronella plants prefer moderate humidity levels. If your home tends to be dry during the winter, you can increase humidity by placing a tray filled with water near the plants or using a room humidifier. Misting the leaves occasionally can also help provide some moisture.

5. Limit Fertilizer Application

During the winter, citronella plants enter a period of dormancy, and their nutrient requirements decrease. Therefore, limit fertilization to once every two months or use a diluted liquid fertilizer at half the recommended strength.

By following these overwintering tips, you can successfully protect your citronella plants and ensure their well-being until the warmer temperatures return.


Growing and caring for citronella plants can be a rewarding experience. From pruning for a healthy plant to protecting against pests and diseases, each step plays a crucial role in maintaining the plant’s overall health and maximizing its aromatic properties. Harvesting and utilizing citronella leaves provide additional benefits, whether in repelling insects or enhancing culinary dishes.

With proper care and attention, your citronella plants can serve as lovely additions to your garden or containers, filling the air with their refreshing fragrance and providing a natural defense against mosquitoes. So, go ahead and plant some citronella, and enjoy the beauty and practicality it brings to your green space.


What Is Citronella And Why Is It Planted?

Citronella is a fragrant grass that contains citronellol and geraniol oils which have natural insect-repelling properties. It is commonly planted as a natural and environment-friendly mosquito repellent.

When Is The Best Time To Plant Citronella?

The best time to plant citronella is during spring or fall, especially when temperatures are around 70°F to 85°F. Avoid planting the grass during the summer as excessive heat may cause it to dry out.

How Do I Prepare The Planting Location For Citronella?

Citronella thrives in well-draining soil and requires ample sunlight. Before planting, make sure to remove weeds and rocks from the planting site. Mix in organic matter to enhance soil drainage and nutrient composition.

How Do I Plant Citronella?

Plant citronella using clumps of root divisions that contain at least one stem. Dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the roots and fill it with soil, pressing firmly around the roots to secure the plant. Make sure to water the plant thoroughly once you finish planting.

How Do I Care For Citronella After Planting?

Water citronella regularly until it becomes established. In general, you should water the plant once or twice a week, depending on the weather conditions. Feed with organic or synthetic fertilizers once every three months to encourage growth and maintain soil fertility. Keep the surrounding area weed-free to prevent competition.