Last Updated on October 7, 2022
The citronella plant is a great addition to the garden but it makes a particularly fetching pot plant. Today, we explore this fascinating geranium – not to be confused with lemongrass or citronella grass! Our guide is packed with excellent care tips to ensure that your new plant stays in top, aromatic form.
Table of Contents
- The Benefits of Choosing Citronella Geranium
- The Mosquito Myth
- Origins and Appearance
- Temperature and Humidity
- Watering and Feeding
- Soil and Repotting
- Pests and Diseases
The Benefits of Choosing Citronella Geranium
- A beautiful plant.
- Easy to grow.
- Can be propagated at home.
- Thrives in containers.
- Smells amazing.
The Mosquito Myth
If you are interested in this plant, then you will inevitably stumble upon the claim that its scented leaves can repel mosquitoes. In fact, this belief is so strong that some garden stores sell the geraniums under the name “Mosquito Plant.” Unfortunately, this claim is false. The citronella plant does not repel mosquitoes. Or any other pest, for that matter.
Origins and Appearance
This beauty is native to South Africa. It is not related to true citronella, which is a type of grass that originates from tropical Asia.
Citronella geranium has a handsome look. In fact, it kind of looks like a giant parsley plant! The dark green leaves have several frilly lobes on strong stems and the entire plant can grow up to 3 feet tall (90 cm). The foliage is also evergreen and releases a citrus scent that becomes stronger when the leaves are crushed.
With proper care, the plant turns into a lush bush and produces typical geranium flowers. The blooms usually have several long petals, and their color can range from pink to lavender.
Temperature and Humidity
Besides correct watering, which we will cover in a minute, a happy houseplant only needs three things – the ideal type of sunlight, temperature and humidity. Let’s look at each in turn, so you will know all the best conditions for your citrusy wonder!
Plenty of Sun
All geraniums are sun worshipers and this one is no different. You can place your citronella in full sun or partial shade (with bright, indirect sunlight). Either way, it needs to soak up at least six hours of sunlight every day.
Mild Heat is Best
Africa can get notoriously hot, meaning that your outdoors geranium can survive heatwaves if you provide shade and water. But they tend to flourish when temperatures stay in the range of 59 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 21 degrees Celsius).
Moderate to High Humidity
Citronella geranium enjoys the higher end of humid days, although it can live for some time in low levels of humidity. If you want to keep your plant in ideal conditions, aim to keep humidity numbers between 40 and 70 percent.
If your region has consistently low humidity, it might help to keep the plant in the bathroom. The fog created by showers is perfect. Alternatively, you can give it a good misting every now and again.
Watering and Feeding
South Africa is also known for its dry spells and indeed, this geranium reflects that heritage by being slightly drought-tolerant. For this reason, be careful not to overwater your plant. Some outdoor geraniums can survive with just rain water but don’t leave your plant’s health to the elements! Test the soil with your finger and if the top inch or two is dry, then go ahead and give the container a good soaking.
Geraniums are not plants that need a lot of fertilizer. Once again, well-established bushes in the garden sometimes look great without a single feeding for months. In the case of citronella geraniums, giving too much fertilizer can possibly reduce its citrus fragrance.
That being said, an organic fertilizer can give your citronella a leg up when it’s young, struggling , or you just want to ensure healthy new foliage during the growing seasons. A good choice is fish emulsion. It’s very safe, non-toxic and does not negatively influence a plant in any way. Fish emulsion will only provide a good boost in nutrients.
Pro Tip: Due to the fishy smell, keep an eye on your pets. They might want to eat the potting soil.
Soil and Repotting
Avoid Dense Soil
Citronella geranium is not too fussy about soil. In fact, it could be a perfect plant to decorate a corner in your garden that is cursed with poor soil. However, while it will happily accept any soil that you choose, this plant has one requirement. Since it is drought-tolerant, waterlogged soil will cause problems. Ensure that your chosen potting mix is well-draining, and you are good to go!
Do you love the fact that this plant grows large in quite a short amount of time? Unfortunately, that silver lining comes with a dark cloud. It will outgrow its pot at a faster rate than most of your houseplants.
You can reduce the number of repottings by starting your plant in a large container. But by the time it has grown to its full height, the container should be at least 12 inches (roughly 30 cm in depth). The new pot should also have adequate drainage holes to avoid water overstaying their welcome and rotting the roots.
Get all the best tips on how to re-pot your house plants.
When to Prune Your Citronella Geranium
Unlike other plants that require pruning to stay healthy, citronella plants only need a few snips when they have damaged or diseased foliage. Use a clean pair of scissors to remove them or any leggy stalks that are ruining the plant’s appearance. Another reason why fans of this plant prune their citronella is to take cuttings for propagation. You can also prune the plant to keep its rapid growth under control.
Pests and Diseases
Geraniums are hardy plants. This is one of their best features. However, all gardeners know that even the healthiest plant can pick up an unexpected bug or illness. Let’s look at the most common problems associated with citronella plants and their solutions.
Limp leaves – The plant needs more sunlight. Move it to a sunny location where it can get 6 hours of sunlight. If moving the plant is not feasible, then it will also respond well to a growing lamp.
Brown spots – Most dark spots indicate overwatering or a waterlogged pot. Make sure that your container has proper drainage. If the latter is fine, allow your geranium to dry out until the top two or three inches of soil is dry before giving it a little water.
Sucking insects – Aphids, scale insects and spider mites can show up on any plant. They literally suck the life out of their host. When you notice any of these bugs, treat your citronella plant as soon as possible with an organic pesticide or horticultural soap.
No, citronella geraniums are toxic to animals and people. When ingested, symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, stomach trouble, and muscle weakness. Cats seem to be more susceptible, so if you have a cat that eats plants, consider a plant that is safer.
When kept outdoors in the garden, there’s not much you can do. The plants will either go dormant or die back. But if your outdoor plants are kept in containers, you can move the pots indoor during the winter to keep them safe.
The best way to propagate your citronella geranium is to take a few healthy cuttings. The cuttings can be rooted in soil or water. Before you plant them in soil, dust the cuttings with a non-toxic rooting powder. If you want to root the cuttings in water, remember to change the water every three days.
The citronella plant grows quickly but unlike other plants with an aggressive growth rate, this geranium won’t take over your garden. It prefers to grow upward and won’t seed itself to the point where it pushes out other plant life.
Not entirely. While it might not be true that there is a minty citronella geranium, there is a geranium that is mint-scented. It not just smells different but the leaves are also shaped differently. You might also be interested in the other scented geraniums, including rose, apple, and camphor.