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Citronella Grass How to Grow and Care Guide

Well known for its beautifully bladed foliage and citrusy fragrance, citronella grass can not only provide you with a couple of useful benefits, but it can also function as an excellent companion plant in your garden.

Being one of the most impressive varieties around, this plant is a valuable source of the famous essential oil. Easy to grow and care for, this luscious tropical plant is also simple to propagate.

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Citronella Grass How to Grow and Care Guide

Introducing Citronella Grass

Cymbopogon nardus is commonly known as citronella grass or citronella plant

Originating from tropical Asian regions, Cymbopogon nardus is commonly known as citronella grass or citronella plant. Related to but separate from lemongrass, this plant is where citronella oil is derived from.

This plant forms a part of the Poaceae family and differs from lemongrass in that its foliage is inedible and can be toxic to our fluffy friends. Citronella plants thrive in warm and temperate climates in hardiness zones of 9 to 12 in the USA. 

Growing up to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, this plant can be used as an excellent focal plant or can be seamlessly integrated into your garden where its lance-shaped blades of grass will fill your garden with its natural citrusy fragrance and add gorgeous texture where needed.

Citronella is a fast-growing, tall grass that produces light-brown, spikey flowers that bloom from summer to fall. 

Plant Name:

Crepe Myrtle

Genus:

Cymbopogon

Species:

nardus

Common Names:

Citronella grass, citronella plant

Location:

Indoor and outdoor

Type: 

Perennial plant, tall grass

Growth:

Height 4 to 6 ft. / Width 3 to 4 ft.

Sun Requirements:

Partial shade to full sun

Foliage Color:

Green

Flower Color:

Light brown

Flowering:

Summer to Fall

Hardiness Zones:

9 to 12, USA

Maintenance Level:

Low

Poisonous for Pets:

Toxic to cats and dogs

Insect Repelling Qualities

Insect-deterring benefits of citronella grass

The citronella plant itself does not naturally discourage insects, the process of extracting the oil from this plant is known as steam distillation and it is a very labor-intensive process.

Growers can reap the insect-deterring benefits of citronella grass by crushing the leaves and using the fragrance to repel critters or by rubbing the crushed leaves directly on the skin.

It is advisable to first test whether you have any allergic reactions to the sap by placing a small amount on the skin and monitoring your reaction.

Citronella Grass vs Citronella Geranium

Deriving from an entirely different family, citronella geraniums or mosquito plants are often confused with citronella grass. These plants are subshrubs that share a similar fragrance but look vastly different.

Citronella geraniums have broad leaves, serrated textures, and bloom with pink and white flowers. This guide is for growing and caring for citronella grass and not the geranium varieties.

How to Grow Citronella Grass

How to Grow Citronella Grass

This plant can be planted straight into your garden bed or potted for indoor and outdoor use. Some select nurseries may stock small plants that you could simply plant in your garden or a pot.

Considered a perennial only in warm climates, the citronella plant will require certain growing conditions to thrive. If you live in a climate with long and harsh winters outside of the zone recommendations, it is advisable to move the plant indoors before the first frost.

For this reason, planting it in a pot might be the best solution. This plant is known to be adaptable and hardy but long exposure to cold weather can damage the plant and stunt growth. 

Growing Citronella Grass from Seeds

Citronella grass can easily be grown from seeds after the final frost. Once you have purchased your seeds, either scatter them in slightly loose soil in your garden bed or place them into your growing containers.

Cover with a small layer of your potting mix and water well. The seeds should be in a warm location with plenty of filtered light throughout the day. You can mist the seeds to help with moisture intake. Germination can occur within two to three weeks. 

How to Propagate Citronella Plant by Division

Due to its clumping habit, citronella grass is easily propagated by dividing the plant. This can be done during the spring. 

Here are the simple steps:

  • Cleanly cut the piece of the plant and its root system away that you want to divide. A sharp shovel or spade should work great. 
  • Gently work the root system and slowly section the divided piece away from the parent plant. 
  • Refill soil as needed for the parent plant. 
  • Plant your newly divided citronella grass in your desired location and water frequently.

Planting Citronella Grass

Planting Citronella Grass

Planting during the spring after the last frost is generally recommended. The citronella plant can be grown directly in your garden bed or a pot or container.

Regardless of where you plant your citronella grass, providing it with the best growing environment you can will ensure you have a healthy and happy plant. 

Type of Soil to Use

These plants thrive in well-draining soil. Because they need a lot of water, the soil needs to drain effectively to prevent problems like root rot and other fungal infections. A moist loamy soil should work well but citronella grass can tolerate other soil types as well. 

Sunlight

This plant loves the sun but does need some afternoon shade to prevent the leaves from scorching. It can tolerate partial shade to full sun. About 6 hours of direct light per day is recommended. Some less harsh filtered light in the afternoon is ideal. 

Temperature & Humidity

Citronella grass grows as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 12. Being native to tropical regions, warm climates that experience healthy humidity levels tend to be preferred growing environments for citronella grass. 

This plant however does not cope well in long stretches of cold temperatures. Anything below 32 degrees F can be damaging.

Moving your citronella grass indoors over the winter is recommended if you experience these temperatures for long periods. This is why many growers choose to plant them in pots so they can easily be moved inside over the winter. 

Citronella Plant Propagation

How to Plant Citronella Grass

Whether in your garden or potted in your home, the citronella plant will fragrance the air with a citrusy aroma and add luscious greenery to any space.

It makes a great companion plant in the garden whether planted in your garden bed or potted in a large container as a feature plant. 

Planting Citronella Grass in the Garden

Pick a spot in your garden that gets frequent sunlight with some afternoon shade. To discourage the accidental spread of seedlings in your garden, you can consider removing unwanted seed heads after flowering. 

  • Dig a hole that is a least twice as wide and to the same depth as the root ball of the plant. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole.
  • Gently tousle the roots loose and place the plant in position in your planting hole.
  • Refill with soil and water well in the first week or two. 

Planting Cymbopogon Nardus in a Pot

Similar to citronella, there are many plants perfect for container gardening. Your container should be well-draining and large enough to provide the plant with plenty of room to grow.

Whether inside or outside, the location where you place your pot should get a good amount of direct light during the day and should offer some relief from the light in the afternoons. 

  • Gently remove the plant from its current container and lightly tousle the roots loose.
  • Place the citronella grass into your pot and refill with your potting mix to where the root system is fully submerged and the plant is stable. 
  • Water well and place in a warm, humid location with plenty of sunlight.

Caring for Citronella Plants

Caring for Citronella Plants

As long as your plant is getting plenty of water and sunshine, it should thrive and grow well. Once established, citronella grass is hardy and can tolerate a little neglect.

The more direct sunlight the plant experiences per day, the more you might need to water it to keep moisture levels high enough. 

Here are some other quick care tips for citronella grass:

Watering Citronella Grass

This plant loves water due to it being native to tropical regions that experience frequent rainfall. Depending on how warm and humid your climate is, the plant could need water almost every day.

Potted grass will need to be watered regularly as well due to lower humidity levels indoors and less soil moisture to draw from. Misting frequently can also be beneficial. 

(Check out our review on the best watering cans available online.)

What Fertilizer to Use

To encourage healthy growth every year, adding a general organic fertilizer high in nitrogen annually during spring is recommended for citronella grass.

Citronella Grass – FAQs

Citronella Geranium vs Citronella Grass

Is citronella grass the same as lemongrass?

Although they are related, these are two different plants entirely. Citronella grass has more reddish colored stems in its complexion where lemongrass is all green.

Do citronella plants keep mosquitoes away?

The plants themselves do not repel mosquitos and other insects, it’s the oil inside the leaves that is used for its insect deterring properties. Growers would have to crush the leaves to extract the oil for use as a repellent.

Will citronella survive winter?

In warm climates that don’t experience frost, citronella grass can stay outside year-round and thrive. In colder regions, plants should be moved indoors for the winter. 

Interested in learning more about the closely related lemongrass plants? Check out our other helpful article here:

Wrapping Up Our Citronella Grass Guide

With fragrant citrusy foliage and luscious tropical qualities, citronella grass is a great addition to any garden or outdoor space. It’s easy to grow and with its tall blade-like leaves, it can add variety and texture to compliment any existing collection.

Water your plant well, let it soak in healthy amounts of sun each day and place it in well-draining soil and you should have yourself healthy and thriving citronella grass. 

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

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