Citronella plant information

Written by barbara fahs
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Many people believe that the citronella geranium plant can help to repel mosquitoes in areas where it grows. Pelargonium citrosum, as this plant is called in the botanical world, is an attractive, strong-smelling geranium with small lavender flowers that bloom in summer. Citronella is classified as a tender perennial, meaning that it will behave like an annual if grown outdoors in areas that receive frost or snow in the cooler months of the year.

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Appearance

Because citronella is a pretty plant, smells good and reportedly deters mosquitoes, it is popular as a potted patio plant. Its large, scalloped leaves, small lavender flowers and controllable size make it a favourite choice for plantings where people gather outdoors in the summer. Citronella will grow to only about three feet in height and can ramble over the sides of its container. Its leaves tend to turn yellow and drop, but it is fairly simple to keep the plant looking tidy by simply pinching off dying leaves or collecting leaves that have fallen off the plant.

History

Citronella oil, made from an Asian grass, was used in hair oil. Because of this, people discovered in 1901 that it helped to repel mosquitoes. The citronella geranium is not found in nature, but was "invented" for mosquito control by botanists who hybridised citronella grass with a scented African geranium.

Products Containing Citronella

Citronella candles are commonplace, and many people swear by their use in keeping mosquitoes away from areas where those candles burn. Many people favour mosquito coils made with citronella oil over those made with pesticides. Mosquitoes seem to avoid smoke, so both the coils and candles can be effective. Citronella oil is made commercially from the citronella plant. Making essential oils is a technical, complicated process that requires expensive, specialised equipment, so it is best to purchase the oil ready-made.

Making Products From Citronella

If you add purchased citronella oil to unscented lotion and apply it to your exposed skin, it will help keep pesky mosquitoes and flies off your body while the scent remains strong. Reapply the lotion frequently. To make citronella candles, add citronella essential oil to wax while it is hot. Do not boil this mixture; add the oil after the wax is melted. To make a citronella liniment for repelling mosquitoes, place four ounces of dried citronella leaves and/or flowers into a pint jar and fill the jar with isopropyl alcohol. Allow it to sit and extract for three days; strain and apply to exposed skin. Do not drink this blend.

Considerations

Another plant that is unrelated to the citronella geranium is citronella grass, or Cymbopogon nardus. This plant has the same strong scent as the geranium and often is used in products such as candles that are available commercially to help repel mosquitoes. However, this grass can become invasive due to its habit of producing thousands of seeds. Check with local nurseries and University Extension Services before planting citronella grass in your garden. Whether you choose the citronella geranium or citronella grass for mosquito control, do not expect either plant to be highly efficient at keeping insects away. Products made from these plants, such as candles and lotions, are more effective.

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