Prosperous Citronella Plant Guide

25 Sep 2021

The citronella plant commonly referred to as citronella grass is a grass sedge and has some great benefits. It’s best known for its citronella oil which is used as an insect repellent, specifically a mosquito repellent.

This guide will provide you with an in-depth look at exactly how to care for this plant, so it thrives and survives. Let’s take a look at the key characteristics below.

Main Features

The citronella grass is also known as the “true citronella” plant due to its high concentration of the well-known citronella oil.

This sedge is closely related to lemongrass, although citronella isn’t edible. It also mustn’t be confused with the pelargonium citrosum. This is also known as the citronella plant or mosquito plant but it’s a fragrant geranium and not a grass.

The citronella grass’s scientific name is; cymbopogon nardus. It’s native to Asia, specifically Sri Lanka, so it thrives in a humid and moist environment. This stunning bushy green grass with a pink-based stem is part of the Poaceae family.

How Big Does It Get?

The citronella grass can grow to a height of around 6 feet (1.8m) and a width of 4 feet (1.2m).

How Fast Does It Grow?

The cymbopogon nardus is a relatively fast grower. If you meet the environmental requirements and care needs of your houseplant, you can expect it to grow 1 to 2 feet (30.5 – 61cm) during its active growing seasons.

How Long Does It Live?

If optimally cared for, it can have a lifespan of between 4 to 6 years.

Is It Safe for Dogs and Cats?

The cymbopogon nardus is toxic to both cats and dogs. If your pet ingests the plant it may experience stomach pains, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite.

Your pet’s skin will absorb the oil quickly, so don’t put any of the citronella oil on your cat or dog as it can irritate their skin leading to an itchy and even painful rash.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any prolonged symptoms or are concerned.

Does It Really Repel Mosquitos?

The true citronella plant is mainly known for its essential oil; citronella oil. The plant itself is not an insect repellent but the oil contained in its leaves is.

You need to crush the leaves to release a lemony fragrance and the citronella oil in order to repel any mosquitos. Rub the oil from the leaves onto a small patch of your skin to make sure that you don’t have a bad reaction to the oil.

The citronella oil doesn’t kill the mosquito but the smell of the oil masks the scent of carbon monoxide and lactic acid that the insect is searching for. The best way to ensure that you have a peaceful sleep is to apply the oil around 20 to 30 minutes before you go to bed.

Fun Fact: The citronella plant’s oil has also been used to treat migraines, depression, fever, muscle inflammation, and it’s even contained in some cleaning products.

Citronella plant - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

Citronella Plant Care

The cymbopogon nardus needs some tender love, and care to grow and even potentially flower. Follow this care guide and the tips below to grow a thriving citronella grass.


Citronella grass is native to areas with high humidity and rainfall, so it goes without saying that it has substantial watering needs. Just like the elephant ear, it needs to be watered every day to keep the soil very moist.

Additionally, you should deeply water your citronella plant until it drips out the drainage hole.

Keep in mind that the warmer your houseplant’s home is and the more sunshine it receives, the more watering it’ll require.


The cymbopogon nardus requires a good amount of watering which makes it prevalent to disease, so make certain that the soil is well-draining.

To grow a healthy and happy sedge, you’ll need to ensure that its container has a large drainage hole or multiple drainage holes. Good drainage will prevent root rot from occurring as it allows any excess water to flow out.

Add a layer of sand or gravel at the bottom of the container so that water can flow off the roots easily.

Try adding some perlite or peat moss to the potting mixture to enhance aeration and drainage.

How to Prune

Pruning is necessary to maintain your sedge’s health, shape, and appearance. You should only trim your cymbopogon nardus during the late winter or early spring months.

You should cut off any brown or yellow leaves to maintain your houseplant’s appearance and health. It may be necessary to cut back your plant so that it’s of a manageable size.

It’s important that you clean the pruners or shears before you cut any leaves off. This will prevent the transfer or spread of disease.

How to Repot

Cymbopogon nardus is a fast grower so it’ll need to be repotted once a year or when you notice that it’s becoming pot bound. Keep an eye out for any roots growing through the drainage hole.

It’s best to repot it during the early springtime so that it can properly settle into its new home before winter.

Follow the step-by-step guide below:

  1. Tip your pot plant to its side and gently slide the plant out. If the soil isn’t loose enough then use your hands or a spade to loosen it.
  2. Get out a pot that is at least twice the width of the rooting system, and fill it with some loamy potting mixture.
  3. Place your plant in its new container and water it deeply by waiting for it to drip through the pot’s bottom hole.
  4. You can put your houseplant back in its original sunny home.

Environment Requirements


The cymbopogon nardus loves sunny and bright areas. Try to find a windowsill where it’ll soak in some sun but make sure that it’s not exposed to the harsh direct sun rays during the summertime.

It can tolerate full sunlight but make sure that its leaves don’t become scorched or burnt. Ideally, it should be placed in filtered sunshine or partial shade, this is the same light requirement a gardenia needs.

Best Soil

The cymbopogon nardus requires the same type of soil as a maidenhair fern. The potting mixture needs to be well-draining and aerated. Cymbopogon nardus is native to humid and wet environments, so the potting mix needs to be kept evenly moist at all times.

It flourishes in potting soil that retains moisture because if the soil gets too dry, your houseplant will wither away and die.

The best type of soil is one with a high loam content, but the citronella grass can grow in most soil types. Loam is great at holding on to nutrients while also draining well so that the roots can receive plenty of air.

Top Tip: The citronella plant needs a steady flow of nutrition, so add in some compost when you repot it.


A fertilizer that is high in nitrogen is perfect for the cymbopogon nardus, however, the roots are sensitive to too many nutrients, so don’t overfeed it.

Apply a 5-10-5 or 6-12-12 fertilizer once a month during the spring and summertime.

If you’re concerned that you’ve overfed your houseplant, make sure to flush the salts out of the soil. Take your pot and run it under a steady stream of water for 5 minutes and let any excess water drain out.

Fun Fact: The reason nitrogen is essential for this plant is that it’s a major component of chlorophyll. This is vital in photosynthesis, and it’s a major component of amino acids which is the building blocks of protein.

Pot Size and Type

The cymbopogon nardus grows quickly so it needs plenty of space for its roots. The ideal pot size is one that is twice as wide as the rooting system’s width. It is recommended that the pot is around 12 inches deep, but keep in mind that the size is largely dependent on the size of the houseplant.

It prefers a plastic container, so try to avoid planting it in a terracotta or clay pot as these will absorb too much water causing the soil to become overly dry. The most important thing to remember is that the pot must have a drainage hole.

Temperature Range

It grows best in temperatures of 59 to 69°F (15 – 20.5°C). It is a tad sensitive to cooler regions, and cannot survive in an environment below 32°F (0°C).

Your houseplant won’t grow in colder temperatures, so always move your plant to a warmer area during the winter months.


The cymbopogon nardus prospers in high humidity levels, but it can grow in moderate humidity as well.

Here are some tips and tricks to increasing humidity levels surrounding your houseplant:

  • Find a shallow tray and fill it with some water and pebbles. Place your container on top of the pebbles so that the air surrounding your plant is humid.
  • Mist it with tepid water every week.
  • Place other houseplants around it to create a humid atmosphere.
  • Get out your humidifier and position it in the same room as your plant.

Outdoors vs. Indoors

This sedge grows in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12 just like a pothos plant. This finicky houseplant should be kept indoors so that you don’t risk damaging your plant’s health.

When your plant is placed outside you risk its leaves burning under the harsh sun rays, and during winter it is unlikely to survive the cooler temperature.

If you grow it outdoors then it’s imperative that the environment is humid, the soil is moist, and it receives filtered sunlight as it would in its native environment.

Citronella plant - care, water, sunlight, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)


The cymbopogon nardus does indeed bloom spikey light brown flowers during the summer and autumn months.

If you want your plant to bloom then you need to regularly feed your houseplant once a month during its active growing seasons, and position it in a sunny area.

Additionally, you should save the seeds produced by the flowers to plant new citronella plants.

Fun Fact: When the citronella grass flowers it’s known as the barbed wire grass.

How to Grow

The cymbopogon nardus is fairly easy to propagate and you can grow your very own houseplant from a seed. It’s best to propagate your plant during the springtime when it is actively growing, as it’s unlikely to root during the dormant winter months.


From Division

Keep in mind that the blade you use to divide this clumping plant’s roots should be clean and sterilized. This will prevent the spread of any bacteria or disease.

  1. Take the plant out of its pot by sitting it on its side and carefully sliding it out, and remove the excess soil surrounding the roots with your hand.
  2. Check out the root system for natural sites of division, and then slice through the roots.
  3. Gently untangle the roots and slowly pull the division away from the parent plant, and place the parent plant in its original pot.
  4. Find a new pot and fill it about one-third of the way with some moist, loamy soil. Place the division inside and cover the roots with some more soil.
  5. Water the plant thoroughly and let any excess water drain out.
  6. Find a warm area with plenty of filtered sunlight to place your new plant.

From Cuttings

Citronella grass isn’t propagated from stem cuttings but that doesn’t mean that the citronella geranium (pelargonium citrosum) can’t be grown by rooting cuttings. Just like citronella grass the geranium needs to be propagated in spring.

Here’s a quick guide on how to propagate stem cuttings:

  1. Use a sterilized pair of scissors and cut a stem around 3 to 5 inches (7.6 – 12.7cm) long. It’s important that the stem has at least 2 nodes, the small bumps on the stem where its leaves grow from.
  2. Pick off the larger leaves from the stem so that there are 2 or 3 smaller ones left.
  3. Prepare a pot for your cutting by filling it with moist, well-draining soil.
  4. Dip the stem’s cut end into a rooting hormone, and plant it 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) deep in the potting mixture.
  5. If your pot is large enough, you can plant several cuttings as long as they’re 2 inches (5cm) away from one another.
  6. Water the pot until it drips out the drainage hole, and place it in warm, indirect sunshine.
  7. In about 4 weeks you should give the stem a slight tug, and if it resists then you can repot the cutting into a larger pot.

Planting Seeds

The seeds for the cymbopogon nardus may be hard to come by, so you should just head down to your local nursery to purchase them. You can also get seeds from your houseplant if it has previously flowered.

Follow the steps below to grow your houseplant from seed, and remember to plant them during the springtime.

  1. Prepare a shallow container with loam and potting soil.
  2. Sprinkle the seeds evenly across the potting mixture, and scatter a small amount of soil on top of them.
  3. Water the seeds lightly, and cover the container with a clear plastic bag to assist in the germination process.
  4. Find a window where the seeds can soak in all that sunshine, and make sure that the soil is kept moist at all times.
  5. You can remove the plastic bag once the seedlings begin to grow, and then you can repot them into their own containers as well.

How to Revive

Your cymbopogon nardus may run into a few issues along the way but have no fear because many of these problems are easily resolved with a few adjustments.

Why Are the Leaves Drooping?

Your plant’s leaves may be looking a little limp and droopy because the soil is too dry. This means that you need to adjust your watering schedule. The cymbopogon nardus loves a wet and moist potting mixture, so make sure the soil never dries out.

If the soil is dry, all you need to do is water it until it flows through the drainage holes.

Why Are the Leaves Yellowing?

When your foliage becomes yellow this is because your plant is being overwatered. This again means you need to tweak your watering schedule and make sure that the plant isn’t being completely saturated.

You will have to wait for the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5cm – 5cm) to dry out before you commence watering it again.

What Is Causing the Leaves to Brown?

Your houseplant’s leaves are browning because it is receiving too much sunlight or too little water. This is simple to remedy.

Your plant needs to be placed on a windowsill or in an area where it’ll receive ample amounts of filtered sunlight but make sure that the sun rays aren’t too harsh. The direct sunshine will burn and scorch the houseplant’s leaves during the summer.

When the soil is too dry you need to water the plant thoroughly by sitting it under a gentle stream of water until it drains out.

Why Are the Leaves Curling?

Your plant is trying to tell you that it isn’t getting enough sunlight. This is super easy to fix by simply placing your plant in some bright sunlight.

Ideally, it should be placed in partial shade or in an area where it’ll get some filtered sunshine.

A Short Summary

The citronella grass is definitely a beneficial houseplant for its owner. The essential oil has numerous uses and medicinal properties.

If you adequately care for the houseplant and meet its needs for a high level of humidity, filtered sunshine, and heavy watering requirements, then you’ll reap the rewards.

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