Citronella Plant as Mosquito Repellant: Fact or Fiction?

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Both. This storied plant has mixed results when it comes to repelling mosquitos

“What’s in a name?” When William Shakespeare wrote that line in Romeo and Juliet, he was getting ready to talk about roses. And with Pelargonium citrosum ‘Van Leenii,’ otherwise known as Citronella, it’s what’s in the name that keeps consumers coming back for more.

Originally marketed as Citrosa in the early ‘90s, the plant was a backyard enthusiast’s dream. According to the developers and marketers, the lemon-scented leaves could repel mosquitoes by interfering with their sensory apparatus.

That was the sales pitch, and homeowners and gardeners paid attention and money. The plant became so popular, in fact, that it was simply called Citronella Plant.

Various tests, though, were not as kind to Citronella Plant – but despite mixed results, it remains one of the most sought-after natural methods for combatting mosquitoes.

The tale of the plant

Citronella Plant was created by a Dutch horticulturist, Dr. Dirk van Leenen, who combined the chromosomes of a grass from China with a scented geranium from South Africa. The grass allowed the plant to produce citronella and citral oils, both of which repel mosquitoes, while the scented geranium provided the fleshy leaves that release the fragrance.

In time, Dr. van Leenen brought his work to Florida, where he began selling his mosquito-repelling plant – and consumers lined up for its promise. Scientists, though, were skeptical.

What’s a scientist to do?

The marketing hype was so tremendous that researchers soon took notice and put Citronella Plant to the test. One of the earliest studies, according to the New York Times, was done in Canada. In the study, scientists placed their hands in a Plexiglas cage with mosquitoes. The volunteers, naturally, were bitten.

When the plant was placed inside the Plexiglas container for thirty minutes, there was a slight reduction in bites. After an hour, bites increased. And after the plant had been in the container for 24 hours, bites increased to 61.

The next step in the study had scientists crushing the leaves and rubbing them over their hands. Bites decreased to 12, but when they did the same technique with lemon thyme, the bites decreased to 6.5.

Similar studies from Michigan to Florida all found similar results.

The plant goes on

Despite the modest mosquito-repelling results, perhaps gardeners just want to grow what is essentially a scented geranium with small lavender flowers that’s fine for both indoor and outdoor use. Here are a few Citronella facts:

  •  It’s “hardy,” in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9 – 11. In other climates, the plant can be brought outside in summer, and then returned inside before the first frost.
  •  Prefers 6 hours of sunlight, no matter if it’s planted outdoors or indoors.
  •  Prefers well-draining soil.
  •  If grown outside, keep Citronella watered and fertilized with an all-purpose plant food.
  •  If grown outside, the plant is fairly drought tolerant and can grow anywhere from 2’ – 4’ high. To keep the plant bushier and full of new growth, pruning and pinching are recommended.

The need for effective mosquito control

Consumers are desperate for anything to rid their lives of mosquitos, especially in this age of Zika. While crushing or burning the scented leaves of Citronella help to somewhat repel the pests, there are other plants, such as lemon thyme and lemon grass, which can do the same thing. All of these options provide only moderate mosquito control, and studies indicate that they must be conscientiously applied and reapplied to the skin to work most effectively.

Platinum Mosquito Protection’s misting systems use an insecticide based on Pyrethrum, a derivative of chrysanthemums. Our automatic systems provide the results many consumers crave by truly repelling mosquitos – and there’s no crushing or rubbing of leaves involved.

For more information on our products, misting systems, or a for free on-site consultation, please fill out our online contact form and start living a life without mosquitos® today.