Summertime! Ahhh…picnics, barbeques, outdoor sports……mosquitoes. There are many things you can purchase to help fend off those nasty, disease carrying insects. One of those items is Citronella Oil. Citronella Oil is produced from Citronella plants, one of which is a type of grass (Cymbopogon nardus). There are also Citronella Geraniums or Scented Geraniums, of which the citronella type are also known as Mosquito Plants.
Citronella grass is a coarse, clump-forming tropical grass that can grow 5-6 ft tall. The stems are cane-like and the leaves are grayish green and flat; about 3 ft long and about 1 in wide. It does not spread by runners, as some grasses do, but the clump increases in size as the plant matures. I did read somewhere that the grass can become quite invasive as it produces a large quantity of seeds, so you may want to check with you local nursery or county extension office prior to planting. This grass is closely related to Lemon Grass, which is used in Asian cooking.
Scented Geraniums include fragrances of citronella, rose, lemon, nutmeg, mint and the list goes on. The flower colors range from white to pink to lavender and because there are so many varieties, they can be used for anything from window boxes and planters to the garden. Most have full to partial sun requirements, although I did see one or two varieties that do fine in just a few hours of direct sun. Some are used for culinary purposes as well as for fragrant ornamentals. It is the citronella variety that we use for keeping mosquitoes at bay. The Citronella Geranium has small, lavender colored flowers and grows to almost 3 feet in height.
Neither of the above plants are perennial in our area as they will not overwinter outdoors, but they can be grown as annuals.
Many years ago, Citronella Oil was used in hair oil and from that use, it was discovered that it seemed to repel mosquitoes. You can find Citronella Oil in a wide variety of products, such as candles, outdoor torches and mosquito repellents, and also as an essential oil. It is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and soaps and is used as a flavoring in foods and beverages. I’ve seen it used in no-bark dog collars, as dogs do not like the smell. Each time the dog barks, the collar emits a spray of citronella. It also has some medicinal purposes.
As far as using it for insect repellent, some people use citronella oil in skin-care lotion and apply that to their skin rather than a chemical based insect repellent to ward off the pesky insects. According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it repels mosquitoes, black flies, fleas and ticks. Tests on the oil have shown no harm to humans as there is little to no toxicity. The only concern may be possible skin irritation to citronella oil or citronella oil based products. Thus, products do carry a warning label to address this.
So plant a few of these scented plants on your patio or in your garden. Use the citronella based products too and you should be able to enjoy your outdoor activities. Happy Summer!