The Lemongrass plant, Citronella Grass, or Cymbopogon grows largely in clumps. A perennial-type grass with long, thin, flat greenish-grey tinged reeds, occasionally throwing off curious, butterfly-like flowers.
The lemongrass cane-like stems base may carry a reddish base. Cymbopogon nardus a Southeast Asia native, long grown for commercial use in some countries like Java, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.
With an exquisite fresh, lemony fragrance that intensifies when you crush or stroke the leaves. For optimum enjoyment many lemongrass owners place it strategically in the garden, along walkways, patios and porches. It also makes an excellent companion to other plants as its vertical form and graceful leaves provide a pleasant contrast to rounded flowers and shrubs.
Uses For The Lemongrass Plant
The citronella grass has some very useful applications, especially when extracted into lemongrass oil. The manufactured oil finds its way into many different purposes, from perfume to essential oils used in aromatherapy. The most popular applications comes from its use in soaps, sprays, dog collars, candles and everything in between as an effective insect repellent against annoying pests like mosquitoes.
The important chemical agents within the citronella, namely Citronellol and Geraniol, are used in products as excellent antiseptics. Besides cleaning and keeping away pests, the lemongrass adds flavoring for culinary purposes or as a lemongrass tea. In fact, you’ll find lemon grass used in many common foods and beverages!
It’s usefulness doesn’t stop there. In its natural, growing form, gardeners plant the grass to discourage garden pests such as whitefly. Studies show lemongrass oil as an control against stable flies, the head lice and the body lice.
Garden enthusiasts integrate the lemon grass alongside their vegetables to enjoy a reduce pest population. Set up a physical barrier (go the plant in pots) to keep fast-growing citronella grass from overgrowing other plants.
Lemongrass As A Mosquito Repellant Plant
Citronella Grass spoils the hiding places of mosquitoes in your garden. Appropriately nicknamed “Mosquito Plant”, citronella produces little to no effect on mosquito control by themselves, but hiding within their essence lies the key to ridding your home of these pesky flying insects.
This plant remains ornamental until you extract the leaves for lemongrass oil. The Cymbopogon nerds does not naturally release the oil essence into the air; they need a human touch for this to happen. Research shows the oil extracted from this plant as very, very effective in warding off most mosquito types, including the deadly Aedes aegypti, carrier of the dreaded dengue fever.
Crushing the leaves in your hand will produce the oil from the Citronella. This oil can be readily applied to you or your children’s skin when needed to keep off insects as they play outside.
Should you want to put the citronella oil on your clothes or in living spaces later, combine the Citronella essential oil and an alcohol base; however, the most effective application method is ground up fresh lemongrass leaves. In case of suspected allergies, it is recommended you try out a small amount on your inner forearm for a few days. If there’s no redness or itching, it’s probably safe for regular use.
Interested growers should look for the true varieties of lemongrass. Cymbopogon winterianus and Cymbopogon nardus should be the ones on your list. Other varieties may be labeled as “Citronella Scented”, but they lack the repelling qualities of the true Citronella plant.
How To Grow The Lemongrass Plant
Cymbopogon nardus grows USDA hardiness zones 10 – 12. Plant the grass in any “no-frost”climate. Like most grass species, it thrives on a good watering and partial to full sunlight. If you’re living in a colder region, grow lemongrass in pots, and bring them inside during the winter season.
As for the soil requirements, choose a well draining soil (most any bagged soil mix) which will stay moist . A loamy soil ensures your citronella grass of getting what it needs. Soil which dry’s out will not work for growing a healthy Citronella plant!
Lighting – Best In Full Sun
Citronella does well with a full day of sun, but a partial shade also does wonders for them. Give them 6-8 hours of sun for optimal exposure. Place them beside a patio or under the protection from a tall tree. If plants start looking dry and withered, move them to a more shaded location, to give the them the appropriate sunlight hours during the day.
Watering & Fertilizing
Do not allow citronella grass to dry out. Watering requirements depend on where the plant’s location – full sunlight and no shade means the grass will dry out quickly.
Lemon Grass Propagation
Most grasses spread by runners, not the case with Citronella. The clump size grows as they mature, but it’s hardly considered invasive. Propagate citronella by planting seed or division.
Start propagation in early spring by splitting large clumps into smaller clusters and replant them in other spots or containers. Allow plants to become established before wintertime to ensure survival and a healthy growth in the next spring season.
Keep in mind, as a grass, it can quickly crowd out other adjacent plants especially if planted at a landscape level. It’s best to plant Citronella in an enclosed area or planter.