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Buzz off, mosquitoes!

Register • Jun 15, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Citronella candles are a common sight in backyards across America; their fragrance is said to repel mosquitoes. The oil found in those candles comes from Citronella Grass, a plant native to Southeast Asia. You may want to consider growing the plant in your own yard to ward off the pesky pest. Citronella is a perennial ‘clumping’ grass that grows to a height of 5-6 feet. It can be grown directly in the ground if you live in a climate that does not experience frost, but in our northern zones, it should be grown in large pots that you bring indoors for the winter.

Citronella grass itself does not repel mosquitoes. Rather, it is the compound found within the plant — the oil — that does the repelling. By themselves, the plants don’t release enough oil into the air to repel insects. Even those candles made with citronella oil don’t repel insects (sorry to burst your bubble). Studies have shown that the number of citronella candles needing to be lit to keep mosquitoes away would create so much smoke in your yard that you would feel like you were starring in a Cheech and Chong movie. And growing citronella grass plants next to your patio, no matter how many you’ve got, will not ward off the insects, either.

So where am I going with this? Back to the citronella oil. If you crush the blades of citronella grass, they release significant amounts of repellent oils that can be rubbed directly on your skin. The oils work their magic once they’ve been released. Just to be safe, though, it is recommended that you test a small amount on your inner forearm. If there is no irritating reaction or redness, you’re probably good-to-go. With many people being concerned about the DEET chemicals in commercial insect repellents, citronella grass provides a natural alternative.

Citronella plants are low maintenance, should be kept well-drained, and only need to fertilized once a year. When purchasing a citronella plant at a nursery or online, choose either Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. You may see some plants marketed as ‘citronella scented, but they lack the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella. Many gardening centers sell citronella as small plants in pots, ready to transplant to your container.

Other Options

Mosquito “Grass” (or Lemon Grass) contains more citronella than a Mosquito “Plant” The strong citrus odor drives mosquitoes away. Mosquito Grass is a fast-growing, clumping grass that does well when planted in containers. 4.

And last but not least, is catnip. Catnip is a natural mosquito repellent. Who knew? In August 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University discovered that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. It’s very easy to grow; seeds can be sown directly into the ground or into a container/ pot. This perennial herb grows naturally in most areas of the US. You just rub crushed catnip leaves on your skin for protection. But bear in mind that cats will “love” you like crazy if you use this source of protection!

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