Let’s be real – everyone loves summer and the hot weather, but no one enjoys the bugs that come along with it.
I hate mosquitoes. I mean, I know I am delicious, but that’s besides the point. Their bites itch, and some species even leave welts and red marks on your skin that can last weeks (or is that just me?).
Thankfully, there are some things you can do, like learning how to plant lemongrass to repel mosquitoes from your backyard.
Now, I know it seems far-fetched, but there are actually studies to back up how this works.
But first, let’s take a little look at the lemongrass plant itself.
What is Lemongrass?
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tall perennial grass, native to Asia, Australia, and Africa. It is considered a culinary herb, often used in Thai, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, and Indian dishes.
The woody stalks of lemongrass have a citrusy aroma that provides a subtle lemon-floral flavor to the aforementioned dishes.
The tall stalks of lemongrass can grow up to ten feet tall, but it is the softer inner cores that are used for cooking purposes.
How Lemongrass Repels Mosquitoes
Lemongrass contains the essential oil ‘citronella’, which is commonly used in natural mosquito repellent found in candles, sprays, and lotions.
But does citronella actually work to repel mosquitoes? Research says yes.
The oil supposedly works by masking scents that are attractive to insects, according to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). The oil is a mixture of components including citronellal, citronella, and geraniol, all of which possess antimicrobial, anthelmintic, antioxidant, anticonvulsant, and wound healing properties (in addition to mosquito-repelling action).
A study published in the Journal of Parasitology Research found that citronella oil was effective at repelling mosquitoes, but that its repellency decreased over time (to just under 60% at the 2-hour mark).
Another study found that citronella oil kept human subjects free from mosquito bites for up to 3 hours. The authors go on to note that “Mosquitoes in captivity exhibited active movement away from the oil-treated chamber of the box within the first minute of application: 43% repellency and 100% mortality were recorded after 18 minutes.” (3).
The plant gives off a slight lemony fragrance, but that alone will not be enough to keep pesky mosquitoes from entering your home uninvited. The best and most effective way to repel mosquitoes using the plant is to crush the leaves, thus releasing the oil, and rub them directly onto your skin. Even so, this method will only repel mosquitoes for a short time.
Since the mosquito-repelling oils of the plant are embedded in the leaves, you need to plant a lot of lemongrass for it to properly take effect.
The lemony fragrance released from the plant will help repel bugs, but the most effective way to repel mosquitoes using the plant is to crush the leaves, thus releasing the oil and rubbing it directly onto your skin.
So if you want to deter mosquitoes with the intense fragrance of lemongrass, you can either plant it along your porch, walkway, or any other area that is in close proximity to your seating area. Leave the plant as is, or cut off pieces to rub into your skin to enhance its mosquito-repelling effects.
With that being said, here are some planting tips to ensure strong, healthy growth.
How to Plant Lemongrass to Repel Mosquitoes
Lemongrass is a hardy plant that grows best in full sun and soil that drains well. It is well suited to container growing and can be grown as a perennial where winters are mild.
While growing lemongrass can be a little challenging, the reward is well worth the effort.
You can either start the lemongrass from seed, or you can propagate from an actual lemongrass plant you find in the grocery store. I’ll outline how to start each below:
Make sure you start your seeds or propagating roots on your lemongrass plant in late winter. Transplant outside only once nighttime temperatures reach 10ºC (50ºF).
Starting from Seed
- In a small container, add rich organic soil and then press your lemongrass seeds into the soil about 1/4-inch deep. I normally use seedling trays with a plastic dome on top to mimic a tiny greenhouse.
- Keep your covered seeds in a dark room or cupboard that is relatively warm. Keep the soil moist, not wet.
- In about 5-20 days you should start to see lemongrass sprouts. Once you see the sprouts, remove the dome and put your seedlings into full sun (or under a full spectrum artificial light).
- Find the freshest-looking lemongrass plants at your nearest grocery store (ethnic food stores often have them too).
- When you get home, trim about 1-inch off the top of the lemongrass plants and peel away anything that looks dead.
- Place your stalks in a shallow glass of water and place near a sunny window for a few weeks (change out the water once a day).
- Tiny roots should start to form at the base of the lemongrass stalk. Wait for the roots to mature a bit before transferring to a pot of soil.
- When planting, make sure the crown of the plant is just below the surface. Put the potted plant in a warm sunny spot and water regularly.
When growing the lemongrass from seed, you’ll want to harden them off in early summer by slowly exposing them to full sun and cooler temperatures. Once you’ve hardened them off, transplant individual seedlings into larger containers with good drainage. Keep the soil moist – water 2-3 times a week or more in hotter weather.
For propagated plants, you can harden them off similarly to how you’d do with seedlings (except they should already be established enough that they will only need a day or so of hardening). If your propagated plants are not already in a large 5-gallon well-drained container, consider transplanting them into one. Keep the soil moist – water 2-3 times a week or more in hotter weather.
Instead of pots, you can also plant lemongrass directly into the ground. So instead of transplanting into pots, you’d do so in freshly prepared and well-fertilized soil on the ground. Ground planting will generally only work in areas where winters are mild.
Whether you plant in the ground, or in pots, make sure to position the plants so that they are in an area around where you’d sit outside in the evening. This will help deter mosquitoes and other bugs.
At the end of the growing season, as night temperatures near 10ºC (50ºF), cut back your plants so that they are around 8 inches tall and reduce watering. If you planted your plants in containers, you can transfer them indoors to a bright, sunny spot. If you planted them in too-large containers or in the ground, protect them from the frost by covering them in a burlap bag or other covering.
You can harvest your lemongrass and rub it onto your skin for even more mosquito-protecting abilities. Make sure to cut whole stalks from the base of the plant. The stalks should be at least 1/2-inch thick before picking.
Other Benefits of Planting Lemongrass
Lemongrass can also be harvested to be used in teas and other dishes. The benefits of lemongrass range far more than just mosquito-repelling properties. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body, relieves symptoms of PMS, can help alleviate headaches and promote relaxation.
1. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Lemongrass contains two prominent anti-inflammatory compounds called citral and geranial, which reduces the expression of inflammatory markers in the body.
2. May Relieve Symptoms of PMS
Lemongrass tea has been traditionally used to treat menstrual cramps, bloating and hot flashes. While there is no research specifically done on lemongrass and PMS, it does provide stomach-soothing properties and anti-inflammatories. The anti-inflammatories, like limonene, help reduce prostaglandins that are often involved in pain and inflammation that trigger uterine muscle contractions.
3. May Alleviate Headaches
According to some research, lemongrass may also help relieve pain caused by headaches and migraines. It does so via a compound called eugenol, which possesses abilities similar to aspirin (6).
Eugenol can prevent blood platelets from sticking together, and it also triggers the release of serotonin from the gut and brain. This hormone helps regulate our mood and sleep, which can be major headache-triggers if not properly synced.
4. May Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Aromatherapy is a powerful tool for relaxation and helping reduce stress and anxiety – and lemongrass can help with that.
One study looked at how lemongrass essential oil affected individuals when combined with massage. What they found was that the lemongrass oil massage reduced diastolic blood pressure, with no effect on their systolic blood pressure or pulse (7).
High blood pressure is a common side effect of stress, so by being able to reduce blood pressure, we can inadvertently calm ourselves down.
Other Mosquito-Repelling Tips
Dealing with mosquitoes around the house can be a major pain, especially when you’re trying to enjoy yourself outdoors.
Aside from planting lemongrass around your patio or porch, here are some other tips you can utilize to keep mosquito populations low:
- Keep your lawn short
- Don’t keep stagnant water laying around (change bird bath water, dump out water from childrens toys, etc.)
- Plant mint, garlic and basil (mosquitoes also hate the scent of these plants!)
- Sprinkle coffee grounds in standing water
- Invite bats into your yard – a single brown bat can scarf down over 1,000 mosquitoes every hour (you can do so by installing a bat house)
- Create your own breeze by strategically placing fans on your deck or porch
- Use natural insect repellent if you need to
- Make your own mosquito-repellent mason jars
The Bottom Line
Mosquitoes and other bugs can be a major nuisance during the summer if you want to enjoy a relaxing evening outside. By learning how to plant lemongrass to repel mosquitoes, you can easily and effectively lower mosquito counts around your home.
Lemongrass also comes with some other benefits, and you can utilize the plant in teas to help with stress, anxiety, headaches, PMS symptoms and more.