Citronella Plants for Mosquitoes: Do They Work as a Repellent? – Prevention Magazine

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Entomologists say there are more effective ways to keep the blood-suckers away from you.
In the battle of you versus blood-sucking bugs, you probably want to do everything you can to prevent painful, itchy mosquito bites this summer. That usually means protecting yourself with more obvious tactics, like applying an insect repellent and avoiding peak mosquito hours (dusk and dawn).
Still, the pests can become unbearable when you’re trying to enjoy your own backyard, so you may want to take things to the next level to try and repel them from your lawn. One popular method? Many people invest in certain plants that are said to repel mosquitoes, like citronella grass.
But can adding citronella plants around your home truly keep mosquitos away from your property, and more importantly, your skin? We asked entomologists (aka insect experts) to weigh in.
You’re probably familiar with citronella as a scent that shows up in a lot of mosquito-repelling candles and torches, but that scent actually comes from a plant called Cymbopogon nardus. This plant is a member of the geranium family, and they kind of look like spiky ferns.
“Citronella is the name of the essential oil originating from these plants,” says Edward Walker, an entomologist at Michigan State University who researches mosquitoes. “When applied to the skin, it has some minor and short-term repellent properties against mosquitoes.”
If a citronella plant contains oils that repel mosquitos, then having the plant itself on your property will do the same thing… right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, says Walker, and he doesn’t recommend relying on citronella plants to repel mosquitoes, since traditional insect repellents are far more effective.

“If you just have the plants around, that’s not enough to keep mosquitos away from your yard unless you have a lot,” adds entomologist Roberto M. Pereira, PhD, an insect researcher with the University of Florida.
Translation: Unless you want to plant a citronella field in your backyard, its repellent properties simply aren’t strong enough to completely keep mosquitoes out of your yard. (Bummer, we know.)
That doesn’t mean you’re totally wasting your time if you use those citronella candles or torches, though. “The smell of citronella, in a more concentrated way like you get with a candle’s scent, is repellent,” Pereira says. Just note that the smoke or scent actually has to get between you and mosquito to keep them away from your skin, which can also be tricky.
If you happen to like the look of a citronella plant and want to have them around, there’s no harm in doing so—just don’t expect that they’ll repel mosquitos on their own.
You should still take other, more effective measures to keep mosquitoes out of your yard to prevent bites that could lead to potential mosquito-borne diseases, like West Nile or Zika virus. Experts recommend the following:
Mosquitoes can’t fly against a breeze, so using an outdoor fan can be a really effective way of preventing them from coming near you. Aim the air flow toward the lower half of your body, since mosquitoes tend to fly closer to the ground.
Blow-up pools, bird baths, or even water sitting around your plants are breeding ground for mosquitoes. Clear your yard of any standing water to keep them from hovering around.
Walker recommends relying on good old-fashioned mosquito repellent applied to your skin and clothes. It’s not as exciting as a mosquito-combating plant, but it’s much more effective. Look for ones that contain active ingredients like DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, or IR3535 (a range of 10 to 20 percent is solid).
If you can’t stand the amount of mosquitoes hanging around during your backyard barbecue, hiring a professional to spray your yard with insecticide can take the burden off your shoulders.
Should you end up with unpleasant bumps anyway, try these home remedies to get rid of mosquito bites.
Stay updated on the latest science-backed health, fitness, and nutrition news by signing up for the Prevention.com newsletter here. For added fun, follow us on Instagram.

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