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?
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.
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.
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, antithetical, antioxidant, anticoagulant, and wound healing properties (in addition to mosquito-repelling action.
A 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.
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.
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. 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).
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.
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.
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.
Lemongrass contains two prominent anti-inflammatory compounds called citral and geranial, which reduces the expression of inflammatory markers in the body.
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-inflammatory.
The anti-inflammatory, like limonene, help reduce prostaglandins that are often involved in pain and inflammation that trigger uterine muscle contractions.
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.
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.
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. High blood pressure is a common side effect of stress, so by being able to reduce blood pressure, we can inadvertently calm ourselves down.
Plant mint, garlic and basil because mosquitoes also hate the scent of these plants. This beautifully scented flower can also help repel bugs. I used it when I was working up in Northern Manitoba, where the bugs are beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my life.
Surprisingly, it worked well. I did have to re-apply it every 30 minutes to an hour, but it was totally worth it.
Lavender essential oil has been used for centuries to repel bugs and protect clothes and linens from the infestation of moths and other insects. Lavender also helps control the inflammation and itching that comes with bug bites.
Live Love fruit / ABC Flash Point News 2023.