I dared to buy yet another mosquito-repellent plant. Yes, I’m either a glutton for punishment or seem to enjoy throwing my money out the window. The damn things never work, but… I just couldn’t resist, yet again.
This new one is called Pelargonium ‘Mosquitaway Lizzie’ (or geranium ‘Mosquitaway Lizzie’, if you prefer the vernacular). When I saw it on sale in a local garden center in early May, it was truly beautiful: a dense and compact plant with small tender green crinkled leaves and the cutest bouquet of light pink flowers marked with purple blotches on the upper petals. The label said that it would bloom all summer, from April to October. My thought was that even if it didn’t repel mosquitoes (and to be honest, I doubted it would), at least the plant would be beautiful all summer.
A Short History
According to its Dutch hybridizer, the Mosquitaway series of pelargoniums (there is another cultivar, ‘Mosquitaway Eva ‘) come from crosses between an Angel pelargonium, itself a cross between a regal pelargonium (P. x domesticum) and P. crispum, backcrossed with P. crispum. The latter is a strongly lemon-scented variety known for its small wrinkled and serrated leaves. But it is a very sporadic bloomer, producing only a few summer flowers. The Mosquitaway plants are supposed to be much more floriferous.
The breeder claims that Mosquitaways repel mosquitoes because of their citronella smell and suggest a single plant on your deck is all you need to keep mosquitoes at bay, so I tried one…
I guess they just don’t have the same mosquitoes in North America as in Europe. On a damp evening last June when mosquitoes were present in large numbers, I got a chance to test ‘Mosquitaway Lizzie’. A few friends were over, and as we settled on the deck, I explained about the supposed anti-mosquito effect of the plant. To judge from the hands trying to wave off the buzzing pests, no one was impressed. Concerned the plant’s lemon scent wasn’t diffusing correctly, I tried waving the plant around in the air, much like a priest swinging a censer, but that didn’t work either.
As the others started dosing themselves with DEET, I bravely tried to resist and rubbed some of the fragrant leaves over my arms and legs (causing a disturbing redness that fortunately did go away). And yes, that did seem to work. I now stank of citronella and the mosquitoes kept away. But after about 5 minutes, the lemony smell had disappeared and I obviously smelled like a Homo sapiens again, because mosquitoes were back… bothering me alone. Still refusing the DEET, I tried my backup plan and lit a citronella candle. That did indeed solve the problem: the mosquitoes disappeared.
Oh well, my past experiences other so-called mosquito repellant plants had been just disappointing. Frankly, I did not expect it to work. If there was a plant that really repelled mosquitoes, you’d see it planted in every campsite across the world!
Also, what can I say: I’m simply irresistible… to mosquitoes that is. I’m too yummy for a simple plant, no matter how fragrant, to keep them away from their favorite meal. Ah! The price of popularity!
But at least I would have beautiful flowers all summer: from April to October, remember! That’s what the label promised.
Nope! Two weeks after I bought the plant, the last flowers dropped off and I haven’t seen a bud since.
Yet I’m usually successful with potted plants and the plant itself is still in perfect condition. In fact, it is almost twice as big as when I bought it and just as dense. Yet, though I supplied it with fertilizer, full sun, and regular watering (largely taken care of by Mother Nature this rainy summer!). But not a single flower bud showed up. Maybe it blooms from May to October where it was developed in Holland, but, apparently, not in North America.
Does It Deserve a Second Try?
What to do now? It certainly didn’t live up to its promise: I had lots of mosquitoes and no new flowers. That would count as a total failure. I know I should toss such a loser straight into the compost bin, but… I do love “test driving” new plants. So I’ll be bringing my reluctant ‘Mosquitaway Lizzie’ indoors over the winter where I’ll grow it in my sunroom. Maybe I can at least convince it to bloom again?
Well, one thing I won’t have to worry about is mosquitoes indoors over the winter, with or without a Mosquitaway pelargonium. In my environment at least, they are strictly summer pests!