Citronella vs Lemon Balm: What Are The Differences?

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: January 24, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Lemon Balm has more oil than citronella, making it a stronger insect repellant.
  • Both citronella and lemon balm are perennials that come back year after year.
  • Citronella is much taller than lemon balm.

Citronella and Lemon Balm are very similar and share many characteristics. For some purposes, they can be used interchangeably. They are both easy-to-grow perennials that add visual interest to the garden, require very little care, and attract bees and butterflies.

However, we will go over a few key differences here. Let’s take a look at how these two strong-smelling plants are alike and how they are different.

Comparison of Citronella vs. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

The fragrant lemon balm, however, hails from central Europe and enjoys a chillier winter.

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CharacteristicCitronellaLemon Balm
Scientific NameCymbopogon NardusMelissa Officinalis
FamilyMember of the lemongrass familyMember of the mint family
LifespanPerennial, indefinitePerennial, indefinite
Size6.5 feet (2 meters)3 feet (1 meter)
Country of originAsia, Africa, AustraliaSouth-Central Europe, Central Asia, Meditteranean Basin
AgeCultivated since the 17th centuryCultivated since the 16th century
AppearanceHerbaceous with white flowers in the summerGrassy, hairy spikelets that project from boat-shaped spathes
USDA Hardiness ZoneZones 9-11Zones 4-9

Key Differences Between Citronella and Lemon Balm

The key differences between citronella and lemon balm include the hardiness zone, growth pattern, uses, and garden interest.

Let’s go over all of the differences in greater detail now.

Citronella vs Lemon Balm: Hardiness Zone

Citronella is from warm tropical regions and prefers balmy and sunny climates. It is happiest in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. This means that the very coldest temperatures it can withstand are 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fragrant lemon balm, however, hails from central Europe and enjoys a chillier winter. Lemon Balm is well suited to USDA Hardiness zones 4 through 9. This tough cookie can survive in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Citronella vs. Lemon Balm: Growth Pattern

Citronella is a perennial grass, a member of the lemongrass family. It looks very similar in appearance to pampas grass, with long hairy spikes that sway in the breeze. It grows up to 6 feet tall and takes up quite a bit of space in the garden. It also provides great visual interest in a large space, requiring very little maintenance.

Lemon Balm is an herbaceous perennial, a member of the mint family. It has a similar appearance and growth habit to all mints, which means it grows and spreads quickly. While not as invasive as other mints, it self-seeds every fall, leaving you lots of free seedlings to give away. It is also more attractive to bees and butterflies, having loads of tiny white flowers covering every stalk in summer.

Citronella vs. Lemon Balm: Uses

Cymbopogon nardus

Citronella is an excellent choice for a privacy screen and will double as an insect repellant near your patio or pool.

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Citronella is most commonly grown for its oil. It has been burned in candles and used as an insect repellant and insect spray. A few varieties of Cymbopogon are edible, but it is not commonly grown for culinary use. Some varieties are poisonous and very hard to tell apart, so consumption is not recommended.

On the other hand, Lemon Balm is commonly grown for its edible leaves and used in tea and flavorings. It holds its strong lemon scent very well after drying and is a common ingredient in gourmet soap. Lemon balm is also used as an insect repellant and candle perfume.

Citronella vs. Lemon Balm: Garden Interest

Citronella is a clumping grass that does not spread. It grows quite tall and is an excellent statement piece at the back of a border. It is often seen planted as a frame, with one on each side of a driveway or doorway. It is an excellent choice for a privacy screen and will double as an insect repellant near your patio or pool.

Lemon balm is a spreading plant that will creep along, getting wider and wider each year. It is often given its own four-foot by four-foot square plot in the herb garden so that it is contained on all sides. It is an excellent addition to the garden for anyone interested in bee conservation or beekeeping for honey. The resulting honey has a sweet lemon scent that is highly sought after.

As you can see, there are many differences between Citronella and Lemon Balm. We hope this guide will help you pick the perfect plant for your garden.

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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