Lemongrass is a tropical plant native to southern Asian countries, such as India, China, Vietnam, and Thailand. It has a strong citrus flavor and has been used for both its medicinal properties and culinary purposes for centuries. With a little planning, you'll find that growing lemongrass is surprisingly easy in your vegetable garden! To help you grow successfully, here is the ultimate lemongrass plant growing guide.
How To Grow And Plant Lemongrass
Lemongrass grows best in moderate to tropical climate zones and will come back perennially. It can be grown in colder climates, but it will die each winter. They require full, direct sunlight - the hotter, the better. Many gardeners choose to overwinter lemongrass indoors in its dormant state. They will plant their lemongrass in pots, and it can be brought inside and placed in a sunny spot during the winter.
While you can grow lemongrass from seed, we don't recommend this method. You will be far more successful by either buying start plants or propagating them from shoots.
Lemongrass is a pretty easy-going tropical plant, but it thrives in full sun. They are perfect for zones 9-10 as perennial.
Temperature And Humidity
Lemongrass is a tropical plant, so it loves warm and humid conditions. You can mist the plant frequently with a spray bottle to mimic the optimal condition.
Soil And Water Requirements
Lemongrass needs rich, loamy, well-draining soil, and a high organic content is preferred, so mix in compost or other organic matter to your soil. Aim for a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. It also requires a great deal of water, so be sure to keep the soil moist when rainfall becomes sparse.
Like other grass plants, lemongrass needs nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the best result. You can use slow-release fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer weekly during the growing season.
Lemongrass plants grow in dense clumps that can reach 6 feet in diameter. The leaves are coarse and have finely serrated edges, which are rough enough to cut skin. They are 3 feet long, and 1 inch wide and gracefully droop at the ends. They aren't typically considered as attractive as other ornamental grasses, but lemongrass is more of a tropical herb than an ornamental grass anyways. A lemongrass plant will grow slowly until the heat and humidity of summer set in. Then, it will dramatically increase in size.
Lemongrass naturally repels many insects, and it just so happens to have no pest concerns in North America. If you bring it indoors, you might occasionally have an issue with spider mites.
Propagating Lemongrass Shoots
If you have an Asian grocery store nearby, you can purchase a lemongrass stalk there to propagate into a rooted plant.
- Go to the produce section and select the lemongrass stalks with the most root base still attached.
- Place the lemongrass stalks in a glass of water set in a sunny window. Change the water daily, and you will see root growth after about three weeks.
Transplanting Lemongrass Outdoors
Lemongrass is very frost-sensitive, so you should only plant it outdoors once you are certain your last frost date has passed. Keep an eye on your ten-day weather forecast to make sure an unusual cold snap isn't on the way. Plant the lemongrass so that the top of the root base is about 1 inch below the soil surface. Consider mixing a fresh handful from your compost pile into the soil immediately around the roots, and place a 3-inch deep layer of mulch over the soil surface. The mulch will help maintain moist soil, which is so important to lemongrass roots.
Once your lemongrass is planted, you don't have much more to do! You can fertilize it every couple of weeks with water-soluble plant food. If you receive less than 1 inch of rainfall a week, then keeping your plant watered will be extremely important.
Harvesting Lemongrass Plants
You can clip fresh lemongrass leaves regularly throughout the growing season to use in infusing teas or soup stocks, but it's the bulbous stem bases that have the bulk of the flavor. When the plant is 1 foot tall, and the stem base is 1 inch thick, you can begin harvesting moderately. Cut a few stalks at ground level, or hand pull entire stalks out using thick gloves. It's okay if there are a few roots attached.
Cut off the grassy top part of the plant and set it aside for simmering. Then, take the base of the lemongrass and peel away the outer fibrous layer to expose the white pith inside. This can be frozen for storage, either whole or chopped. Before cooking, give the lemongrass chunk a good smash with the broad side of a knife. This allows the lemongrass oil to steep into your food, and you can then remove the woody chunk when you're finished cooking.
In cold climates, lemongrass will die as soon as frost hits. Many gardeners in these colder zones plant their lemongrass in pots, but you can plant them directly in the ground, as long as you bring them inside during winter. To do this, dig up some stalks, leaving their roots intact. Cut the leaves down to about 5 inches tall, and transplant them into nursery pots. These potted plants can be kept in a warm, sunny window over the winter. They won't love it, but they don't die, and they'll quickly bounce back when planted back outside in the spring.
How To Store Lemongrass
To store lemongrass, peel the outer fibrous layer and all the dead leaves to expose the inner white. You can either chop the lemongrass in pieces or store it as a whole. To store, you can either place it in the fridge or freezer.
Types Of Lemongrass
There are 55 species of lemongrass, but not all are available and successful in North America. The three varieties below are the most popular.
- Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus) - This species produces a high amount of oil when its leaves are crushed, which is then used to make citronella oil. Citronella is used in insect repellents and aromatherapy.
- West Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) - This lemongrass is the most common variety used in cooking. When its leaves are crushed, it puts off a fragrance that very closely resembles a lemon.
- East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) - Also called Malabar grass, this particular cultivar is native to India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. This variety is somewhere between the Citronella and West Indian varieties in terms of scent and flavor and is used to make essential oil.