Growing Lemon Grass

growing lemon grassDo you love the taste of the tropics but live too far from the equator to take advantage of it in your garden? There’s no reason to despair if your backyard isn’t quite suited for citrus trees; the odds are good for growing lemon grass with relative ease. This flavorful herb is used in Southeast Asian cuisine where it adds a punch of flavor to tea, soup, soap, salad, curry and even perfume. Known as a mild sedative, lemongrass can produce a stimulating drink that makes for a high quality wellness tonic that acts as an anti-fungal, antimicrobial drink. A zesty tea made from lemongrass is often all you need to ease away cough for good.

Lemongrass can cost a fortune in specialty markets. However, there is good news, you can grow this pungent grass at home. If you enjoy the scent of citrus and the spicy tang of ginger, lemongrass needs to grow in your garden this season.

No need to worry if you can’t imagine where to start. This guide will answer every question you can think of about growing lemongrass.

Start Growing Lemongrass

Young lemongrass doesn’t survive frost well. This is why you need to wait to plant it outside until the danger of cold temperatures has passed. Homeowners can plant lemongrass by seed or through rooting stalks and cuttings; it all comes down to personal preference.

When and Where Should You Grow Lemongrass?

Though it grows as a perennial throughout its native habitat in the Mediterranean, lemongrass can be grown as an annual throughout most southern climate zones. However, there’s no reason to despair if you live in a more northern region, as lemongrass can also be grown indoors. Dependent on full sun and warmth, lemongrass needs rich, loamy soil to thrive.

Starting Your Lemongrass From Seed or Cuttings

Though lemongrass is relatively easy to germinate indoors, its native tropic soils are likely warmer than what your region provides, so keeping your soil under a heat lamp should aid the germination rates. Simply plant seeds in a potting mix and cover them roughly 1/8 inch with soil. Once the seedlings start to get a few inches tall you can thin them out to provide more room.

An easier way to start lemongrass is to grow it from cuttings or even from the produce selection of your local grocery store. Fresh, cultivable lemongrass is typically easy to pick up from Asian markets. Make sure to choose stalks that have a bulbous base and snip off the leaves in the bottom few inches before peeling away their outer layer. Next, place the bulbous end in a jar of water and let it set for at least a week or two. Within no time, you’ll start to see roots growing from the bottom stalk. Once the roots reach 1 to 2 inches, the plants are ready to go in the garden.

Growing Lemongrass in Containers

If your climate isn’t well suited for growing lemongrass outdoors, you can grow it on your windowsill without issue. You’ll get fewer stalks overall, but so long as there’s plenty of sunlight your plant should do fine. Simply prepare some cuttings according to the above instructions, and transfer the plants into a large, well ventilated pot once the roots are ready for soil. Cover the plant with organic soil and place the plant next to a sunny window (the more sun the better). Keep the soil moist by watering it every few days, being care not to accidentally over water in the process. Within a few months, your small plant will have sent plenty of roots shooting up, which can be harvested as needed for your recipes.

Preparing a Lemongrass Bed

When your lemongrass is ready to go outside, you’ll need to prepare a garden bed for it. Lemongrass thrives when planted in full fun and moist soil, usually preferring a pH level between 6-7.8. Each plant will spread out considerably as it grows, so make sure to provide at least three feet of space between each one. For the best results, choose a spot that’s also protected from wind.

Transplanting Lemongrass

Lemongrass can be planted as soon as the last frost date is passed. When planting your lemongrass, dig holes for each plant and fill the bottom with compost to enrich the soil. It’s important not to go too thick so that water still has space to drain through. Place each root bundle in the soil up to the widest part of the bulb and pat the soil firmly around it. Make sure to water them in thoroughly after planting to ease the adjustment period.

Watering and Mulching Requirements

Lemongrass is a nitrogen hungry plant, so be ready to feed it a healthy dose of fertilizer every month or so. Young plants also need lots of water to stay healthy, especially when the weather gets hot. Regular misting can also be helpful. Not much mulch should be needed, but it’s important to keep the stalks trimmed once they reach 3 feet in height so that they don’t get overwhelmingly tall.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

This tropical plant makes a perfect companion for plenty of garden herbs, including, basil, thyme, mint and cilantro. Since it is often grown in pots, you can also grow some more low-lying herbs in the same pot with it.

Common Pests and Diseases for Lemongrass

Thanks to its lemon scented oils, lemongrass makes a great natural pest repellent. Not only will it keep bugs off its own leaves, you also won’t have to worry about pesky intruders bothering nearby plants as well. However, some people have issues with their cats taking too much of a liking to their lemongrass, so you might find your leaves nibbled on for no good reason.

Leaf blight is also common. If your leaves start to wilt and have rust covered spots on the ends, the best thing to do is pick them off and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide. If an entire plant seems affected, a smart solution is to remove it to reduce the risk of infecting the ones around it.

Harvesting and Storing Lemon Grass

Lemongrass harvest can start when plants are 4-8 months old, or roughly one foot tall. Though it’s possible to harvest them at any time of the year, lemongrass grows much faster in summer weather. Simply cut off the entire stalk below the white swollen end and use it fresh in teas and curries. From that point on, lemongrass is ready to be harvested every four months for the next four years. Though best used fresh, you can also dry lemongrass in a cool, dry place for use in teas. Stalks can be stored this way for up to a year.

Saving Lemongrass Seeds

Because lemongrass rarely flowers, it’s usually easier to grow it through propagation.

Choosing the Best Lemon Grass Seeds for Your Climate

There are two main types of lemongrass available today, though there isn’t much difference between the two of them. West Indian lemongrass is the type most commonly used for cooking and in perfumes. East Indian Lemongrass grows taller and has purple tinges in its stems. Though less common, this form of lemongrass tastes equally delicious.

Additional Growing Tips for Organic Lemongrass

Growing lemongrass isn’t without its quirks. Below is some extra advice for helping your crops meet with success.

  • As your lemongrass gets older, it’s a smart idea to occasionally divide the bulbs so that the plant doesn’t strangle itself from growing too tightly
  • As soon as the frost comes to your climate, cut off the dead leaves of your lemongrass to prevent it from putting energy towards them