How to Grow Lemongrass

The citronella, scientifically known as Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus, is a medicinal plant with repellent properties for insects, flavoring, bactericidal and soothing, and is widely used in the manufacture of cosmetics.
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Lemongrass is a versatile herb with multiple benefits. It is used in essential oils and to spice up recipes, and research shows it has therapeutic and pharmacological properties, as well. Lemongrass is also a relatively easy, quick-to-develop plant and worth growing yourself. Featuring bright green, wispy stalks and a crisp scent, it can be grown directly in the garden, in a container, or even indoors — which means you can give it a try pretty much any time of the year. Read on to learn how to grow lemongrass on your own, discover lemongrass varieties, and receive expert harvesting tips.

How to Plant Lemongrass

Lemongrass is one of those herbs you can easily start from seed or a plant. Plus, as it matures, it’s one you can split to share with friends or move to other parts of your garden.

Growing From Seed

Lemongrass seed will germinate best in warm, moist soil. You can try sowing the seeds directly outside if you wait for the danger of frost to pass, but you might have better luck starting them indoors. Give seeds a rich, organic soil, and keep them moist regularly with a spray bottle. When they are a few inches tall, thin them out. Then, at around six inches tall, move them outside.

Growing From a Starter

With lemongrass plants, plant them directly in the ground in a sunny location, and keep them watered to help them get established. You can also plant lemongrass in a pot, either on its own or paired with your favorite flowers.

Potting and Repotting

If you grow lemongrass in a pot, it’s best to bring it inside during colder months and keep it as a houseplant. This is a plant that grows in clumps, so as it gets established, it is easy to split; just make sure to break it up by clumps before moving it to a new garden spot or pot. 

Lemongrass Plant Care

Once you establish lemongrass, you can count on year after year. Set this herb up with the right lighting and sufficient water and soil, and it is bound to thrive.

Light

Lemongrass prefers full sun, although it will tolerate some light shade. If you grow it indoors, it likes bright, indirect light.

Soil Nutrients

Lemongrass is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. It does best in loamy, well-draining soil. If you think you have unideal soil, consider adding organic matter, which you can find locally or from your compost pile. This will improve your soil structure and benefit other nearby plants and veggies as well.

Water

While lemongrass is somewhat drought-tolerant, it does best with regular waterings. When growing indoors, water it deeply and let it dry out a bit before adding more.

Temperature and Humidity

Lemongrass is native to tropical areas, so it likes warm, humid conditions. To mimic optimal conditions, keep it watered by misting frequently.

Lemongrass Varieties

It is important to know the different varieties of lemongrass, especially if you are planning on using this herb in the kitchen – because while some are great for culinary purposes, others don’t taste well at all. Pay close attention to the botanical name when you buy this plant locally or online.

Ornamental Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

This is the most common type of lemongrass, and it does indeed work well in cooking; it is particularly popular in Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisines. This type of lemongrass is also found in aromatherapy, teas, and beauty products. Grow this lemongrass as an annual in most areas or Zones 10-11 in warmer areas. It is likely to reach up to four-feet wide and three-feet tall in a single season.

Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus)

When crushed, the leaves of this grass produce an essential oil that is used to make commercial citronella oil. Unlike other lemongrass, you don’t grow it to eat it or use in dishes. Another thing to keep in mind is that citronella grass grows quickly and spreads easily. 

East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)

East Indian lemongrass is also frequently harvested to make essential oil. This lemongrass has thick stems and is easy for most home gardeners to grow. 

How to Store and Preserve Lemongrass

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon)
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There are a few different ways to preserve lemongrass after it grows, and how you do so should depend on how you intend to use it. If you want to save it for cooking, then prepare and cut the stalks into smaller pieces. Place in a freezer bag, and then store until it’s time to use them. 

To make your own lemongrass oil, start with fresh lemongrass. Cut it into pieces, wash, and then break it down with a mortar and pestle. Mix with oil, heat, and strain.

Finally, if you are looking for additional ways to use your extra herbs, consider drying them. Drying herbs is a pretty easy process. Rinse your lemongrass and set out to dry on a strainer or towel in a bright area with indirect light. After a few days, you’ll have dried stalks, which you can cut up and save for later use.

View Article Sources
  1. Shah, Gagan et al. "Scientific Basis for the Therapeutic Use of Cymbopogon citratus, Stapf (Lemon Grass)." Journal Of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, vol. 2, no. 1, 2011, p. 3., doi:10.4103/2231-4040.79796