Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is an herb that’s commonly used to add flavor to soups, stir-fries, and seafood meals. It’s also a natural mosquito repellant, and a gorgeous, fragrant plant for your home herb garden. But what about growing lemongrass? Is it difficult to cultivate?
Not at all: it’s incredibly easy to grow! Best of all, once you have a lemongrass plant, you can continue to harvest it for years to come. The process is easy—even for beginners—and you don’t need a green thumb to handle growing it on your own. Minimal care is needed!
Follow our guide to grow your own in a container or garden space, indoors or out.
Few standard grocery stores carry fresh lemongrass. Often, if you want to use it to add zest to your dinner, you’ll have to head to an ethnic market or specialty store. This makes it a perfect addition to your home herb garden.
Different types of lemongrass are used around the world in a variety of ways, from ornamental plants in landscaping, to scent in aromatherapy, harvesting for edible or medicinal purposes, and creating citronella candles.
Most of the time, lemongrass varieties aren’t specified when you buy them in a store or garden center. There are, however, many different varieties available. Over 50 varieties exist from Asia and south India to the Mediterranean and Australia, but not all are edible. Some of these include:
- East Indian (Cymbopogon flexuosus gramineae) – Originating in southern Indian, this is grown annually and used to season lemonade, tea, soup, seafood, poultry, and stir-fries. It’s also used in Vietnam to treat rheumatism, and can be applied topically to help heal fungus infections like athlete’s foot.
- West Indian (Cymbopogon citratus) – The most popular type of lemongrass, this is used in Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and other Asian dishes to add a lemony tang. It’s a natural insect repellent and is a variety commonly used in cooking as well. The leaves are used in herbal teas, while the stalks can be crushed to add flavor to sauces, curries, fish, and soups.
- Australian lemongrass (Cymbopogon ambiguous) – Native to warm regions in Australia, this plant is used as a medicinal herb known as “scent grass”. The bulbs are typically crushed for food, while the leaves are used to prepare tonics and herbal teas.
How to Plant Lemongrass
Lemongrass is super easy to grow, in the right conditions. In fact, this plant will naturally propagate itself once you have an established stalk, and new plants grow off existing stalks like wildfire. This plant grows quickly, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall during an average growing season, and you can choose to grow it in a container or planting bed. Here’s everything you need to know about growing lemongrass:
When and Where to Plant
A known sub-tropical plant, lemongrass doesn’t do well in freezing temperatures. If you live in a zone colder than 8 or 9, you’ll be better off growing lemongrass in a pot inside your home, or at least bringing it inside during the winter.
Full-sun conditions are ideal, and lemongrass can freeze to death in temperatures under 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Place potted, indoor lemongrass close to a window with direct sunlight for best results.
Pick a soil that’s rich and well-draining. Maintain a soil temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results.
Consider where you’re growing lemongrass as well. If you’re growing in a pot, herb box, or raised bed, you’ll want to add a top layer of compost every couple of weeks to ensure the soil has enough nutrients. Potted plants especially need soil attention, as waterings can naturally strip the minerals and nutrients from the soil over time.
Planting from Seeds
Growing lemongrass from seeds is the most difficult process, and it will require a lot of attention to ensure the germination process goes smoothly. If you live in a colder climate, you will want to plant the seeds indoors before transferring them outside.
After only a week or two, lemongrass can germinate at a high rate. All you need to do is keep the seeds wet and warm until they begin to germinate. For the best results, you can try a seedling tray with a plastic dome. This will help keep in the warmth and moisture needed for your seeds to thrive.
Once the plants are around 6 inches tall, transplant the seeds to a pot. Space them 2 or 3 inches or around 70 cm apart to allow room for the roots to grow, and water thoroughly.
Planting from Stalks
You can buy lemongrass stalks at the store or farmer’s market, or re-grow lemongrass from your own previous stalks with ease. The best time of year to plant it from a stalk is during the spring.
Place a lemongrass stalk in a glass or jar of water to grow a new stalk. An inch or two of water is enough to soak it enough for roots to grow, and all you need to do is freshen up the out every few days. When you see fresh leaves sprouting from the new stalk, the lemongrass’ roots are ready to be transferred to the soil.
Planting from Cuttings
The way most gardeners choose to grow this, however, is to begin growing from cuttings.
If you already have a lemongrass plant, cut away an outer stalk in late summer. Cut the leaves back to around 3 inches and replant in a little container to grow over the winter. Put the container in a well-lit windowsill and water it in small amounts. The following spring, you can replant outdoors to transfer the plant into a larger pot.
If you don’t already have your own lemongrass plant, you can find stalks in an ethnic market or upscale food co-op. Perhaps you can even get lucky and find a friend who’ll let you have a stalk from their own recent harvest.
To select the best stalk to re-grow, make sure the base is intact. A stalk that’s cut too high won’t root. If you can find a full stalk, look for the freshest-appearing ones and place them in a jar containing an inch of water. Developing healthy roots will take around a month.
If you don’t want to wait for your lemongrass to sprout roots, you can also buy pre-rooted cuttings online. They come ready to plant.
When growing lemongrass outdoors, whether in a raised bed, herb box, or garden patch, leave enough room for the plants to grow. Space the plants in rows no smaller than 1’11” with 2’11” gaps.
How to Care for Lemongrass
This plant doesn’t require a ton of maintenance, and tends to self-propagate quickly, even when planted in small containers. The most important things to pay attention to are the temperature, and soil.
Lemongrass requires good moisture, but not too much water. The soil should only ever feel damp—not soggy.
Cold temperatures kill these plants with ease. Lemongrass can’t handle freezing temperatures and doesn’t do well in an environment lower than 50-degrees F. It commonly grows in the hottest regions of the world, but it also does well indoors.
If you live in the north, you may only have your lemongrass plant outside for a couple months in the summer. Even if the temperature dips below 50 degrees F at night in the spring or fall, the plant will need to come indoors.
Potted plants may need nutrients from time to time. Like many green plants, high nitrogen levels are helpful. Adding a top layer of compost every few weeks can aid your lemongrass’ nutrient levels and keep it healthy. Fertilizers such as worm castings and alfalfa meal are also said to boost growth.
Reduce the number of feedings in the winter, and barely keep the soil moist for best results.
Common Problems to Growing Lemongrass
The biggest issue people face when growing lemongrass is rot. If you use a clay soil or another type that doesn’t drain well—especially if your plant is in a container—the lemongrass will rot. Likewise, it’ll die if you water it too frequently.
Plants in containers will also need to move into larger pots to continue growing, and to allow enough room for the roots to spread out. Crowded roots can actually make your pot crack if you don’t re-pot in a timely manner.
Best Companion Plants for Lemongrass
When growing lemongrass in an herb garden, you can add a few companion plants to help your plants thrive even more. The following plants do very well when planted with lemongrass:
How to Harvest and Store Lemongrass
To harvest your own lemongrass, you want to get to the inner, white core of the stalk. That said, some people also enjoy using the leaves to make a light lemony tea.
Make sure the plant has developed thick stems before you harvest. The base should be at least 1/2 an inch in diameter, and it helps if you bundle the base of the plant together to preserve it for use throughout the winter.
Then, follow these steps:
- Firmly grasp the stalk near the base of the stem
- Pull the lemongrass stalk from the ground
- Remove all outer leaves
- Grate or finely chop the stalk
Freeze it to save it for later use. Bundle the stalks together and wrap them in a plastic bag so you can just remove a stalk when you need it. The freezing process may lose some of the herb’s freshness and change the texture slightly, but the flavor is still powerful.
Growing lemongrass is easy, even for beginners! Once you begin using it around the house, you’ll find other great ways to use it too. The possibilities and benefits are endless, and once you start using it, you may not ever stop.