It is quite easy to grow lemongrass at home outdoors or in a pot. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus or Cymbopogon flexuosus) is a fragrant herb that is commonly found in Asian dishes from Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and India. This plant is native to India and Sri Lanka, so it will grow as a perennial in USDA zones 8 and higher, but you can grow lemongrass as an annual in other regions. Its long and slender gray-green leaves turn burgundy and red once fall starts. I haven’t seen this since I live on a farm in Panama, so they only turn brown when they die.
Some people grow lemongrass as a landscape plant because of its ornamental value. It can be used as an ornamental grass to create an informal screen. Lemongrass can be used as an edging for a pathway or a driveway. Just make sure to give the plant enough space to spread.
Other gardeners grow lemongrass in their herb gardens because it produces a nice citrusy fragrance when brushed. Combine it with other sun loving herbs such as garlic, chives, shallots, cilantro, mint and Thai basil (lemon or purple).
I grow lemongrass because of the medicinal benefits of lemongrass and its taste! It is easy to include this herb into your meals, especially in soups or stir fries. Lemongrass can be used fresh or dried. Smash the green portion of the stem just like you would do with garlic or bend it back and forth a few times to release the oils. Personally I like to drink lemongrass tea. I boil water then turn off the heat and place the lemongrass in the pan with the lid on so it steeps. It is possible to drink it hot or cold. Lemongrass can also be used for homemade ice creams or lemon bars.
If you grow lemongrass you should know that this herb contains cyanogenic glycosides and other oils that can be madly toxic to cats, dogs and horses, so make sure never to include it in your pet’s meal. Citronella oil is extracted from lemongrass, which makes this plant a good insect repellent. You can buy lemongrass essential oil which has plenty of uses and it is a nice oil to place in a diffuser.
How to Reproduce Lemongrass
It is possible to grow lemongrass from seeds, however I have never seen my plant flowering and I have had it for years. Lemongrass forms very tight clumps which makes it hard to dig the stems during harvest or for plant reproduction or division. Use a hatched or a sharp spade to divide lemongrass clumps.
Divide lemongrass early in spring if you live in a warm area. Those who live in cold areas can divide in the fall to overwinter in pots. To grow lemongrass from purchased supermarket (or Asian grocery store) herb it needs to have the bottom of the stalk. Cut it down to a few inches from the bottom and peel off the parts of the bulb that appear dead. Place it in a shallow glass of water by a sunny window.
Lemongrass will start rooting in a few weeks. Remember that a single lemongrass stalk will divide and create a thick stand of grassy stalks within two to three months.
How to Grow Lemongrass in Pots
Lemongrass grows between 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Those who grow lemongrass in a pot can expect for the plant to fill out the whole container size even if it was only a small clump to begin with. Choose a container that is 5 gallons or more. Small pots will cause the roots to break. Place the lemongrass in the soil and water well.
Make sure to place your potted lemongrass in an area that is sheltered from the wind. Growing lemongrass in a container can make it top heavy and it can topple. Those who live in areas that have winter can take some of their outdoor lemongrass and place it in pots. Cut the shoots down to 5 or 6 inches when you plant them and place them by a sunny window or under grow lights. They won’t grow much in the winter, but you can harvest some of the fresh leaves.
If you already grow lemongrass in containers, all you need to do is move them indoors in the winter. Another option is to let them go dormant. Cut off any brown leaf tops and water occasionally so the roots stay alive. Move the pots to a sunny location in the spring and water them well. New sprouts will start shooting through the clump. Fertilize when the shoots are a few inches tall and keep watering regularly.
How to Take Care of Lemongrass
This tropical herb loves the sun, even in hot places. I have red soil with a little clay and it grows fine, but you are supposed to use compost or rotted manure to improve its ability to drain. Standard potting mix can be enriched with fir bark, coir or peat moss to give the roots texture to grow.
Lemongrass needs lots of moisture but doesn’t like soggy soil. Those who grow lemongrass in the soil need to water it less frequently than container plants. Lemongrass in pots need daily watering in summer when it is very hot. Add a saucer under the pot with holes so the plant’s root can have a reservoir to draw from.
Fish emulsion is a great fertilizer or a normal 20-20-20 plant food.
Lemongrass Pests and Diseases
I haven’t had any problems with lemongrass. This plant is usually considered to be an insect repellent. Spider mites may infect the plant when if you grow lemongrass indoors. If this happens, spray them with insecticidal soap. Make sure to rinse off before eating.
How to Harvest Lemongrass
Be careful when harvesting lemongrass since its leaves are quite sharp and can cut just like a paper cut. Leaves can be clipped and bundled to be used in a stew, soup or tea. Harvest individual leaves after they are over a foot tall.
Work from the outer layers of the clump to harvest for culinary purposes. Wait until the leaves are a foot tall so the stem bases are at least 1/2 inch thick. Pull out the entire stalk or cut the stalks at soil level. What you want to get is something that looks like a scallion or green onion.
Only the bottom part near the base is edible. Cut off the grassy top and make a second cut where the white stem starts to turn green. Chop off the bottom of the stem where the roots are. Use the lower white portion of the stem and peel away the outer fibrous layers around the stalk base. The inside part is a soft white layer which can be chopped and finely minced into dishes. Another alternative is to use a food processor or grate it. It can also be pounded to a paste with a mortar and pestle.
Wrap lemongrass stems with a towel to preserve it in the refrigerator for a few weeks. You can also dry leaves by creating a bundle and hanging them upside down in a dark place until dried. Store them in tightly sealed jars. Using the whole leaf allows you to remove it from dishes before eating.