Lemongrass: A Plant with Superpowers!

Your guide to planting, caring for, and harvesting lemongrass.

We have a plant that is going to “wow” your socks off!

If you live in the southern regions of the U.S., especially Texas or New Mexico, you have most likely seen this plant.

But did you know that behind the plant is a powerhouse of uses that most people don’t know about?

Join us as we introduce you to Cymbopogon citratus!

What is lemongrass?

prayer for diabetes

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is an aromatic plant that is coveted for its lemon fragrance and taste.

It is used in both the culinary and essential oil industries. 

Throughout the southern states, you’ll see lemongrass planted in garden landscapes, in public thoroughfares, in front of professional buildings, parks, and more.

Why is this plant so popular?

Well, southerners lean more towards a southwestern style when it comes to decorating just about anything.

Lemongrass has a rustic prairie-like charm that gives an area a southwestern appeal.

When planted in large containers, lemongrass becomes more of a piece of living art for the outdoors. 

This plant’s beginnings started in its native countries of India and Sri Lanka as it made its way around the world. It became a staple in many Asian dishes.

Southeast Asia cultivates lemongrass for the sole purpose of flavoring various foods. 

With all of its attributes, lemongrass carries the stigma of being an invasive plant. Mexico labeled this plant as a weed.

Precaution:

  • Lemongrass is toxic to animals. Ingesting the plant causes digestive upset and the production of cyanide once in the body. Additionally, exposure or contact with essential oils containing lemongrass can cause difficulty breathing.

  • Handling lemongrass can cause skin irritation due to the citral chemical found in the plant. The leaves are like blades and can easily cut or scrape you.

Taxonomy

Family:

Poaceae (grasses)

Genus:

Cymbopogon Spreng. (lemongrass)

 

‘kymbe’: Greek meaning ‘boat’

 

‘pogon’: Greek meaning ‘beard’

Species:

Cymbopogon citratus

 

Epithet ‘citratus’ – citrus scent

Attributes and Characteristics

lemongrass

Habitat: Warm, humid tropics and sub-tropics

Growth: Rate Rapid

Ease of Care/Maintenance

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water: Medium
  • Soil: rich loam, but tolerates other well-drained soils pH 6.0 to 7.0
  • Disease: Rust, leaf blight
  • Pests: Spider mites
  • Tolerates: polluted urban area, walnut
  • Pruning required due to invasive habit and growth rate

Size

Height: 2-4 ft.

Spread: 2-3 ft

Physical 

Leaves:

  • Summer: bluish-green
  • Fall: red
  • Arching blade-like straps up to 3 ft. long, 1” wide

Flowers: insignificant

Growth Habit: Graminoid (dense clumping)

What Are The Benefits Of Lemongrass?

Lemongrass is known for its therapeutic properties. 

It is also commonly used throughout the Asian culture in cooking because of the unique lemongrass taste. 

GARDEN LANDSCAPE

  • Provides you an organic source of herbs
  • Easy to grow and maintain
  • Flexible uses 
  • Repels insects
  • Has very few disease/pest issues

CULINARY

  • Asian dishes
  • Marinades
  • Sauces
  • Rubs
  • Salads
  • Lemongrass Teas
  • Broths
  • Stews
  • Soups

PHARMACOLOGICAL

  • Antibacterial
  • Antidiarrheal
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Antimalarial
  • Antioxidant

HERBAL

  • Digestive upset
  • Sedative for Insomnia
  • Menstrual ailments
  • Muscle cramping
  • Headache
  • Colds/Flu
  • Cleanses/Detoxes
  • Diuretic
  • Aromatherapy
  • Natural deodorant
  • Lemongrass essential oi

Growing Lemongrass

Learning how to grow lemongrass is fairly simple. Lemongrass is a forgiving plant for beginning gardeners. 

There are a few things to consider before you dive into planting. As with any other gardening project, proper planning sets you up to have a successful garden!

Are you in the right hardiness zone to grow lemongrass?

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map USA

Lemongrass thrives in warm and humid climates. It is ideally suitable for growing in zones 10 and 11.

For zones 8b and 9, you can grow lemongrass as long as the temperature doesn’t go below 30 degrees (F.)

What’s the intended use of the plant, and where will you place it?

The flexibility of where to grow your lemongrass gives you the option to grow it almost anywhere.

If you have a large area that isn’t near competing plants, try your hand at using lemongrass to naturalize and fill the space.

This plant is perfect for using as a backdrop or bordering plant for the edge of your property. It also accentuates plants in the foreground.

In-ground or Container

Deciding how you want to use your lemongrass in planting is the most difficult step to planting. 

Uses

Single Specimen

Homeowners will often plant a single lemongrass in an area that needs some height.

The lemongrass will be more of a statement plant that presents an attractive element to that specific area.

Naturalization

Those who have large landscapes opt to plant lemongrass in open areas and allow the plants to grow and spread. Little maintenance is required. 

Repellant Planting

Lemongrass is a natural way to keep mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, gnats, and flies at bay.

There’s some debate whether or not citronella (found in lemongrass) repels snakes.

However, some research indicates citronella affects snakes only if aerosolized and directly sprayed on the head of a snake.

Container

The “wow-factor” of planting lemongrass in large containers is evident throughout the south in landscapes and public areas.

Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas fully appreciate the beauty and use of lemongrass when trying to achieve a southwestern theme. 

Restaurants, medical buildings, museums, and more have containers of lemongrass near the entryways to greet visitors and guests.

Outdoor living areas in the south are abundantly furnished with the living art form of lemongrass. 

In-Ground Planting 

If you are more into the traditional dirt-digging form of gardening, let’s look at what you can do with lemongrass in a garden landscape setting. 

Space

Lemongrass can grow as large as 4 ft. high and 3 ft. wide. There have been some lemongrass plants that have grown as tall as 6 ft. tall.

So if you have plenty of space to plant outdoors, take size into consideration when it comes to spacing and planting.

Ideally, lemongrass should be planted a minimum of 3 ft. apart.

The more space you provide between the plants, the better the airflow. The plant will be more robust in appearance.

Sunlight

Lemongrass is a sun-lover and wasn’t intended to be planted in the shade. An area that provides 6-8 hours of full sun is recommended.

Soil

The soil in the area you choose to plant plays a big role in how well your lemongrass will grow.

Don’t plant lemongrass in areas that are prone to standing water or flooding. Ensure the soil is well-draining.

Clay or compacted soils prevent lemongrass from thriving. 

Before planting lemongrass, work the soil to loosen it up. Add 2-4” of compost to the loose soil. This gives the plant a kick-start!

Nearby Competing Plants

Lemongrass can easily be destroyed by neighboring competing plants/trees.

Competing plants silently kill those who are sharing space, sun, shade, soil, and water. Vulnerability diminishes as lemongrass grows larger.

Maintenance

Unless you are planting to naturalize an area, pruning is a part of growing any plants. 

Pruning and Trimming

Always be on the lookout for any dead or decaying leaves or debris on the ground. Remove and throw away. If left on or near the plant, it encourages disease.

  • Lemongrass should be trimmed in early spring while it’s still dormant. 
  • You’ll need gloves and a sharp set of shears.
  • Cut the leaves down to within 1” of the white stalks.

Watering

  • Lemongrass doesn’t like a perpetually wet environment. However, the plant will need watering. 
  • Water a few times a week. If you live in an arid climate, water daily.
  • Never water the plant from above. Direct the water flow to the base of the plant.
  • Water in the morning. Never water at night because it encourages disease.

Fertilizing

Lemongrass should be fertilized once a week during the summer months. Use a soluble fertilizer with a dilution of 50% water, 50% fertilizer.

Container Planting 

Container Size

  • One plant for every 5 gallons is a guideline for choosing a container. 

Placement

  • Place the lemongrass in an area that allows ample exposure to the sun.
  • A five-gallon container with soil and a plant in it will be difficult to move around. Take this into consideration when deciding where to place it. 

Sunlight

Lemongrass is a sun-lover and wasn’t intended to be planted in the shade. An area that provides 6-8 hours of full sun is recommended.

Soil

  • Container planting should be done with a good quality potting soil. 
  • Using soil from your yard or garden is not ideal for container-planting.

Maintenance

  • Apply the same principles of pruning/trimming, watering, and fertilizing as in-ground planting.

Ways to Propagate Lemongrass

There’s a number of ways to get your lemongrass plants going. How you acquire the way to get your plant is up to you. It usually comes down to convenience though for most gardeners.

Not sure where to buy lemongrass? You can easily find lemongrass seeds and starter plants online. Also, checking your local garden nursery is an option.

Seeds

When purchasing lemongrass seeds, you will most likely get more seeds in an envelope than you need. The average packet of lemongrass seeds yields hundreds or more plants. 

  • Sowing seeds indoors should be done late in the winter. 
  • Plant your seeds in a seed tray and allow them to germinate.
  • Transplant the seedlings outdoors into a garden or containers after about 25 days.

Starter Plants

If you have a local nursery that carries lemongrass starters, this is perhaps the easiest way to get your plant off and going. Once you purchase a starter plant, follow the same steps we outlined previously for planting.

Plant Division

Locating established lemongrass is like going on a treasure hunt. If you do find one, be sure to ask the property owner if you can simply take a few clumps to replant. Most people are more than willing to allow you to. 

Harvesting Lemongrass 

Many gardeners are not aware their lemongrass plant can be harvested for cooking and herbal benefits. Learning how to harvest lemongrass isn’t difficult.

  • Harvesting should be done just before the first frost. 
  • Locate the base of the stalk. This will be where you remove the stalk from the plant.
  • Stalks that are ¼” to ½” thick can be sheared or snapped off.
  • Now cut or snap the stalk off.
  • Remove any roots, bulb, and woody foliage from the stalk.
  • Wash thoroughly.

Once you are done cutting and washing, you can preserve your lemongrass to use in teas, cooking, or essential oils. You can store fresh lemongrass in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Drying Lemongrass

If you want to preserve your lemongrass for long-term use, drying is a popular go-to method herbalists use.

You’ll Need:

  • 2 drying screens (baking racks work as well)
  • Paper Towels
  • Sterilized Sharp Scissors
  • 2 small airtight containers 
  1. Harvest the lemongrass according to the steps above. 
  2. Place the leaves in one pile and the stalks in another.
  3. Place a paper towel over a drying screen or baking rack.
  4. Spread the leaves evenly out on one drying screen.
  5. Spread the stalks evenly out on the other drying screen.
  6. Place outdoors in the direct sun (out of the wind) until dry.
  7. Bring your dried lemongrass indoors.
  8. Use your scissors to cut the leaves up. Place into an airtight container.
  9. Now cut the stalks up and place into an airtight container.
  10. Store in a dark, cool place. Your dried lemongrass will be good for up to 1 year.

Grow, Eat, Repeat!

Now you know everything there is to growing lemongrass and ways you can use it culinarily and herbally.

Your lemongrass will continue to yield future herbs in the years to come. 

Happy gardening!

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