Days to germination: Not started by seed
Days to harvest: 100 days, when started by seedling
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Frequent watering
Soil: Well-drained and rich with organic material
Container: Yes, even indoors
Lemongrass has a strong flavor of lemon citrus and it can be brewed in tea as well as used as a herb for seasoning. The most common dishes that use lemongrass are Asian cuisine.
A native of India, you will have to live in at least zone 9 if you want to grow lemongrass outdoors. Each plant can grow to between 3 and 6 feet high if you do grow it outside. It will be somewhat smaller if you have to keep it inside.
There are 2 kinds of lemongrass: East Indian and West Indian but there is little difference between them in terms of culinary use and growing. There really isn’t much variety to choose from.
It’s a very nondescript plant, looking much like a very tall patch of grass that doesn’t often produce flowers. At the base of each group of leaves there is a fat stalk, similar to a spring onion bulb. The overall plant is made up a big cluster of these individual stalks.
The bulb or bottom part of each stalk is used for most cooking purposes, but the rest of the leaves can be used as well. Teas are usually brewed with the leaves.
Not only is the tea very zesty in flavor, it can also help settle upset stomachs and ease a cough. The oils in lemongrass have a number of homeopathic health uses, though most home-growers do not extract the essential oils from their plants. It’s mostly used as a flavoring.
Starting from Seed
Home gardeners don’t typically start lemongrass plants from seed because it is so easy to start by just rooting stalks or cuttings.
Actually, you may even be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stalks you purchase at the regular grocery store. As long as they are still firm and green, you should be able to get them to root. Snip off an inch or two from the end of the leaves, and put the base end in a glass of water. Leave somewhere sunny, and you should start to see roots sprouting from the bottom of the stalk in about a week or two.
Once your stalk has roots at least an inch long, you can either plant it in a container for indoor growing or take it right out into the garden.
Keep your lemongrass plants at least 3 feet apart, and allow for a height of 6 feet (though you can trim it lower than that).
When you dig the holes for the plants, mix in a some compost or well-aged manure to help enrich the soil. The soil shouldn’t be too thick though, the water still has to drain to keep your plants healthy.
You should plant your stalks outside after your last frost date, if you live in an area that gets winter frosts (such as zone 9).
Lemongrass will need a lot of nitrogen, so you should fertilize at least monthly with either a standard or high-nitrogen formula. Water your plant regularly and don’t let it completely dry out, especially when the weather is very hot.
Once your plant gets to 3 feet or so in height, you may want to keep the tops of the leaves cut down even more than what you are taking for an actual harvest. This can help keep the size of the plant down. Lemongrass doesn’t grow branches so no other pruning is necessary.
Lemongrass can be grown in large pots, either indoors or out. Depending on your climate, you should try to let it have a few summer months outdoors to get extra sun. Considering its size, most people keep their lemongrass inside only during the winter.
Your plants can get quite large, so plant it in a 5 gallon pot or larger. If it does start to outgrow the pot, you can always separate off more stalks just to keep the plant under control. It’s not usually a problem with exclusively indoor plants.
While inside, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer with a minimum of 6 hours a day. It may thrive as an indoor-only plant but you won’t get as many stalks from it.
Fertilize your container plants once every 2 weeks with a standard mix, though you can skip this during the winter months. Water frequently, 2 or 3 times a week.
Pests and Diseases
The lemon-scented oils in lemongrass are frequently used to make natural insect repellent, so you really won’t have much to worry about when it comes to those kinds of pests.
Leaf blight will sometimes hit lemongrass. The leaves can start to wilt and you will find brown or rust colored spots on the ends of the leaves. Pick away the infected leaves, and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide that can be used on edible plants.
Cats have also been known to have a fondness for lemongrass and may chew on your plants if given the chance.
Harvest and Storage
You can trim leaves from the plant any time once the plant is at least a foot tall. To harvest entire stalks, use a sharp knife to slice each one off at the soil level. Take the outer stalks first, and they should be at least 1/2 inch thick before you cut them. Try not to just break them off or you could damage the rest of the plant.
You may have to peel off the tougher outer leaves before use. Store the entire stalk with leaves in the fridge to keep it fresh for several days. Keep it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel for the best results. Chopped pieces of the stalk can be frozen for later use.
If you want to store just the leaves, then they preserve best when dried rather than frozen.
Whether you use it to add flavor to meat or fish, or just to brew tea, remember that it can be quite strong. It doesn’t take much.