Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), is one of many other tropical plants primarily grown in Southeast Asia. Just like the name suggests, it smells like lemons and is used for various culinary, medicinal, and ornamental purposes.
This amazing herb is also known for its versatility in gardens. The leaves and the whole plant are both edible, with the leaves usually growing directly from the ground up without a stem.
Though they usually don’t flower, the bluish-green colored, elegantly wilting leaves look extremely attractive when planted in gardens.
Can you grow them in your garden? The answer is yes. Lemongrass is one of the easiest plants to grow in gardens. This article answers all questions from lemongrass care to how to grow and harvest it, and its uses and benefits.
Just like several other plants and herbs, lemongrass too has many types. It is essential to know all varieties before choosing the right one for your garden.
Types of Lemongrass
1. East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
- Commonly known as Malabar grass or Cochin grass, this variety thrives in highly sunny conditions and organically rich, well-drained loam soil.
- Grown in USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) hardiness zones 9 through 11, it needs plenty of space to grow.
- It has a lemony flavor and aroma, but with slightly gingery undertones, and grows tall with purple seed heads when fully bloomed.
- Also known for preventing soil erosion, it is usually planted along embankments.
2. West Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Simply called lemongrass, or even oil grass, it can grow up to 3 feet in width and 6 feet in height with light green leaf stems.
- The dense clumps can be divided in spring and summer for better propagation.
- Just like other varieties, this too grows best in sunny conditions and loamy soil with good drainage, but it can also handle slight shade and other types of soils.
- Grows best in USDA zones 10 through 11.
3. Java Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus)
- It comes from Java Island in Indonesia.
- The leaf stems are tall and tinted yellow or reddish-purple.
- Also requires a good amount of sun, high heat, and moisture with well-drained sandy loam soil. Most importantly, the pH levels must be between 5.8 and 8.0.
- Grown as an annual in cooler regions.
How to Grow Lemongrass: Sun, Soil, and Water
Planting lemongrass is as easy as it gets. Ensure to buy the freshest batch you can find from the grocery store. Trim off a few inches off the top and remove any dead stalks found. Place the plant in a shallow water container, and then position the container near a well sun-lit window.
The roots should start appearing in a few weeks. Once you feel they are ripe enough, carefully transfer them into the soil.
The real question here is, how to grow lemongrass?
Since lemongrass is a tropical herb, the location should receive a sufficient amount of sunlight throughout the day. Ideally, at least 6 hours if not more. Indoors, it can be planted in a pot, provided the pot sits in a place where it receives enough sunlight and as minimum shade as possible.
Cold and harsh conditions are the last thing any lemongrass plant should see. The ideal temperature is between 10 to , so it can successfully generate oils. Remember, frosty conditions can kill the plant. Thus, the best time to grow lemongrass is in spring, when the frost has just passed.
The next thing to assure is that the soil is well suited for lemongrass. It grows excellently in loam soil with good drainage and a pH between 5.0 and 8.4. Due to its versatility in soil types, it can be planted in other soils too.
However, keep a check on the moisture levels and verify that it is well-drained as waterlogged soil can ruin the plant.
For excellent quality yield, add 2 to 4 inches of compost before planting the lemongrass, and dig it at least 4 to 6 inches into the soil. Even better if it is an organically rich compost.
Get a good quality organic fertilizer for the plant. Granulated fertilizers work better. Add the recommended amount as mentioned on the label and smooth the compost and the fertilizer out with a rake.
Bonus tip: Check out these 10 quality leaf rakes.
After some growth, fertilize it every week with a half-strength solution of a balanced soluble fertilizer, especially during the summer season when it requires a lot of nitrogen.
Lemongrass can spread up to 3 feet. Thus, multiple plantations in the garden need to have a minimum distance of 3 to 4 feet between them. Remember to keep the ground clean of other weeds since lemongrass does not interact well with them.
The soil should be kept moist before planting the lemongrass, and not wet. Add more water once it starts growing actively, which should be in a few weeks.
Watering during winters may cause the roots to rot, always avoid this practice. In the summer season, if there is barely any rain or no rain at all, water once a week. For an oddly dry weather, water the lemongrass every few days.
If your area’s climatic conditions favor the plant completely, it should remain green even in winters. In case it turns brown, use a precise and good quality hedge trimmer to trim a few inches of the foliage off.
Prune it down to the white part of the stalk. This will help with a healthier batch the next time. However, remember to not prune it before spring season kicks in.
Once it has been put in place with all the precautions and safety measures, lemongrass care is as important as the growth process. Just like other plants, lemongrass too is susceptible to certain diseases and pests.
- Watering lemongrass by spraying the leaves can lead to the establishment of Puccinia nakanishikii. This is a common type of rust that can attack lemongrass. Since it spreads quickly and can be difficult to eradicate, it is ideal and essential to avoid it completely.
Do this by watering the roots directly instead of the leaves. If it is already affected, remove the previously damaged leaves and apply a liquid copper fungicide or a bio fungicide to ensure lemongrass care.
- Spider mites are usually a problem for indoor lemongrass plants. They can easily damage the leaves. Two effective ways to get rid of them are neem oil or mite spray.
- A pathogen called rhizoctonia solani can lead to a disease called leaf blight, where the leaves develop yellow blemishes. This pathogen can also cause root issues. In fact, it usually causes rotting roots and damage to the stem which is visible as brown abrasions near the soil’s surface.
- A common symptom is the wilting of lemongrass in summers. Inoculating the soil while planting and in the early growing season can help with this fungal disease, that can otherwise last for years. This can also help with the Trichoderma species bacteria.
- Aphids, especially the yellow sugarcane aphid, are known to suck out the sap from lemongrass leaves. Assure lemongrass care from these pests by using insecticidal soap. Again, neem oil is also highly effective.
- Grass bagworm is a moth larva that can eat holes through the long, sharp leaves in an unpleasant manner. A slight dose of bacillus thurigiensis can help drastically.
- Fusarium fungi are another cause of damage that can last for years. Fusarium equisetti and fusarium verticillium can lead to leaf spots and clump rotting in lemongrass.
These strains can also affect various other plants negatively. Two common forms of treatment are bacterial treatment and using Mycorrhizal.
Another important factor to keep in mind is to provide extensive lemongrass care during the winter season. Locations with mild winters can still grow lemongrass easily with certain precautions. It only makes sense to garden lemongrass in places with extremely mild temperature fluctuations.
When protecting or sheltering lemongrass plants from winters, it would be wiser to plant them in pots or containers so their location can easily be shifted if the conditions get too cold.
After the tedious job of lemongrass care, comes the part of reaping its benefits. The harvest.
Harvesting lemongrass is almost as easy as planting it. It can be harvested throughout its growing season, especially when planted indoors. When planted in gardens, it is usually reaped right before the winter season or frost.
Since the most appetizing part is near the bottom of the stalk, chop the plant off from right there. Keep it approximately 10 cm above ground level.
The twist and pull method can also be used. Even if you pull out a bulb or two, it should be fine. Make sure to cut off the older stalks first, and then the newer ones.
Uses of Lemongrass
Lemongrass is a multi-purpose plant and therefore its leaves are used for many purposes, such as:
Lemongrass is a highly famous addition to Thai dishes. It is used for its lemon-like zesty flavor. Many fresh salads, sauces, and steamed seafood varieties also incorporate lemongrass.
The citrus aroma of lemongrass is often found in various perfumes, deodorants, essential oils, and soaps.
Lemongrass herbal tea is one of the most famous beverages that provide multiple health benefits. Other drinks that can include lemongrass are cocktails, lemonade, and so on.
The oils present in the leaves of lemongrass have been shown to provide numerous health benefits. Thus, these oils are often mentioned during the manufacturing of medications.
Benefits of Lemongrass
- Insect repellent
Lemongrass is one of the most common plants used for repelling insects and bugs. The citral and geraniol compounds present help in this function. Thus, it is especially known as a mosquito repelling plant.
- Body odor
Due to its anti-bacterial properties, lemongrass can help prevent bad odor, and fungal and bacterial infections.
- Health benefits
As mentioned above, lemongrass provides innumerable health benefits. Some of which are:
It not only promotes healthy cholesterol levels in the body but also an unhindered flow of blood in the arteries. Thus, encouraging better cardiovascular health.
Lemongrass incorporates diuretic properties that help in flushing harmful toxins out of the body. It increases the frequency of urination which removes accrued fats and other harmful toxins from the body, maintains digestive health, and preserves a clean system overall.
With the anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties present in lemongrass essential oils, it can fight pathogens in the stomach, prevent gastrointestinal disorders, and improve bowel function. The anti-inflammatory properties also aid with constipation, nausea, and stomach aches.
This herb has sedative properties that relax the muscles, thus inducing a long-lasting sleep. For this reason, insomniacs have found lemongrass tea extremely beneficial.
Not only does it help with healthy metabolism but it also urges the body to use the accumulated fats. Moreover, lemongrass also promotes the oxidation of fatty acids in the body.
As a gardener, one can not only reap the health benefits of gardening but also the various plants they grow. Lemongrass is rightfully one of the best plants to cultivate in the garden. Even though it is not a flowering plant, it still looks radiant and appeals to the viewers’ eyes.
Lemongrass care, growth, planting, and harvest, all these processes do not require too much hard work either. The aroma, flavor, and health benefits provide all the more reasons to grow lemongrass on your own.
The next season, make sure to seriously consider growing lemongrass in your backyard. You will most definitely not regret it!