In the last few years, I have come to love all things lemongrass. Lemongrass is one of my favorite tea herbs, either used by itself or mixed with mints, lemon balm or lemon verbena. Of course it’s an essential ingredient in Thai cooking, where it lends its distinctive taste to a variety of dishes, including my favorite green curries. And I love using the essential oil in our homemade soaps. But it was only recently that I learned how easy it is to grow. And even more recently I found out how to start your own plants, thanks to Michelle who blogs at From Seed To Table (see her post on Lemongrass).
There are several different kinds of lemongrass, but Cymbopogon citratus is the kind most often grown for culinary use. It is perennial in warmer climates, and hardy to USDA zone 10. Which means it must be treated as an annual in my zone 6b garden. It is also easily grown in containers, and I’ve been growing it that way for many years now. Lemongrass seems to grows well in soil of average fertility, and I do give the plants a drink of fish fertilizer occasionally to give them a shot of nitrogen. I usually grow them in containers 12-15″ in diameter which are easier for me to move around. Larger containers make for larger plants, and the pots can also be sunk in the ground in the summer and then dug up and brought inside for winter.
Though lemongrass seed is sometimes listed in catalogs, often as ‘East Indian Lemongrass’, it is usually Cymbopogon flexuosus which is not great for culinary use. The most flavorful strains of lemongrass are grown from cuttings. And if you have an ethnic market that sells lemongrass stalks, they can easily be rooted in water. Try and select stalks that have some green leaves attached and aren’t too dried out, though I have to say I have had pretty good luck in getting even the sorry looking ones to root.
A couple of weeks ago I picked up a big handful of stalks, a dozen or so, for about $2 in my favorite local market (Aihua). I stripped off any really dried leaves, and stuck them in a quart jar about half full of water. I changed the water every few days, and in less than two weeks they were well rooted.
After roots are showing, they can be planted in the open ground or in a container. I’ll put four or five in a container, and plant the rest of them in a clump behind our greenhouse. They’ll grow quickly as weather warms up, and I can harvest them all summer and fall as needed. The plants themselves are pretty carefree and easy to grow, with no pest problems I am aware of. Even the hungry deer leave them alone! The edges of the leaves are very sharp, so you do need to be careful when harvesting or working around the plants. I have cut myself more than once while harvesting. I’ll mulch the ones planted in the ground to keep down weeds and conserve moisture, and water as needed throughout the growing season. Of course the container grown plants will need more frequent watering.
Since they aren’t hardy here, I’ll bring the container in for the winter, and I may also dig up a clump from the ground, pot it up and bring it inside too. I keep the container(s) in the basement under fluorescent lights during the winter months, and I harvest leaves as needed. The growth is much slower in winter, but it does make new leaves and the older leaves stay flavorful for a long time. I have not had much success with drying lemongrass for later use, as I find the dried leaves have little or no flavor. Fresh is best in this case, and it is pretty easy to have fresh leaves year round.
By the second year, the container grown plants should be full of growing shoots and getting a little crowded, like the one in the above photo. You can either divide them into multiple plants, or do what I’m going to do and stick the whole thing in the ground for the summer. That way it can spread out and make lots of leaves for use all summer and fall.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Saturday Spotlight on a lovely and surprisingly easy to grow tropical herb. I’ll be back soon with another variety. Until then, Happy Growing from Happy Acres!
To see my other Saturday Spotlights, visit the Variety Spotlights page.