If you don’t have lemongrass in your yard, then you should consider adding it to your plant collection. This tropical perennial has both ornamental and culinary virtues. It can theoretically be used to ward off hungry mosquitoes, as I discussed in an article on mosquito-repellent plants. It’s also an easy to care for plant that’s fairly resistant to disease and insect infestations. If you have ever wondered how to grow lemongrass, you have come to the right place!
There are two different varieties of lemongrass that are available, but they’re not much different from each other. East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) is the one most commonly grown from seed. West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is the variety that generally gets used for cooking. We have some handy additional instructions and tips if you are considering adding either or both varieties of lemongrass to your garden.
Lemongrass can be somewhat hard to find when compared to other herbs. It seems like these plants only turn up every couple of years at local garden centers. Even then, they tend to only be available in large, pricier containers ($6 to $8 each). Fortunately, I lucked out this year and got the last West Indian lemongrass for about $4.
Given the high cost of shipping live plants, starting your own from seed tends to be the most economical option. However, most of the seeds that are available tend to be for East Indian lemongrass. These plants are edible, but they don’t form large bulbs like the other variety does. On the other hand, they germinate really well in warmer climates and have all the same positive attributes as their relatives.
If you absolutely must have West Indian lemongrass, I have read several articles that claim that you can make more of it (and other plants) by using cuttings. You’re supposed to put a sizable piece of the plant in question (a couple of inches long) and some water in a clear, glass container. This contraption stays on a sunny windowsill about a week until the plants in question have grown decent roots. They are then transplanted to a pot full of soil and kept moist. I’ve tried this method for numerous plants, but have never had any success with it. Research has lead me to suspect that our tap water is the problem, so this process might work out just fine for you. Feel free to give it a shot!
How To Grow Lemongrass from Seed
If you choose to go this route, you’re in great company (ha ha). I’ve used Livingstone Seeds from Ace Hardware for this purpose in the past, with good results. However, I haven’t been able to find that variety for two years running, so this spring I added a packet to my order at Tradewinds Fruit. The plants came up nicely and I was pleased with the results.
Of course, growing plants from seed is a simple procedure unless you are foolish enough to use recycled potting soil. I’m normally the first to advocate money-saving garden procedures. However, this is a bad idea when you’re starting seeds, because the seedlings will often look just like weeds. You’re not going to save any money if you dig up your plants thinking they’re unwanted visitors. You could also end up being embarrassed if you hand out what you thought were desirable plants to your friends only to have them end up being weeds. (True story!)
Given its tropical nature, it’s no surprise that lemongrass needs warm to hot conditions in order for it to safely germinate. Even though I’m in zone 8b, I waited until May to plant mine for that reason alone. Just follow the directions on the package, keep the seeds well-watered, and you should be fine.
It’s still a good idea to hold some of them in reserve. That way, you can make another attempt at growing these plants if they don’t show up, without having to order any more seeds. However, they should come up without any problems. Then once they get a few inches high, you can start moving them to new homes. Don’t worry though. They’re easy to transplant.
Growing Lemongrass – The Basics
Although they look tiny at first, lemongrass plants can easily grow up to several feet tall. You’ll definitely want to make sure that you have a large container for them if you don’t plan on putting them in the ground. It’s also a good idea to stick them in a sunny spot and water them on a regular basis. However, they will tolerate some shade.
Both lemongrass varieties are hardy from zones 9 to 11. They may even survive mild winters in zone 8, where they will die down to the roots during the colder months. However, if the temperatures get too low, the lemongrass will probably be killed for good. As a result, gardeners in most areas should probably keep their plants in containers so that they can bring them indoors if it gets too cold in the winter. Happy gardening (and cooking – lemongrass goes great with Thai food and some teas as well)!