One of the most popular varieties of seed that we sell is Lemongrass and it’s easy to see why. Lemongrass is an ornamental grass native to Sri Lanka and India. It is easy to grow and propagate and has a variety of culinary and medicinal uses. While technically a perennial, because it is a tropical plant, lemongrass is typically grown as an annual in zones 5 through 9. In zones 10 and 11, it will grow year-round and bring beautiful color to your garden as it turns burgundy red in the fall.
How to Grow Lemongrass
Lemongrass is easy to grow from seed as long as you provide it with the tropical environment it likes. Start lemongrass seeds indoors about 3 weeks before your last frost date. It is best to use seed trays that you can cover to provide the warmth and moisture the plants need. A heat mat that will keep the soil temperature between 68°F and 86°F is also recommended.
Sow the seeds on top of moistened soil about 1 inch apart and just gently press the seeds into the soil. Cover the seed tray until seedlings appear which should only take 7 to 14 days. Keep seedlings warm and moist until they reach about 3 inches high and can be transplanted.
Lemongrass grows best in a container and thrives in the heat of summer in full sun. Transplant seedlings into a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter to give them room to grow. Keep in mind that the plant grows tall and could be susceptible to getting blown over in the wind when choosing your container. Pay close attention to soil moisture and keep your lemongrass well-watered.
Because it is a grass, lemongrass can benefit from high-nitrogen fertilizers like alfalfa meal or blood meal. Mix fertilizer into soil when transplanting and then feed every couple of weeks during the growing season with a liquid plant food.
Lemongrass is ready to harvest once the stalks have reached about 1/2 inch in diameter—harvest by snipping the entire stalk off at its base. You may want to wear gloves because the leaves can be sharp and produce oils that might irritate the skin.
At the end of the growing season, you can bring the plants inside to over-winter. In warmer zones, allow the plant to naturally die back and retain its leaves to protect from frost, reduce watering, and stop fertilizing. Cut the plant back to about 6 inches high at the end of winter when plants are in their resting phase. You can resume watering and fertilizing as plants start to become green in the Spring.
How to Use Lemongrass
The most popular use for lemongrass is in cooking. To use in recipes, peel off the outer leaves to get to the slightly softer inner layers. The white lower section of the stalk is the most flavorful, but it requires some preparation in order for it to not be too tough to chew. Common methods include thinly slicing and then finely chopping, grating, or mashing into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Lemongrass makes a wonderful addition to rice, curries, and stir-fries.
While only the stalk of the lemongrass plant is edible, the leaves are also useful. Lemongrass tea made from the leaves is known to be particularly soothing because it contains healthy antioxidants. By pounding the leaves, you can release the lemony essential oils. After that, add the leaves to dishes like soups and slow-roasted meats that cook for extended periods. Just like bay leaves, you should remove the lemongrass prior to eating.
Lemongrass is also useful as an insect repellent. Place pots around your patio to help keep the mosquitoes at bay. You can enhance the repellent by cutting and crushing some leaves and adding them to a pot of water to steam on your grill.
Lemongrass, when stored properly, will last practically forever. For short-term storage, you can wrap fresh stalks loosely in a towel and they will last in the fridge for several weeks. For longer-term storage, lemongrass freezes well either uncut or prepared. You can also dry lemongrass and crush it into a powder that can be stored in airtight containers away from light.
Lemongrass has a lot to love. It is a beautiful ornamental grass that grows to 2-3 feet tall. It has a lovely aroma that can be useful as a natural insect repellent and can be harvested to add a fresh lemony flavor to your recipes. Lemongrass is simple to grow as long as it is provided with lots of sunlight and enough water and makes a wonderful addition to your survival garden.