If you’re looking for a garden herb that is easy to grow, easy to cook with, and looks amazing as edible landscaping, look no further than lemon grass. A lemon-scented, lemon-flavored herb native to India that is used in Southeast Asian cooking, lemon grass has it all: great looks, great taste, and a low-maintenance lifestyle.
A Bit About Lemon Grass
A tropical herb in the grass family, lemon grass is a perennial herb typically grown in zones 8 and higher, but it can easily be grown as an annual in cooler climates. In fact, it can even be wintered indoors. Lemon grass is one of those few herbs that really does have it all: Whether you want to grow herbs that are aromatic, provide pretty landscaping possibilities, that are good for cooking or that are easy to grow, lemon grass works. In fact, unless you put it in a dark corner and neglect to water it, it’s a little hard not to grow lemon grass once you’ve put it in the ground! Mature plants can get quite large, growing 3-4 feet tall (or up to 9 feet in tropical areas) and 3 feet wide, with dense root balls.
How to Grow Lemon Grass from Seed
Depending on what your local greenhouses and nurseries grow, buying transplants may not be an option for you. So, if you’re going to grow lemon grass from seed, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You’ll want to spread lemon grass seeds on soil, and then lightly press the soil down.
- Seeds need temperatures above 55’F (13’C). Anything less than that and you’ll want to keep your seeds indoors until outdoor temperatures are higher.
- Keep the soil moist as the seeds germinate (which will take anywhere from 7 – 14 days).
- Do not let the soil completely dry out as the seedlings establish themselves.
- Transplant your lemon grass seedlings outdoors after the final frost for the season, and once plants are at least 6 inches tall.
Planting and Growing Tips
Although lemon grass is exceptionally easy to grow, there are a few things you can do to keep your plants as healthy, lush and pretty as possible. These include:
- Plant lemon grass in full sun, and spacing plants 24-36 inches apart.
- If you’re planning on growing your lemon grass in containers, your pots will need to be at least 16 inches wide and 6 inches deep. This is both due to the size to which lemon grass can grow and the thick root ball that it forms.
- Water it regularly throughout the growing season.
- Give it the humid, warm environment that it likes best. The more tropical you can make your growing environment, the better.
Propagating Lemon Grass
If you already have a mature plant or don’t want to bother with growing lemon grass from seed, it’s easy enough to propagate lemon grass by either:
- dividing the root ball and planting the new divisions in loose, fertile soil
- starting root cuttings in water
Basically, since it’s a hardy grass, lemon grass is pretty willing to propagate itself if you give it enough help. Just be sure to give it the full sun it needs.
Lemon grass should be harvested when stalks are at least 12 inches tall. To harvest the plants, just cut the stalks near the base or pull out whole stalks at a time. A few notes of interest:
- If you pull out whole stalks, you’ll notice that the bottoms of each stalk are swollen, a bit like green onions. This is normal.
- The edible portion of the stalk is the bottom third. The upper two-thirds of each stalk are typically grass-like and not used in cooking (although they do still smell nice).
- The outer layer is typically not eaten, just the inner layer.
- To use lemon grass, peel off the outer sheath and use the inner stem fresh or cooked.
Overwintering Lemon Grass
If you’re not lucky enough to live in a tropical environment, don’t despair: You don’t have to start fresh and regrow your lemon grass from seed every year. It’s easy enough to overwinter lemon grass indoors. Just follow these tips:
- Dig up the stalks, trim them down to about 3-4 inches, and plant them in pots. (Since you won’t actually be growing lemon grass in pots, the pots don’t need to be full-size. They just need to be large enough to comfortably hold the division you’re choosing to keep.)
- Keep the pot in a cool, dark area indoors, and only water it a few times over the winter. (You just want to keep the roots active; You’re not trying to encourage growth.)
- When the season starts to change and warm up, transition the pot to a window where it can get full, bright sun, and start keeping the soil just moist.
- When danger of frost is past and temperatures top 40° F, transplant your plant outdoors.
For more information on growing lemon grass or many more popular garden herbs, see my Gardening Guides page. It offers growing specifications for herbs and veggies, plus loads of other great gardening resources.