It may not be the most common of aromatic plants, but it turns out that lemongrass has as much place in our homes as mint, thyme, or basil! Also known as Cymbopogon citratus or Cymbopogon flexuosus, it is relatively simple to grow and harvest as a houseplant.
Lemongrass seduces the senses with the powerful lemony fragrance of its long leaves that work wonders in aromatherapy and cooking. The good news is that this tropical plant can be easily grown in warm climates! But, no need to worry about it! Everyone can do it by following the right steps. Have a look!
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What is lemongrass?
Lemongrass forms, like most plants belonging to the Poaceae family, strong tufts of grass. These can reach more than a metre in height when grown in their original tropical climate. When in a pot, they will quickly make up a bush 70 to 80 cm high. The plant has a robust root system (rhizomes with thin and long rootlets), and long, sharp, green leaves. They become entangled and have, at their base, a swollen and white part. This “bulb” and all the foliage of Madagascar’s lemongrass are used in cooking as they develop a delicious and fragrant lemon aroma. Although lemongrass is a tropical plant, it can be grown indoors or in greenhouse conditions and even in a garden.
What are the benefits of lemongrass?
Lemongrass is mostly known for keeping mosquitoes and midges away. This plant has many uses and benefits that few people know about though. Let’s start with the fact that lemongrass is also an edible plant. With a strong citrus flavour, it can be infused into tea and used as a herb for seasoning.
Cambodian, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, and many other ethnicities use lemongrass to flavour meat, fish, soups, and sauces. The most common dishes that use lemongrass are in Asian cuisines, such as lemongrass chicken.
It has many nutrients and vitamins, which make this plant very useful. Dishes or skincare products made with lemongrass have antioxidant properties and it can also be used for its fungicide, astringent insecticide, and regenerating properties.
Lemongrass improves lymphatic flow, strengthens blood vessels, increases muscle endurance, and improves breastfeeding mothers’ lactation. You can find lemongrass essential oil basically in almost everything.
Step-by-step guide on growing lemongrass
Lemongrass is a subtropical plant that can’t stand very low temperatures. So, if you live in a cold area, then you need to grow your lemongrass in a pot so you can tuck it in during the winter. If you plant yours in a garden, then make sure that you choose a spot in full sun, with plenty of water and rich, well-draining soil.
Be aware that there are different lemongrass varieties. You can find it either as seeds, root balls, or as potted plants.
Grow your plant from lemongrass seeds
Start by putting the seeds in moist soil and a warm place until they germinate. Even though it has a high germination rate, it will take about 1-2 weeks for the first results. Transplant them into a pot when the shoots are about 15 cm high. Consider spacing them about 5 to 7 cm apart so that the roots have enough space to develop properly.
Grow from lemongrass stalks
Gardeners generally are not big fans of lemongrass plants’ propagation from seeds because it is much easier to do it from rooting stems or cuttings. You may be able to start a new lemongrass plant from fresh stems purchased at your local supermarket.
You should be able to get roots as long as the leaves are firm and green. Cut 3 or 4 cm from the end of the leaves and put the base of the stalk in a glass of water. Leave them somewhere in a sunny spot, and you should start to see the roots grow from the bottom in a week or two.
Once your lemongrass stalk has roots at least 2 cm long, you can either plant it in a container for indoor cultivation or plant it directly in the garden. When digging holes to replant, mix in a little organic matter to help enrich the soil. Don’t forget to make sure that there’s good drainage.
Your lemongrass will need a lot of nitrogen, so you need to fertilize at least once a month with either a regular formula or nitrogen-rich formula. Water your lemongrass regularly, and don’t let it dry completely, especially when the weather is too hot.
A pot of lemongrass
Lemongrass can be cultivated both indoors and outdoors in large pots. Depending on your climate, you should try letting it have a few summer months outdoors to get more sun. Given its size, most people keep their lemongrass indoors only during the winter.
Your plants can become quite large so plant them in a pot of 20L or more. If it starts to protrude from the pot, you can always separate the stems to keep the plant under control. It is usually not a problem with plants that stay exclusively indoors.
While indoors, a lemongrass plant needs as much sun as you can offer it with a minimum of 6 hours a day. It can thrive as a simple house plant, but you won’t have many stems to help you with your cooking.
If you grow it in a pot, fill the pot with compost or put a few earthworms in it. Aerate the potting soil every two weeks to ensure that nutrients are renewed. Place the pot of lemongrass close to a sunny window and water frequently, 2 or 3 times a week.
Diseases and pests
Lemongrass-scented oils are frequently used as a natural insect repellent, so you don’t need to worry about these kinds of pests.
However, some leaves may sometimes wilt, and you will find brown or rust-coloured spots on the leaves’ ends. Cut the infected leaves and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide that can be used on edible plants.
Things you need to know about growing your lemongrass
For lemongrass to evolve in good growing conditions, a few rules must be followed:
- The soil should be rich in nutrients and well-draining.
- The location should be full of light, like a sunny windowsill.
- Planting is done in May when there is no longer a risk of frost.
- The spacing between plantations should help the growth of roots.
- Cultivation can be done in the open land as well as in pots. If the cultivation is done in a pot, you should think about keeping the plant warm when the cold weather arrives. Wild lemongrass can withstand negative temperatures.
- Water lemongrass plants frequently during the summer.
- Cover the semi-shrub during the winter period because the lemongrass plant does not withstand negative temperatures.
- Prune the aromatic plant every year in the spring (remove the ends of the stems during the growing season and remove the dead leaves).
Harvesting and storing lemongrass
You can cut the plant leaves any time once the plant is more than 30 cm tall. To harvest the whole stems:
- Use a sharp scissor to cut at ground level.
- Take the outer stems first. They should be at least 1 cm thick before cutting them.
- Avoid tearing the stems; this could damage the rest of the plant.
Refrigerate the whole stem, including the leaves, to keep it fresh for many days. For best results, keep it in a plastic bag with a moist paper towel. The chopped pieces of the stem can be frozen for later use. If you only want to store the leaves, dry them rather than freeze them.
Like basil, coriander, or parsley, fresh lemongrass is one of those seasoning plants whose aromatic molecule is fragile when cooked. Better use it raw to add flavour to the basic ingredient or add it at the end of cooking to preserve its aromatic potential. Whether you use it to add flavour to meat or fish or to brew tea, remember that the taste can be strong.
Although lemongrass is a tropical plant, it can be grown indoors, in greenhouse conditions and on the open ground. If you follow the rules of growing and caring for this beautiful house plan, it will enchant you with its lush appearance and amazing taste. Grow your own lemongrass like a pro gardener.