How to Grow Lemongrass: A Simple Guide for Indoor & Outdoor Gardening

Lemongrass feature

In this guide, we will cover how to grow Lemongrass at home, indoors and outdoors.

We cover all the essentials to grow Lemongrass successfully, including the best conditions, climate, soils, containers, and plant care. We will also give you some special tips and tricks to make the most of your Lemongrass and how to use it in cooking, teas, and home remedies.

Read on to learn all about Lemongrass. Let’s get growing!

Tall Lemongrass Plant growing in a terracotta pot outdoors
Lemongrass – Image by The Shop Accra on Instagram

Benefits & Uses of Lemongrass

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon spp.) is a tropical grass native to Asia, Africa and Australia, as well as numerous tropical islands. It is used extensively as both a medicinal herb and a culinary one.

The tangy, lemony, flavour and sweet, citrus scent add a unique flavour to many Asian dishes, from soups and sauces to salads, meat dishes and stews.

It’s beautiful lemony scent and antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiseptic properties of Lemongrass make it ideal for use in natural soaps, shampoos and cleansers.

An oval bar of handmade soap with dried Lemongrass in the soap on a wooden soap dish
Handmade Lemongrass Soap by Ollie Natural Soap on Instagram

Lemongrass comes in many different varieties – there are over 50 different species, within the Cymbopogon genus! For culinary use, the West Indian Lemongrass (C. citratus) and East Indian (C. flexuosus) are popular choices for their strong flavour and pungent aroma.

Another variety of Lemongrass is Citronella grass (C. nardus and C. winterianus), which is used to make Citronella essential oil. Lemongrass and Citronella oils have a very broad range uses, from culinary to medicinal.

Some uses and benefits of Lemongrass include:

Try this easy method of making your own Lemongrass-infused oil at home by Nessessities on YouTube:

Grown at home, you can use Lemongrass for many things and it is an easy and rewarding plant to grow. It does well outdoors in warm climates and indoors in cooler climates. It is a rapidly growing and multiplying plant, that is easy to harvest and stores well.

How to Grow Lemongrass – The Ideal Growing Conditions (Climate, Soils, Water and Containers)

Lemongrass is native to hot, tropical climates. It will happily grow in almost any kind of soil, but, like Mint, will do best in rich, moist soil that drains well.

It requires full sun and likes a little humidity. Water it well and if you are in a particularly dry climate, mist the leaves with a spray bottle every now and then.

As a tender perennial, Lemongrass does not tolerate cold and frost well. It will die back in winter and needs to be moved inside if you will have heavy frost or freezing conditions.

In hot climates, it will grow outdoors all year.

How to Grow Lemongrass Outdoors

Outdoors, Lemongrass will grow up to five feet tall and four feet wide. It grows in clumps of dense stalks that multiply rapidly.

Given enough space, it will happily take over the garden and if spreading is a concern, it is best to plant it in containers or pots. To allow them to spread, space your plants one to two feet apart when you plant.

Ideal containers for Lemongrass are at least 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide, with good drainage. Add stones to the bottom of the pot to aid drainage and make sure your potting mix has some sand or Perlite in it.

Plant Lemongrass in full sun and amend poor garden soils with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer and plenty of organic compost. Add sand or Perlite to improve drainage if your soil doesn’t drain well naturally.

Lemongrass makes an excellent border along fence lines or around other garden beds / edible crops. It repels insects and will protect other plants from pests. The striking form adds interest and structure to an outdoor garden.

Once established, Lemongrass needs very little care. Water it regularly, when the soil is dry to an inch below the surface and fertilize if once a year with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer or mulch it with organic compost, in the spring.

Three tall Lemongrass Plants outdoors, in front of a white wooden railing
Lemongrass Plants – Image via tiffanielee23 on Instagram

How to Grow Lemongrass Indoors

Indoors, Lemongrass will grow well in containers (see ideal containers below). The plant needs full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day.

It prefers a little humidity so if your indoor climate is particularly dry, mist the leaves with a spray bottle to keep them happy.

Water Lemongrass regularly but avoid water-logging. Water the plant whenever the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface. Stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle to see if the soil is dry.

With enough water, light, warmth, and a little humidity, Lemongrass will grow well and multiply rapidly to fill the container. Divide the plant when it fills the container and transplant the divided segments into new containers or remove the root and discard it, keeping the stalks and leaves to use.

Propagating Lemongrass

Lemongrass grows prolifically and can be propagated from seed or from cuttings. Cuttings can be stalks taken from a live plant or stalks from the local grocery store or market.

Once you have an established plant, the stems will multiply rapidly. An established plant can be split at the base, divided and replanted into separate containers or locations in the garden.

Five new Lemongrass Plants growing from cuttings in pots
Rooted Lemongrass Cuttings – Image via Jess.S on Instagram

How to Grow Lemongrass from Cuttings

Lemongrass grows easily from cuttings. You can take a cutting from an established plant or you can use a stem from your local grocery store or market (if your usual shopping places don’t have any, look for an Asian food market).

Cuttings grow best if you can get a little bit of the root along with the stem. If you can’t get any of the root, make sure you have the portion of the stem closest to the root. This is the thickest part of the stem, right at the base.

If you are using Lemongrass from the store, choose the freshest looking one and strip away any very dry or hard parts of the stem.

Once you have your cut stems:

  • Cut the stem off about 5 inches from the bottom end.
  • Place it in a cup or glass, with water 1 to 2 inches deep.
  • Put the cup or glass on a sunny windowsill and change the water every day.

In 1 to 2 weeks, the stalks will start to push out little white roots into the water. After 3 to 4 weeks, the roots will have grown large enough for the plant to be planted into soil, in a container.

Once the cutting has rooted and established itself in a container, you can harden it off by moving it outdoors in the container for about a week and then you can plant it out into the ground.

Alternatively, keep it in a container but plant it out into a larger container. You can keep the container indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference.

Within two or three months, your Lemongrass will be big enough to start harvesting!

A glass jar of water with Lemongrass cuttings that have new roots in front of white subway tiles and a shelf
New Roots on Lemongrass Cuttings – Image via Wina Kamil on Instagram

How to Grow Lemongrass from Seed

To grow Lemongrass from seed, you can start seeds in trays indoors or plant them directly into the garden. It is best to plant Lemongrass seeds in the spring and summer, when it is warm and there is no chance of frost.

Seeds will need full sun and well-draining, nitrogen-rich soil. If you are planting in a tray or directly into the ground, plant each seed one hand length apart (about 5 or 6 inches).

Water the soil well before planting and do not cover the seeds with soil as they need sunlight to germinate. Sprinkle a light dusting of soil over them and then dampen it with a spray bottle to settle the seeds.

Keep the soil moist. The seeds will sprout and tiny seedlings will emerge within about 3 weeks. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall and have two or three true leaves, they can be transplanted to individual containers or out into the garden.

How to Divide Lemongrass to Transplant

Lemongrass grows in dense clumps, with numerous stalks growing from the same base. As the plant matures and the stalks multiply, you can divide the plant up into sections and replant each section as a new plant.

Spring is the best time of year to divide Lemongrass but you can also do it through the summer and early autumn. Lemongrass is dormant in the winter and it is best not to divide it when it is not actively growing.

To divide a mature Lemongrass plant, break it up at the base and take away some stems, ensuring that each stem comes away with an intact portion of the root.

You can break a few stalks away from the edges of the clump, at the base, or you can pull up the whole clump and break it apart into two or more sections.

Tightly tangled roots may require a spade or knife to separate. Don’t worry about cutting the roots, as long as each stalk has a bit of root attached at the bottom, they will grow just fine.

Plant your separated divisions into individual containers or directly into the ground, one to two feet apart.

How to Care for Lemongrass

Caring for your Lemongrass plants is simple and easy once you have the basics right!

Three images side by side, a plant with dangling leaves, pruned leaves in a bunch and the pruned plant in a pot
Pruning Lemongrass – Images via Shailee Malvi on Instagram

Soil

Lemongrass grows well in almost any kind of soil but it will do best in rich soils that contain a lot of organic matter and nitrogen. It also needs the soil to drain well. Amend soils with compost and high nitrogen fertilizer, as well as sand or Perlite if needed. For planing in containers, a mix comprising one third potting soil, one third compost and one third sand or Perlite will work well.

Water

Lemongrass needs regular watering. A good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil at the base of the plant, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, the plant needs watering.

Water often but avoid letting the soil become waterlogged, especially in pots or containers. Make sure pots and containers can drain freely. Lemongrass is not a fussy plant and will do well with minimal attention. It can dry out properly once in a while and be just fine.

Pruning

In cooler climates, Lemongrass will hibernate in the winter and stop actively growing. This is the best time to prune it. Cut it right back, leaving only two or three inches of growth about the ground. It will grow back thicker, with numerous tender stalks in the spring.

In hotter climates, Lemongrass will grow year-round as a perennial. It can be pruned back hard (to two or three inches from the soil) towards the end of the winter, as spring is approaching.

Regular harvesting and occasional pruning throughout the year will keep it growing thick and lush.

Fertilizing

Lemongrass does not need a lot of fertilizer. Mulching once a year with organic compost will be enough for it to thrive.

If needed, you can add some high nitrogen fertilizer once a year too. It is best to mulch and/or fertilize it at the start of the growing season, in the spring.

Managing Pests and Diseases

The Citronella oil in Lemongrass is a natural deterrent to insects and pests, making it one of the least susceptible plants in your garden!

Very occasionally, it may host some Yellow Sugarcane Aphids. If you see any yellow or brown patches on the leaves, these little critters may be to blame.

Aphids can be quickly dispatched with a blast from the hose, which will dislodge and wash them away. Persistent infestations can be treated with natural remedies that include an Organic Neem Oil Insecticide or natural soaps.

There are very few diseases that affect Lemongrass, aside from a fungus known as Lemongrass Rust (Puccinia nakanishikii). This will only occur in very damp or wet conditions and can be identified by its characteristic reddish-brown to yellow streaks, which appear on the leaves.

If you see these streaks on your plant, cut away the affected areas and dispose of the leaves away from other plants. Allow the plant to dry out a bit and avoid watering from above, onto the leaves. Spacing, pruning and thinning out the plant will aid air circulation and prevent rust from spreading.

How to Harvest & Preserve Lemongrass

Harvesting

Harvest your Lemongrass when the leaves are about a foot tall. To harvest leaves, cut them off leaving at least an inch at the bottom of the plant to continue growing. The leaves can be used fresh or dried, adding flavor to cooked foods or steeped in hot water to make fragrant Lemongrass Tea.

The edible portion of the plant is the shoots (this part looks like a green onion and is softer and slightly bulbous) at the bottom of the stem. These are tender at the core and have the best flavour for cooking. Shoots can be quite fibrous and chewy so some recipes call for them to be removed after cooking. Thicker shoots are less fibrous, so harvest them when they are at least 1/2 inch in diameter.

Three bundles of cut Lemongrass on a white surface, showing the bulbous shoots and green leaves
Lemongrass – Image via Dirt Farm Brewing on Instagram

To harvest the shoots, use a knife to cut individual stalks off, at ground level. If you want them to grow back, leave at least half an inch of the stem above ground level, with the roots intact.

If you do not want them to grow back, cut the stalks closer to the ground or pull them out completely and cut the roots off. This will give you the most stem and the greatest yield.

You can also remove the whole clump from the ground and wash off the roots. Cut the roots off at the base of the stalk. This is a good method if your plants have matured and will be dying off in cold winter. You can keep some stalks with the root intact to replant in the spring if you wish.

Preserving

Once harvested, use Lemongrass fresh or preserve it for later use by drying or freezing. The leaves and the stems both dry and freeze well, keeping their flavour for up to 12 months.

Drying

To air dry Lemongrass leaves, cut them off about 6 inches from the base and tie them into loose bunches. Hang the bunches upside down in a cool, dry and dark place.

In about a week, they should be completely dry and stiff. Once they have dried out completely, you can cut them into small segments and store them in an airtight container in a dark place.

Stems can be air-dried in the same manner or cut into segments and placed on a wire rack to dry. Drying them on the wire rack in a single layer works better than hanging them in bunches.

If your climate is very humid, some leaves or stems may develop mold before they have completely dried. This indicates that your climate is too humid for air drying and you will need to discard the moldy parts and dry the rest in the oven or dehydrator.

To dry in the oven, set it to the lowest heat setting and leave the door open. Place your Lemongrass on a baking sheet or tray and set it in the oven for two or three hours. The oven can be used to dry both leaves and stems. It is best to do your leaves separately from the stems, as the stems will take longer to dry out.

A pile of bundles of dried Lemongrass leaves, tied with natural grass.
Image via La Fraternal on Instagram  

Freezing

Lemongrass can be frozen in beeswax wraps, freezer bags or containers. The stems can be frozen whole or sliced. To use them, simply defrost and use as you would use fresh Lemongrass.

Conclusion

Lemongrass is a wonderful addition to the garden, kitchen, and medicine cabinet. The home uses and benefits of Lemongrass are many and varied, making it an ideal plant to grow yourself at home.

It grows abundantly and with ease in most climates, provided it is protected from extremely cold weather. Lemongrass grows well both indoors and outdoors and it can be grown successfully from seed and cuttings. With the right basic conditions and nutrients, it will thrive with little attention and provide a bountiful yield.

Have a look at the resources below for links to more detailed information on the plant’s medicinal uses, recipes for the kitchen and recipes for home remedies!

Resources 

Medical News Today – What are the health benefits of lemongrass tea?: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321969

Juicing for Health – How to Make Lemongrass-Ginger Tea: https://juicing-for-health.com/lemongrass-ginger-tea-recipe

Healthline – Why Using Lemongrass Essential Oil Benefits You: https://www.healthline.com/health/lemongrass-essential-oil

Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet – How to Use Lemongrass (recipes): https://everydayglutenfreegourmet.ca/2018/09/28/how-to-use-lemongrass/

Foodal – Red Coconut Curry Chicken with Lemongrass and Toasted Sesame Noodles: https://foodal.com/recipes/chicken/curried-coconut/

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