How to Grow and Care for Lemongrass

lemongrass

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

For gardeners looking to get the most bang for their buck, certain edible landscaping plants, such as lemongrass, can fill two desires. This ornamental grass increases curb appeal and offers tasty fresh herbs for the kitchen. Fast-growing lemongrass is as handsome waving in the summer breeze as it is appetizing in your soups, stir-fries, and teas. The foliage also adds gorgeous color in autumn gardens when it turns burgundy and red. According to the ASPCA, lemongrass is toxic to dogs and cats.

Common Name Lemongrass
Botanical Name Cymbopogon citratus
Family Poaceae
Plant Type Ornamental grass
Mature Size 2-4 ft.
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich and loamy
Soil pH Neutral (6.8-7.2)
Bloom Time No flowers
Flower Color None
Hardiness Zones 10-11 (USDA)
Native Areas Sri Lanka, India
Toxicity Toxic to pets

Lemongrass Care

Lemongrass grows with abundance in areas where conditions mimic the warm and humid habitat of its origin. The plant likes lots of heat, light, and moisture: Provide this, and your lemongrass will grow and multiply quickly.

Lemongrass is fragrant and also known as a pest repellent. The smell of the plant's oil seems to deter unwanted insects, such as mosquitos.

closeup of lemongrass texture
​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
lemongrass as part of a landscape design
​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
lemongrass as part of a landscape
​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
Lemongrass Container Plants
Philippe Gerber / Getty Images
Lemongrass Growing in Garden
PushishDonhongsa / Getty Images
Harvesting Lemongrass
Manuel Sulzer / Getty Images

Light

In its native habitat, lemongrass grows in full sun, even in hot climates. At least six hours of direct sun per day will meet the plants' energy needs. Plants growing in shade will be sparse and may attract pests.

Soil

Lemongrass plants prefer rich, loamy soil. You can create this ideal soil by adding several different soil amendments: compost, manure, and leaf mold are all enriching additives that you can add at planting time.

Water

Lemongrass prefers moist soil for best plant growth, but once established, it will tolerate drought. A 3-inch layer of mulch can help conserve soil moisture and will enrich the soil as it breaks down.

Temperature and Humidity

Lemongrass thrives in hot, steamy climates. The time for growing lemongrass outdoors is similar to the timing for tomato planting—when night temperatures are in the 60s, it's time to plant. Lemongrass is very frost sensitive, so if you plan to overwinter the plant indoors, bring it inside before temperatures get into the 40s.

Fertilizer

As a grassy plant, lemongrass needs a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for its best growth. You can use a slow-release 6-4-0 fertilizer that will feed lemongrass throughout the growing season. You can also water your lemongrass plants with manure tea, which will add trace nutrients.

Pruning

Lemongrass plants that live for more than one season benefit from an annual haircut to tidy up plants and remove dead foliage. The plant will naturally die back for the winter, when you should leave the browning leaves alone to protect it from frost. Shear the ornamental grass to about 6 inches high at the end of winter, when plants are in their resting phase. Lemongrass plants will rebound quickly and send up new shoots when warm weather returns.

Harvesting Lemongrass

Harvesting lemongrass differs from pruning. As a fast-growing plant, lemongrass can withstand harvesting when plants are young, and there won't be any adverse effects on its growth. Although the green leafy portions of the plant are too tough to eat, you can snip them for steeping in tea or broth. The juicy stalks are edible when mashed or minced, adding a fragrant lemon note to dishes. Use a hand trowel to remove individual stalks, roots and all, from the clump. Remove the tough outer leaves and prepare the tender white stalks by chopping, or freeze whole stalk pieces for later use.

Propagating Lemongrass

Lemongrass grows in clumps that make it very easy to propagate by dividing. You can combine your harvesting and dividing tasks, as both require digging the plant. Each leaf fan will be attached to a narrow bulb-like base with roots attached, and each one of these has the potential to become a new clump. It's up to you how large you want each division to be. Replanting a division with at least five or six bulbs will look more substantial than a single bulb. The bulbs break apart readily with a spade or hoe.

How to Grow Lemongrass From Seed

Lemongrass is also easy to start from seed. The seeds germinate easily in warm, moist soil.

  1. Press seeds lightly into sterile potting mix, and keep moist until germination, which occurs usually within about 10 to 14 days.
  2. When plants are about 3 inches tall, thin them to a foot apart.
  3. Keep indoor pots in a sunny spot.

Potting and Repotting

Choose a large container for growing your lemongrass, at least 12 inches in diameter. This is both to accommodate a healthy root system and to prevent top-heavy plants from tipping over. In cold climates, you can grow a single root division in a small container in a sunny windowsill to keep the plant going for next season's harvest.

Use high-quality commercial potting soil for potting up a lemongrass plant. Choosing a potting soil premixed with a time-released fertilizer can save you an extra step in feeding your plants. If your lemongrass plant grows in the same container year after year, it's best to repot in the spring to replenish the soil.

Common Plant Diseases

In some areas, rust fungus can affect lemongrass plants. Symptoms include brown spots or streaks on leaves, leading to plant death. Prevent rust by watering plants at the soil level, not from above the leaves.

FAQ
  • Is lemongrass easy to care for?

    Lemongrass is very easy to grow and maintain both indoors and outdoors.

  • How fast does lemongrass grow?

    It can grow relatively fast indoors and outdoors (in the right environments), potentially reaching several feet tall in one season.

  • What is the difference between lemongrass and lemon verbena?

    Although lemongrass and lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) are often confused with one another, they will both make pleasing cups of tea. But, lemongrass loves moisture and looks grassy, while lemon verbena prefers drier conditions and looks different with elongated leaves and small, edible white flowers.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lemon Grass. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension Office. “Lemongrass, Cymbopogon Spp.” Wisc.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.

  3. Cymbopogon Citratus. Missouri Botanical Garden