The lemongrass plant is a fantastic tropical herb, adding a rich and earthy flavour to your food. Its citrus taste is prized in East and Southeast Asian cooking, while as an ornamental plant, it looks fantastic in any garden. When autumn rolls around, the foliage turns different, beautiful shades of red, adding a pop of colour to your yard.
With its refreshing scent and many uses, it’s never a bad idea to grow lemongrass at home. And if you need a guide for growing lemongrass — we’ve got you covered!
About Lemongrass Plants
Lemongrass is a fast-growing perennial herb and ornamental grass, native to the tropics. It’s often used in East and Southeast Asian cooking to add a citrus flavour to broths, stir-fries, and curries.
The lemongrass stalks have the strongest flavour, while the green leaves are subtler and milder. There are two common varieties of lemongrass plants:
- West Indian lemongrass (cymbopogon citratus)
- East Indian lemongrass (cymbopogon flexuosus)
Lemongrass is actually a relative of citronella — the scent you use to deter mosquitos and other insects.
The plants grow in clumps, and can reach 1.0 to 1.5m in height. Since lemongrass is tropical, it’s weak to frost and needs protection.
Lemongrass plants have plenty of uses in your home, such as:
- DIY room scents
- Iced lemongrass tea (perfect for that hot Aussie weather)
- Soups and broths (strip to the inner stalk for cooking)
- Organic matter for compost or mulch
- Essential oil
And more! It also functions nicely as a companion plant since its pungent smell keeps away insects and pests. Check out what you can plant in autumn while lemongrass leaves are turning — native plants, or herbs and veggies are good options. You can also use lemongrass as groundcover for fruit trees!
Where To Plant Lemongrass
Lemongrass plants thrive best in tropical climates — that means warm weather. In Australia, they’ll do well in Zones 1 to 3, while those in Zones 4 to 5 may need to bring their plants inside for the winter or consider potting them instead.
They’re drought tolerant, too, so they don’t need much water. What they do need is well drained soil and full sun, so plant them in a bright spot in the garden. They can also grow fairly wide, so make sure they’ve got plenty of space!
You can plant lemongrass both outdoors in a garden, or indoors in a pot. If potted, make sure to keep somewhere with full sun, such as a window sill or balcony. Check with a gardening professional where you can best plant lemongrass in your yard, and how to prep beforehand so your plants thrive.
How To Plant Lemongrass
Planting lemongrass in Australia is fairly straightforward — it thrives in tropical climates, after all. You can grow lemongrass in three ways.
1. From seed
These will take three weeks to germinate. Sow each lemongrass seed about 5cm deep in soil, and 50-60cm apart. Otherwise, sow 1-2 seeds per pot.
2. From cuttings
You can easily propagate lemongrass plants from existing plant cuttings — even ones you get from the supermarket! Pick the freshest stalks you can find, then peel off any dead leaves or skin. Place them in a glass of fresh water by a window sill. Change the water out from time to time if needed.
Once you see roots starting to grow from the bottom, take the cutting and plant in your garden or in a pot.
3. From a bush
You can buy a fully-grown lemongrass bush and transplant it into your garden! Just don’t use it all at once — and save some cuttings to propagate into more plants later on.
It’s recommended to plant lemongrass in early spring, to avoid any risk of frost or chill. Lemongrass is a hardy herb, though, so you can actually plant it year-round.
Keep the ground moist while it’s establishing itself, and water when the top 2cm of soil dries out. It’s important not to let the roots dry out or it will hinder plant growth.
For colder zones, you can take lemongrass stalks and trim them down to about 5-10cm, and plant them in small pots or containers. Indoor plants should be kept in barely moist, well drained soil — lemongrass grows slowly through winter. Keep them somewhere bright where they’ll soak up the most sun.
Harvesting Lemongrass Plants
Lemongrass is ready for harvest when the plants are 30cm tall and the bases are at least 2cm thick. You can cut off a stalk at ground level and leave a few centimetres in the soil to let it keep growing. Alternatively, uproot the whole stalk from the soil — you want the whole white base, which looks like a scallion or onion leek.
The stiff, white portion of lemongrass stalks is what’s used for cooking. Trim off green leaves, but be careful, as they can have sharp edges! Set the leaves aside for other uses (such as fresh lemongrass tea!) or alternatively, puree them to add to compost or mulch.
Lemongrass preserves its flavour when frozen or dehydrated, which means it stores well, up to a year if done properly.
How to freeze lemongrass
Chop up leaves and stalks in 8-10cm lengths — or however long you need for your favourite dishes. Place them in an airtight container or zip-top bag, then store in the freezer. Defrost only as much as you’ll need for cooking at a time.
How to dry lemongrass
Cut the leaves and stalks into 8-10cm pieces, then line them up on a wire rack or on paper towels, somewhere dry but out of direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can work faster by using an oven (2-4 hours at 90ºC) or a dehydrator. You’ll know the leaves are dried out when they feel like dry straw and have a dull colour. Stalks will feel dry and a little brittle.
Lemongrass Plant Care
Here are a few other tips for growing lemongrass in your home.
For potting lemongrass, you’ll need containers that are at least 30cm in diameter. Use a quality potting mix that drains well for your plants. You can mix in some slow-release fertiliser so you don’t need to worry as much about feeding.
If your lemongrass grows in the same pot year round, re-pot it in early spring to replenish nutrients in the soil.
If your plants live through more than one season, they’ll benefit from a trim once a year to neaten their appearance and remove dead grass. Prune lemongrass plants in late winter when they’re dormant, cutting down until they’re about 15-20cm tall. The plants will rebound quickly when the weather turns warm again.
You can lightly mulch the soil around lemongrass to help it retain moisture and boost its growth. Compost, manure, and leaf mould are all additives that can enrich the ground around your plants. Just don’t layer on more than 7cm!
Lemongrass is toxic to several domestic animals. It can cause upset stomachs and vomiting in cats and dogs. If you have pets, consider growing lemongrass in pots where you can keep them out of your furry friend’s reach.
The plants can also cause breathing difficulties in horses, so don’t plant any around your paddock, stable, or grazing grounds.