Growing Lemongrass Indoors: Tips On Planting Lemongrass In Pots

By: Liz Baessler

If you’ve ever cooked Asian cuisine, particularly Thai, there’s a good chance you’ve bought lemongrass from the grocery store. But did you know that if you’ve bought lemongrass once, you should never have to buy it again? Lemongrass is one of those wonder plants: It tastes great, it smells great, and when you cut it, the plant grows right back. As a great bonus, you can grow it straight from the stalks you buy in the grocery store. Keep reading to learn about care for indoor lemongrass plants and how to grow lemongrass indoors.

Can You Grow Lemongrass Indoors?

Can you grow lemongrass indoors? Absolutely! In fact, growing lemongrass indoors is a necessity in colder climates, as lemongrass grown outdoors will not survive the winter. If you can find lemongrass for sale in your grocery store, buy some. Pick the stalks with the greenest centers and the bulbs still intact on the bottom.

Place them, bulb down, in a glass with a few inches (7.5 cm.) of water. Let them sit for a few weeks, changing the water frequently, until new roots begin to grow. If you’re growing lemongrass indoors, you’ll need to pick the right container.

Lemongrass spreads and grows to be a few feet high, so choose a container that’s as big as you can stand to have in your house. Make sure it has ample drainage holes. Fill the container with potting mix and water until it’s moist but not wet.

Poke a hole in the center of the potting mix. Trim off the tops of the stalks and set one stalk, gently, in the hole. Fill the potting mix in around it and set the plant in a sunny place to grow.

How to Grow Lemongrass Indoors

Care for indoor lemongrass plants is easy and productive. When planting lemongrass in pots, one of the best things you can do for your plant is to harvest it frequently, as this encourages new growth.

Harvesting involves cutting it with a sharp knife flush to the surface of the soil. You’ll have a whole stalk to cook with or dry, and the bulb will immediately produce new growth.

Keep your pot in full sun – if it’s warm enough, set it outside. Water and fertilize frequently. If it starts to get too big for its pot, you can transplant up or harvest a few stalks, bulb and all, to cook with or transplant elsewhere.

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Read more about Lemongrass

Seed Germination

Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of equal parts of coarse sand, organic compost and sphagnum peat moss on a seed tray.

Bury the lemongrass seeds 1 inch apart and 1/4 inch deep in the mixture of sand, compost and sphagnum.

Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite and mist or gently water the mixture.

Put the seed tray in a sealed plastic bag or wrap it with clear plastic cling wrap.

Store the seed tray in the dark at 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and gently water or mist it daily to keep the seeds moist.

Remove the bag or plastic wrap when the seeds sprout. Put the tray in full sunlight. The sprouts will produce seedlings in two to four weeks.

Complete guide: how to grow lemongrass – even in cool climates

A beautiful harvest of fresh organically-grown lemongrass.

Once you learn how to grow lemongrass and you get a season of growing experience under your belt, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to grow!

Step 1. Planning for lemongrass in your garden or edible landscape

First, you’ll want to do a little planning… Here are a few common questions and answers about lemongrass to take into consideration before growing it:

Is lemongrass hard to grow?

Nope, lemongrass is actually one of the easiest plants we’ve ever grown. We’ve never had a lemongrass plant be affected by plant disease or be eaten by insects.

In fact, lemongrass has insect-repellent properties! (More on that below.) Once you learn how to grow lemongrass, you can make it a staple in your warm weather garden every year.

Can you grow lemongrass in cool climate zones? What about in Canada?

While lemongrass grows best in tropical – moderate climate zones, you can also learn how to grow lemongrass anywhere. Yes, that includes Canada.

If you live in a cold climate region, we’ll give you detailed tips below to show you how.

Two of our favorite summer flavors in the same harvest bowl: lemongrass and Hibiscus sabdariffa calyxes.

Pet and child warnings about lemongrass…

As its name implies, lemongrass has the growth habit of a giant grass. In fact, its growth habit looks a lot like pampas grass, which would be our least favorite plant on earth, if not for poison ivy.

Unfortunately, like pampas grass, lemongrass also has really sharp leaf blades that can impart quite a paper cut if you slide your hand along their edges. Keep this in mind if you have young children or pets that might go bounding into the plant in your garden.

How big are lemongrass plants at maturity and what do they look like?

By late summer, lemon grass plants growing under ideal conditions (good soil, full sun, adequate water) can reach 5-6′ tall x 5′ wide. If you’re planting lemongrass in close proximity, space them at least 5′ apart.

As mentioned, lemongrass looks like an attractive tall grass, similar to pampas grass. It can be a very attractive plant in an edible landscape.

Lemongrass plants growth size in mid-summer. Each of these plants started from a single lemongrass stalk, and will get much larger before first frost.

Make sure you have a full sun spot and the space required to grow lemongrass.

Step 2. How to propagate lemongrass

You can grow lemongrass from seed, but we do not recommend this method unless you’re a farmer looking to grow acres of lemongrass plants for minimal cost.

Instead, we recommend growing lemongrass by either propagating it from shoots or buying starter plants:

Option 1: Get lemongrass stalks from an Asian grocery store.

Do you have an Asian grocery store in town? Then you probably have access to all the lemongrass stalks you need to propagate your own plants.

In the produce section, pick out lemongrass stalks that have the most root base still attached.

Once you have your lemongrass stalks, you can either:

  • Put the lemongrass stalks into a glass of water in a sunny window for 3 weeks until they grow roots (changing the water daily) or
  • Fill a small container full of damp potting soil and stick the lemongrass stalk in the potting soil, with the root base about 1″ below the soil line. Place container in a sunny window for 3 weeks, keeping the soil slightly damp but not wet.

Nope, it doesn’t look very impressive at this stage, but this newly planted lemongrass stalk will be a giant plant in a few months time.

After a few weeks, your lemongrass stalks will be ready to transplant outdoors.

Option 2: Buy starter plants

If you don’t have an Asian grocery or you want to get plants that already have established root systems, you can order lemongrass starter plants here.

For colder climates:

If you live in a colder climate zone where you have fewer than 5 frost-free months, you’ll want to get your lemongrass stalks or starts at least 2 months before your last frost date in spring.

Start them in small containers indoors in a sunny, warm spot. When it comes time to transplant them outdoors (see instructions below) you’ll have more mature plants that already have good growth on them.

Step 3. Transplant lemongrass outdoors

When should you plant or transplant lemongrass?

Lemongrass is frost sensitive and will die back to the ground when temperatures hit freezing. Therefore, you should only plant/transplant your lemongrass outdoors AFTER your last frost date of spring (find yours here).

Also, before transplanting, be sure to check your 10 day weather forecast to make sure an unusual cold snap isn’t in the forecast.

Does lemongrass need sun or shade?

Lemongrass will perform best in full sun. At maturity lemongrass plants can reach 6′ tall x 5′ wide, so select your planting location(s) accordingly.

Two giant lemongrass plants (left) growing at Oak Hill Cafe & Farm, where I’m the farm manager.

What does lemongrass need to grow?

Amend the soil where you plant your lemongrass with good compost or worm castings. Then plant the lemongrass so the top of the root base is about 1″ below the soil surface.

We recommend putting a 3″ deep layer of wood chips or mulch over the soil surface to protect the soil and help maintain even soil temps and moisture. Just be sure not to pile the mulch directly against the lemongrass stems or you could rot the plants.

Lemongrass and kiwano melons harvested before a frost. These two flavors actually go quite well together.

Step 4: Lemongrass maintenance

Lemongrass maintenance consists of listening to your favorite music, enjoying lazy summer days at the beach or lake, and taking an occasional nap. In other words, lemongrass is one of the easiest plants to maintain that you’ll ever grow.

The one thing you may have to do in order to get the most production out of your lemongrass plants is irrigate. If you don’t get 1″ of rainfall per week, you’ll want to provide supplemental irrigation to your plants.

Lemongrass is very drought-tolerant, but it will size up better if it gets regular water.

Step 5. Harvesting lemongrass

The Tyrant processing lemongrass stalks post-harvest as Charlie the Cat comes over to investigate.

What parts of the lemongrass plant do you use?

Two parts of the lemongrass plant are used for culinary purposes:

  • The thick juicy bases of the stalk are the most prized part of the plant. This part has the most flavor.
  • The sharp, papery leaves above the stalks are often chopped to make into tea. They don’t have as much flavor as the stalks.

How do you cut or harvest lemongrass? When can you start harvesting it?

A single lemongrass stalk with rapidly divide, creating a thick stand of grassy stalks within 2-3 months.

If you look closely at this image of a single mature lemongrass stalk that was broken off from the parent plant, you can see the small light-colored new shoots emerging from the base. Each of those tiny shoots will grow into a new mature stalk, which will then divide into more new stalks. This is how a single lemongrass stalk can quickly grow into a giant plant.

You can begin harvesting individual lemongrass stalks from the plant whenever you want to use them.

When harvesting, wear thick gardening gloves and long sleeves. Otherwise you’re likely to get lots of little cuts on your hands and arms due to the sharp leaves.

When harvesting, you can either:

  • Pull entire stalks out of the ground, especially if it’s a late season harvest and you don’t intend to overwinter your plants or
  • Cut individual stalks as close to the root base as possible this method is ideal for cut-and-come-again harvests throughout the season.

Harvesting lemongrass stalks. If you just want to get a few stalks from the plant during the growing season, don’t pull up the entire stalk, roots and all. Instead just cut the stalks close to the base and they’ll grow back.

Once you’ve harvested your stalks, trim off the top leaves and chop them into small pieces to dry for tea (or compost if you have excess). Put the thick juicy stalk bases in a ziplock bag in your fridge veggie drawer until you’re ready to use them. Lemongrass can last for over a month properly stored in your fridge.

Does lemongrass flower? How long does it take?

Yes, lemongrass produces flower stalks and flowers. We’ve never had a long enough growing season where we live (Zone 7B) for our lemongrass plants to produce flowers.

Best guess: it probably takes at least 9 months of ideal growing conditions for a lemongrass plant to produce flowers.

Does lemongrass come back every year? Is it a perennial or an annual? How do you overwinter it?

Technically, lemongrass is a perennial, but it will not overwinter in the ground in cooler climate zones. Zones 8b or higher are able to overwinter lemongrass successfully in-ground.

We’ve experimented with trying to overwinter lemongrass here in Zone 7b. We start by putting a thick 8″+ layer of leaves over the top of the plants once we cut them back at final harvest. We’ve had them overwinter only during very mild winters. In normal to cold winters, the plants die.

How do you overwinter lemongrass in cooler climates?

Just before our first fall freeze, we always dig up a few lemongrass stalks with roots on. Then we cut each stalk back to about 5″ tall, and transplant them into small nursery pots.

How many lemongrass plants do you want to grow next year? Remove mature lemongrass stalks from this year’s plants before first frost – one stalk = one plant next year. Then cut each stalk back to about 5″ tall, and plant them in small containers to overwinter indoors in a sunny window.

We overwinter these plants indoors in a warm, sunny window. They’re never very happy under these conditions, but they live until spring and bounce into full gear as soon as they’re outdoors in optimal growing conditions.

Step 6: Using your lemongrass

Now that you know how to grow lemongrass, the next step is learning how to cook with it or use it for other applications…

Freshly harvested lemongrass stalks on the cutting board and ready for action.

A. Using lemongrass in the kitchen

Lemongrass tastes similar to lemons without the acidic bite, and has infinite culinary applications.

We use our lemongrass every way imaginable: teas, flavorings for Asian soups and curries, juiced and turned into summer sorbets, and more.

Lemongrass cooking tip: cut your lemongrass stalks into 2″ chunks when using it for cooking. Then smash the chopped sections with the base of your knife or a rolling board (just enough to loosen it up, not to pulverize it). This will help break down its cell walls, allowing more flavor to more quickly enter your food.

Lemongrass stalks cut into small 2″ chunks, then smashed with the base of a chef’s knife to allow for more flavor to come out.

Online recipes abound for lemongrass, so be creative! As mentioned previously, lemongrass stalks will easily last a month in a bag inside your fridge. You can also chop them into 2″ chunks and freeze them for years, taking out however much you need for a recipe when the time comes.

B. Lemongrass as an insect repellent

Do lemongrass plants repel mosquitoes and other insects? Yes, but…

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is very closely related to citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus). These plants are used to make citronella oil, sprays, and various other insect repellent products.

The research showing the effectiveness of lemongrass for repelling insects is based on using the concentrated oil from the plants, not the plant itself. If you surround your porch with lemongrass you might not have mosquitos hunkering down in your plants, but they’re still likely to fly to your porch from other locations when they smell you.

In our opinion, a better and equally safe way to reduce mosquitos in your yard is using Bt dunks (article here).

C. Lemongrass as medicine

Lemongrass has been used for thousands of years in Asia to treat or prevent various ailments. Modern research is sparse, but shows lemongrass’s promising medicinal potential for:

  • treatment of fungal infections and skin inflammation (source)
  • anti-amoebic, antibacterial, antidiarrheal, antifilarial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties (source).

In our opinion, everything you eat and drink is technically “medicinal” in that it either supports or diminishes your overall health. So include lemongrass in your foods and beverages because it tastes great. An added bonus is that it likely does have a host of medicinal benefits as well.

Did you enjoy this article about how to grow lemongrass? If so, please pin this image to share the love!

Congratulations! You now know how to grow lemongrass in your garden and how to use it.

We hope you’ll include this delicious plant in your warm weather garden for years to come.

Intro: Lemongrass is a great plant for an edible garden or a kitchen garden. It grows well in plant containers and can be used fresh or dried in teas or in culinary dishes (it is popular in Asian cuisine). The stalk is used for cooking, and the leaves are used for teas. Lemongrass tea can be calming and soothe stomachs. A popular tea blend is “Sleepy Time Tea,” which is a mixture of lemongrass, lavender and German chamomile flowers. These fast-growing large plants can grow up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so make room for it in your small balcony garden.

Scientific name: Cymbopogon citratus or Cymbopogon flexuosus

Plant Type: Grass used as an herb

Light: Full sun

Water: Keep your lemongrass plant’s well-drained potting soil damp but never soggy.

Zone: Hardy to Zone 9 or 10 in the winter, so you will most likely want to grow your lemongrass as an annual or bring your container of lemongrass indoors for the winter.

Fertilizer: Fertilize every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer. You may want to add a boost of nitrogen once a month or so.

Pests and Diseases: The lemon scent of lemongrass will usually keep garden pests away, but cats love lemongrass and will chew on it if allowed to. Leaf blight may also affect your lemongrass.

Propagation: Propagate the lemongrass plant by taking cuttings. If you can’t find lemongrass at your local garden shop, you may be able to find lemongrass stalks at an Asian food market near you. Put the lemongrass stalks in water and wait for them to develop roots before planting them in the ground. You can also divide mature plants to propagate your lemongrass. You can grow from seed, but cuttings are the easiest way to propagate lemongrass.

Misc. Info: You may see several types of grasses, East Indian and West Indian. You can use either type for making tea or for use when cooking. To harvest your lemongrass for use, trim leaves once the plant is established (at least 1 foot in height). If you want to use the stalks for cooking, cut an outer stalk that is at least a half-inch thick right at the soil. Stalks can be kept in the fridge for several days or frozen. Leaves should be dried for future use.

How to Propagate Lemongrass from Store-Bought Stalks

1. Start with fresh lemongrass with the entire stem intact.

The stalks you buy don’t need (and probably won’t have) roots at the bottom, but they do need to have the the entire stem (base) intact.

This is important to note because some store-bought stalks come with the bottoms cut off — and those won’t work for propagation.

Start with at least five or six healthy stalks. Not all of them may root, so this ensures you get enough rooted stalks to start a new plant off quickly.

2. Trim any brown, older leaves.

To start, cut off the stiff, topmost leaves where they start to split apart. You can simply make a fresh cut (a few inches down) across the top of the stalks. Getting rid of the dead foliage just keeps things neater, as they’ll eventually fall off and turn slimy anyway.

Try to resist peeling the woody outer layers that form the stem, as new leaves will grow from within these layers.

3. Place the lemongrass stalks in water.

Put the stalks in a jar or vase and fill with a few inches of water. Place the jar in a sunny location like a south-facing windowsill and then… just wait.

Change the water a couple times a week (or when it turns cloudy) and within a week, you should see new leaves begin to grow from the top. (But sometimes they won’t appear until much later, and I’ll explain why in the next step.)

4. Continue changing the water until the roots grow nice and long.

New roots and leaves usually begin to emerge after about a week.

Wait until the roots are at least 3 inches long and the stalks have begun to divide (via offshoot stalks) before you plant them.

Here’s what I noticed my second time around with propagating lemongrass:

In summer (early September) in Southern California, the roots grew 1 centimeter in Week 1, then 2 to 3 inches in Week 2, and finally 4 to 5 inches in Week 3.

By the end of the third week, the plants were ready to go in the ground.

Contrast that with Central Oregon, where I started rooting the lemongrass in fall (late November) in a sunny window:

Little nubs of roots started appearing in Week 2.

The late bloomers only hinted they were still alive with tiny white dots!

Fast forward to one month later (early January), the first stalks had roots that were 2 inches long.

The roots on the late bloomers didn’t reach 2 inches until a few weeks after that (in late January).

As you can see here, there was even a super late bloomer that didn’t start rooting until Month 2!

The amount of light and heat that comes through your window matters if you want fast-growing lemongrass.

So rooting them in winter or putting them in a north-facing window will significantly slow their development. As long as you continue to change out the water each week, however, the stalks will keep humming along until they’re ready to grow.

Don’t get discouraged and give up unless you see any stalks rotting in water. Out of the six stalks I tried, only four rooted — but one of them took its sweet time and started rooting right before I almost wrote it off. (It eventually had a growth spurt once we passed the solstice and the days got longer.)

5. Prepare a nutrient-rich bed of soil for planting the rooted stalks.

Lemongrass is an herbaceous perennial that likes rich, moist soil, ample sunshine, and warmth.

Picture it in its native tropical and sub-tropical conditions — if you live north of zone 9a, you’ll need to grow lemongrass as a potted plant.

Gardeners in zone 8 might be able to keep lemongrass alive in the ground, but at the first freeze, the foliage will die back.

You can up your chances of the plant coming back in spring if you apply a thick layer of mulch on the soil to keep the roots warm over winter.

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I recommend a high-quality potting soil (you can use store-bought or homemade potting soil) amended with compost, worm castings, and/or an all-purpose organic fertilizer.

Like all grasses, lemongrass is a heavy feeder (meaning a plant that needs lots of nitrogen and other nutrients), so at its peak between June and September every year, it benefits from a slow-release organic fertilizer to help it thrive.

For containers, you can plant a single stalk in a 3-gallon pot to keep it as a houseplant.

If you want the herb to grow into a size you can harvest, plant several stalks together in a minimum 5-gallon pot.

I like these fabric pots because they air prune the roots, resulting in big, beautiful plants that never get rootbound. It’s the same product I use for growing tomatoes in containers — you won’t go back to plastic pots once you try fabric.

Just be sure you pay attention to the brand you buy most fabric pots only last a few years unless you choose the non-degradable versions from Root Pouch.

My recommendation? If you cook with lemongrass fairly regularly, start with a 5-gallon pot, then move the clump into a 10-gallon pot once it’s nice and bushy.

Lemongrass will grow as big as you let it, so keep in mind the amount of space you have and how much lemongrass you want to harvest.

In a garden bed, plant at least three stalks together for a larger yield.

Because it likes moisture, lemongrass doesn’t mind soil on the clay-ey side (particularly in drier climates), but it should never sit in soggy soil. If you live in a rainy region, your soil should be well-draining to keep the stalks from rotting.

With optimal conditions and plenty of sunshine, lemongrass in the ground can grow into quite a hefty shrub, about 5 feet tall and wide, and sometimes even more.

It can become so dense that some people even grow the herb as a screen or hedge, so be sure to pick a spacious permanent area in your yard for it.

6. Plant the lemongrass stalks in soil with the crowns just below the surface.

The crown is the base of the stalk. Cover it lightly with soil but don’t bury the whole stalk.

Water thoroughly and spread a thick layer of organic mulch around the plant (being careful not to pile the mulch up against the base) to conserve moisture. I like using wood chips, but shredded bark, shredded leaves, or straw also work.

Keep the soil evenly and lightly damp, but not waterlogged.

In its native environment, lemongrass prefers regular rainfall and humid conditions, so this is one of the rare instances where I recommend irrigating the plant from overhead, especially if your summers tend to be very hot and dry.

7. Harvest your lemongrass (and give your friends some free plants).

Your lemongrass should be ready for harvest in two to four months. Wait for the stalks to reach at least 12 inches tall (not including the green leaves) and 1/2 inch wide at the base.

Harvest the stalk by snapping off or cutting the stalk about an inch above the ground. It will continue to grow and divide over time.

Propagating lemongrass from an existing plant is even easier than propagating from store-bought stalks. You can cut the stalk away from the plant (with rootstock intact) to share with a friend.

If your lemongrass has gotten too unwieldy, you can dig up the clump, divide it, and plant the baby clumps around your yard.

Keep your lemongrass pruned each year for a tidier look, or let the leaves fan out and enjoy its beautiful fountain-like form.

Watch the video: How to grow lemongrass from seeds, an easy method to sow lemongrass indoors. MY TAKE

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