Also known as lemongrass, Cymbopogon is a plant in the grass family that produces a strong, lemon-like scent. Other common names include Cochin grass, barbed wire grass, fever grass, oily heads, Malabar grass, citronella grass, and silky heads.
Lemongrass is a genus of about 55 African, Australian, Asian, and tropical island plants. But unlike most grasses, this tropical native is often grown for its medicinal properties. It’s also commonly grown for its edible, bulbous stalks that add a citrus-y, ginger-like flavor to dishes.
While it can be difficult to start from seed, once germinated, lemongrass is easy to care for. It can be grown either indoors or outdoors without much hassle.
Below are some of the basic requirements to keep your Cymbopogon happy.
Give your lemongrass plant soil that is well-drained, preferably with a pH between 6.5 to 7.0.
If planted in a garden, water your lemongrass every few days. Do not water unless the top few inches of soil are dry.
As for lemongrass in pots, water every one to two days during the warmer months.
Cymbopogon citratus is a fan of full sun. It requires at least six hours of direct sun daily.
Humidity & Temperature
Lemongrass loves hot, humid weather.
When growing the plant indoors, you can help mimic its tropical climate preferences by spritzing the leaves with a little bit of water.
Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer on your lemongrass plant throughout the growing season.
As an alternative to a store-bought fertilizer, you can also water your lemongrass with manure tea for additional nutrients.
While lemongrass seeds exist, the plant is best propagated via its thick stalks. Remove an entire stem, and place it in clean water. Once roots develop, place it in its own pot with soil.
Lemongrass can also be propagated by division. This is when part of the plant is removed from the mother with part of the root system intact and then placed in its own pot.
Diseases & Pests
Lemongrass is prone to rust disease, which is caused by a fungus. The disease normally appears when the plant is under stress. Clump rot, leaf blight, and leaf spot are other common diseases.
Common pests of the lemongrass plant include spider mites, aphids, and whiteflies.
Lemongrass is safe for humans to consume, assuming there isn’t an allergy. However, it’s toxic to cats, dogs, and horses due to the plant’s cyanogenic glycosides and strong essential oils.
Lemon grass is hardy to zone 8b and higher. Although, it is most hardy in zones 10 and above.
In these zones, lemongrass will stay alive year-round due to the warmer winters. However, its growth will slow significantly during the colder months.
Lemongrass Companion Plants
There are many plants that, when grown alongside lemongrass, benefit it and vice versa.
Lemongrass companion plants include cilantro, mint, thyme, basil, marigolds, and lemon verbena. What makes these companion plants is the fact that they require similar conditions and, thus, can grow well in unison.
Companion planting can help improve soil quality, reduce pests and diseases, and boost the productivity of your plants.
Growing Lemongrass in Pots
Especially due to its spreading nature, many prefer potting their lemongrass. Growing in a pot is also a great idea if you live in a zone where lemongrass isn’t hardy. This way, your plant will be easy to transport indoors or on a covered patio during the colder months.
The main thing to remember when growing lemon grass in a pot is ensuring you give it enough space. A 5-gallon pot is recommended.
Placing your Cymbopogon in a pot that is too small can prevent your plant from reaching its full potential. Overtime, the strong roots of your lemongrass plant can break the pot unless it’s given plenty of growing space.
Frequently Asked Questions
Lemongrass is often grown as an annual plant in non-tropical climates. However, lemongrass is actually a tender perennial when grown in warmer habitats. Once planted, tender perennials like lemongrass keep living year after year as long as the temperatures don’t dip too low.
Lemongrass is not very cold-hardy considering it prefers warmer, more humid environments. It’s advised to bring your Cymbopogon indoors during the colder months if temperatures reach below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter in your region. If protected during the winter, lemongrass can survive for years.
Because lemongrass is a warm-loving, tropical plant, it does not like colder temperatures. In fact, it’s classified as a tender perennial. This means that it’s a perennial that will not overwinter, or in other words, will die in colder, frosty climates.
Like many varieties of grasses, lemongrass grows quickly and will spread if given the proper space.
In just one growing season, you can expect your Cymbopogon to spread a whopping two feet. If you fear it will take up too much of your garden bed space, it can be contained in a large pot.
The citronella oils of lemongrass are not only a natural mosquito repellent but also a repellent against house flies. But don’t be fooled: their pungent citrus aroma doesn’t deter all pests. The plants can potentially become a victim of a pest infestation themselves.