When the lemon in your fruit drawer shrinks to the size of golf ball, your
squeezable lemon collapses in a fit of emptiness, and your bottle of
concentrated lemon juice runs dry, you can still add fresh lemon flavor
(along with a subtle taste of ginger) to your dishes if you know how to grow
Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), is an aromatic tropical grass that grows 3 to 6-feet high in cascading clumps of blue-green blades that reach up to three feet in diameter. Blades of lemon grass are aptly named for they are narrow with razor sharp edges. In fact, when handling lemon grass you need to take extra care to avoid getting cut!
Finding Lemon Grass
Although lemon grass can be grown from seed, you’ll more easily find plants in nurseries and fresh stalks available in produce departments, health-food stores, and Asian markets. When purchasing stems for planting, look for those with long green leaves and plump bases. Examine the base for any sign of root growth. These will serve as the beginning of your plant. Another way to start lemon grass is by dividing a mature clump, but then of course you have to know someone who has a mature clump!
Most often in temperate areas, lemon grass is started indoors and gradually acclimated (hardened-off) in the spring. When planting separate bulbs, treat them with rooting powder and then plant in a pot of seed compost, vermiculite or moist sand. Moisture-loving lemon grass bulbs also root when placed directly in a jar or glass of water. When planting a clump acquired by division, just repot the clump and keep it moist.
If growing for your garden, acclimate and transplant the potted lemon grass when new growth appears. Choose a site that gets full sun and where soil is well-drained and nutrient rich. Water frequently to keep it moist, but never saturated.
New growth from lemon grass comes from the center of the plant. Harvest lemon grass stems individually when they are about ½ thick by twisting and pulling an outer stem from the plant. Discard the outside layers and save the white inner core.
Store harvested lemon grass in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. At the end of the growing season, you may want to prep it first and freeze your harvest in plastic bags. Keep only the lowest part of the stem and cut each piece crosswise into thin slices.
Lemon grass is hardy to zone nine. Since this is a perennial, it typically dies back in the autumn. In mild climates, it can be kept in the garden year-round with a thick layer of much to protect it during cool weather. Although it grows in a northern summertime garden, it needs to be lifted and brought indoors during winter months. Before bringing lemon grass indoors, cut it back to about eight inches high.
Store your plant in a cool place, reducing water to a minimum. When you see signs of new growth, move it into the sun (or give it good artificial lighting) and water as you did during the summer until it’s time to acclimate and bring your pot Lemmon grass outdoors again!