By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a herb-like grass that is native to Malaysia and India. It is a fragrant perennial plant that thrives in warm weather and adds a lemony flavor to culinary dishes. Common throughout Asia, there are many species within this genus. If you have ever smelled citronella oil, then you know the smell of lemongrass.
Lemongrass can grow up to five feet tall and is hardy in Zones 9 -10. In its native subtropical climates, it thrives in full sun and average soil. In cool climates, when grown in pots it can be easily overwintered indoors in your sunniest window. In our area, it can winter outside if it is protected or covered and grown in a sheltered sunny, south facing area.
It is easy to grow from seed which should be planted between late January to March. Here’s how:
Fill a seed tray with good quality potting soil and place seeds about 1 inch apart on top of the mixture. Spread a thin layer of compost or vermiculite on top to just cover the seeds. Mist or gently water to moisten the potting mixture.
Cover with seed tray with plastic wrap or slide into a sealed bag to keep the tray at 70 to 75 degrees. Mist daily to keep moist. When the seeds sprout, remove the bag or wrap and place in full sunlight.
Transplant the strongest seedlings to 3” pots that have drain holes in the bottom. When they reach 3 to 4” tall transplant them to a planter that contains a mixture of potting soil, sphagnum peat moss and compost in equal amounts. Water every three days and keep in bright indirect sunlight.
They can be put outside in full sun when the lemongrass is about 12” tall.
Lemongrass is ready to harvest when the stalks are dark green and at least 18” tall. Pull the stalk, roots and all, and snip off the roots. A word of caution, the blades are sharp so use gloves. Rinse well.
Use fresh lemongrass as a culinary herb in curries, stir fries, or soups. Take the fresh stem, cut off the leafy blade which you can dry for teas, or dry and powder for later use. Cut the base of the stem into 2-3” lengths. Peel off any woody outer stems. Bruise these sections to release the flavor and add them in your dish. The stems are tough and should not be eaten so remove the pieces before serving. If you want the lemongrass to remain in your dish, cut it into thin pieces, and puree it in a food processor first.
If you want a plant that you can grow inside and out and is full of lemon zest, then this is the plant for you.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.