Lemongrass is a key ingredient for flavoring chicken, curries, soups and many other dishes. Growing lemongrass in pots works very well, but keep in mind it’s a tropical plant and only hardy in zones 9 and 10. That makes it more challenging in colder climates — but with the right care and conditions, it’s possible!
The good news is that lemongrass is easy to keep in containers, which you can move to follow the sun and overwintered inside in cooler growing regions.
Lemongrass is perennial grass with a citrusy lemon scent and flavor, with hints of citrus and mint.
Container-grown lemongrass can easily fit in patio gardens or even small outdoor balconies. Since lemongrass spreads rapidly, growing it in containers actually helps keep it more compact and easy to manage.
The Cymbopogon genus includes several varieties of grass native to Asia, Africa, Australia, and tropical islands. Translated from Greek, cymbopogon means “boat beard” because the spiky foliage resembles the shape of boats. So interesting! West Indian lemongrass (species citratus) and East Indian lemongrass (species flexuosus) are the most commonly used culinary varieties.
In many parts of the world, lemongrass foods and teas are also used medicinally. Fun fact … lemongrass oil also mimics a pheromone emitted by honeybees, so it can be used to attract bees to a hive!
Some common culinary uses of lemongrass include soups, stir fries, roast chicken and fish, and herbal teas.
If you’ve ever wanted to grow lemongrass in pots, you’ve come to the right spot! From choosing the right variety of seeds to knowing when to harvest this amazing culinary herb, you’ll find all the tips you need to grow lemongrass right here!
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How to grow lemongrass in pots
Lemongrass is an easy-to-grow herb that can thrive in containers if you provide it with the growing conditions it needs.
Lemongrass is native to India and Sri Lanka — both hot and humid areas. In container gardens, lemongrass needs to be located in full sun and should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of bright light daily. Lemongrass is also a moisture lover and needs to be watered regularly.
Does lemongrass grow well in containers?
As long as you provide lemongrass with the right balance of light, moisture and warmth, lemongrass will grow very well in containers.
Tip: To get even more benefits out of your lemongrass, place the pots near your back door or patio. The strong scent is known to deter mosquitos and other pest insects.
Growing lemongrass from seed
Lemongrass can be grown from either seed or seedlings.
Sow lemongrass seeds indoors a few weeks before your last frost date. Lightly scatter seeds across the surface of a high-quality potting mix and cover with no more than a scant ¼” of mix. (While you can use seed-starting potting mix or coconut coir instead, because seeds don’t need nutrients to germinate, I’ve had good luck with potting mix because it gives an immediate boost as they start to develop.)
I recommend using seed-starting trays with humidity domes or peat pots if you start indoors, but you could also plant outdoors in the containers you plan to use, to skip the transplanting step. In that case, plant your lemongrass seeds after the last frost.
Either way … don’t bury the seeds too deep, as lemongrass needs light to germinate!
After planting your seeds, keep the pots well-watered until the seeds sprout. Since lemongrass seeds are so lightweight, you’ll have better germination results if you only water your containers from the bottom. Then cover with clear humidity domes until the seedlings emerge.
Lemongrass seeds should sprout in about 10 to 14 days, although this will vary depending upon the temperature outdoors or in your growing space indoors. Once your seedling are about 3” tall, transplant them into individual pots or sow them in a larger container, spacing seedlings 2.5′ apart.
Transplant your seedlings outdoors when they’re a few inches tall. Since lemongrass is a tropical plant, make sure you transplant them only after all danger of frost has past.
How to grow lemongrass from seedlings
If you want to harvest lemongrass even earlier or just skip the seed-starting process, purchasing seedlings from your local nursery can be the best bet. You can transplant outdoors in springtime after your last frost date (find yours with this handy frost date calculator!).
Since lemongrass is not cold hardy and is very sensitive to frost, only move it outdoors when nighttime temperatures are at least 40°F.
Lemongrass can grow quite rapidly in bunches, and some varieties reach up to 5 feet tall, so make sure you give them plenty of space.
For container gardens, plant lemongrass in a pot by itself; however, if you have a larger planter that can fit multiple plants, make sure you space them at least 3’ from each other.
When planting your lemongrass, cover up the crown or base of the plant but don’t bury the entire stalk.
How to grow lemongrass from stalks
Lemongrass is also one of the easiest herbs to grow from cuttings. So if you find some lemongrass at the grocery store or farmers market, you can usually propagate it into a new plant.
- Select lemongrass pieces that have the entire stalk and base intact.
- Snip away any brown or damaged leaves
- Place the base of the stalk in a glass with an inch or two of clean water.
- Position the plant on a sunny windowsill and refresh the water every few days to keep it clean.
Roots will begin to develop from the base of the stalk.
Once those roots are about 3” long and the stalk has started to divide, pot up your new lemongrass plants in a rich potting mix and water them well.
After that, just tend your lemongrass as you would any established lemongrass plant.
Note: Lemongrass is toxic to pets and should be kept away from curious cats and dogs if you’re growing it indoors.
Best varieties of lemongrass for containers
For culinary use, be sure to grow either cymbopogon citratus or cymbopogon flexuosus, NOT cymbopogon nardus or cymbopogon winteranius (citronella).
- Gaeas Blessing Heirloom, non-GMO culinary lemongrass (flexuosus variety with fragrant, lemony zest and hints of ginger and mint)
- Burpee non-GMO lemongrass (citratus variety with a bright citrus kick)
Best containers for growing lemongrass
Lemongrass will spread horizontally and has very strong roots, so it’s important to provide your plant with plenty of room to grow.
Containers at least 14” diameter or 5 gallons in size are recommended. It’s also essential to make sure any container you use has drainage holes to prevent overly saturated soil.
Fabric grow bags can be a great choice for lemongrass, as they come in lots of different sizes and the porous material won’t trap water around your plant’s roots. My recommendations:
- 10-gallon fabric grow bag — good size for one lemongrass plant
- 30-gallon fabric grow bag — a little tight, but could fit two lemongrass plants
- 8′ x 4′ extra large wooden planter — this huge planter has enough room for 4-5 lemongrass plants!
Growing lemongrass in pots
Once you have your plants started, lemongrass really can thrive in containers! Follow the guidelines below for a healthy harvest.
How often to water lemongrass
Lemongrass naturally grows in tropical areas, so it’s not a surprise that this plant loves a lot of moisture!
Be sure to water lemongrass regularly – at least 1” of water per week. Keep in mind that plants in containers can dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens, so check the soil frequently to make sure it stays moist.
As indoor air is usually drier than outdoor air, if you want to overwinter your lemongrass indoors, set up a humidifier nearby or keep your plant on a pebble tray.
Lemongrass prefers higher than average humidity and should be kept at a humidity level of between 60% and 80%.
Fertilizer for lemongrass in pots
Lemongrass is primarily grown for its foliage, so it will benefit from a regular, monthly application of fertilizer.
To support its leafy growth, a nitrogen-rich, slow-release fertilizer is best; however, lemongrass will also benefit from applications of slow-release fertilizer early in the season or compost tea every few weeks throughout.
Some good options:
- Scott’s 11-7-7 high-nitrogen slow-release fertilizer for trees, shrubs and grass
- Miracle-Grow 12-4-8 high-nitrogen Shake ‘N Feed fertilizer
Common pests for lemongrass
Thanks to its strong aroma, lemongrass is naturally resistant to many garden pests, although there are a few exceptions:
Rust fungus can cause brown streaking and spotting on lemongrass leaves and can eventually weaken and kill your plant. To avoid this, keep lemongrass leaves as dry as possible by only watering your plant at the soil line.
Aphids feed on plant sap and can cause distorted leaf growth and stunted plants. A strong blast from your garden hose is usually enough to dislodge aphids. You can also spray your plants with an organic, insecticidal soap spray made from water and a small quantity of unscented liquid Castille soap.
Best companion plants for lemongrass
Lemongrass is naturally repellant to many common pests, which makes it an excellent companion plant to a wide number of vegetables, fruit and flowers. Some of the best plants to grow with lemongrass include:
Ginger and lemongrass pair beautifully together in many recipes, and they grow well as garden companions too! Both of these plants thrive in container gardens, and the strong scent of lemongrass will keep pests off your ginger!
Lemongrass can also be used to protect your tomatoes from some of their top pests. As an added bonus, tomatoes and lemongrass are often used together in recipes, so keeping both in your garden can ensure you have your favorite fresh ingredients on hand.
Growing lemongrass near your bell peppers can protect your peppers from pests as well. Better still, peppers and lemongrass are often used together in dishes like curries and fajitas.
Lemongrass growing stages
If you’re new to keeping lemongrass, you may be unsure about what to expect. For example, how fast does lemongrass grow? And should lemongrass plants be divided?
As a grass-like plant, lemongrass grows quickly and can spread when kept as a perennial. To avoid crowded pots, it’s a good idea to divide lemongrass plants every year or two if you’re keeping them over winter.
Don’t forget, lemongrass that grows for more than one season should be cut back to rejuvenate its growth. This is best done in early spring when the temperatures start to warm. Cut back your lemongrass to about 6” in height and remove any dry or dead spots.
Lemongrass may also need to be repotted from time to time. Like many other plants, lemongrass will grow best when repotted in spring.
How to harvest lemongrass
Lemongrass grown from seed should be ready to harvest about 75 to 100 days after planting.
You’ll know it’s time to pick your lemongrass when your plants begin to mature and have produced at least 10 stalks. Plants should be at least 1’ tall.
To harvest, cut stalks off at the base of the plant, just above the soil line.
To prevent overharvesting, leave plenty of stalks remaining on the plant so it can regrow. Never harvest more than 1/3 of your plant at one time.
How to store lemongrass
While the leafy green sections of lemongrass are too tough to be palatable raw, they are often steeped into soup bases and teas for an infusion of bright, lemony flavor.
Lemongrass stalks, on the other hand, are often pounded or chopped up and mixed into a variety of recipes.
If you end up with more lemongrass than you can use in one sitting, loosely wrap lemongrass stalks in a damp paper towel and store in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.
For longer term storage, lemongrass also freezes well. Storing lemongrass in the freezer is an easy way to simplify your food prep process and always have delicious lemongrass on hand, even in mid-winter.
To freeze lemongrass, you can simply remove the roots and leaves from your stalk and freeze the stalks whole. Alternatively, you can also pre-mince lemongrass and freeze it in ice cube trays with a little olive oil, which make perfect portions of the herb for later use.
You can also dehydrate lemongrass and store in your spice cabinet. Just make sure your lemongrass is completely dry and brittle before closing it up in an airtight container.
- Coconut water chicken soup
- Chicken pad thai with lemongrass
- Lemongrass and sriracha grilled shrimp
- Fresh lemongrass tea
- This post from Serious Eats has a wide selection of Asian lemongrass recipes … they all look amazing!
More ideas for growing herbs in containers
- Growing sage in pots
- How to grow catnip in pots
- Growing basil in pots
- Growing chamomile in pots
- Growing cilantro in pots
- How to grow lavender in pots
- Growing chives in pots