- Bamboo Basics
- How to Care for Bamboo
- How to Select Bamboo
- Practical Uses for Bamboo
- Bamboo Houseplants
- How to Grow Dracaena
- What You Need:
- 5 Fun Facts About Bamboo
- Locations And Growing Zones
- Bamboo Soil Conditions
- Placing, Spacing, And Planting
- Knowing The Difference
- Edible, Ornamental, And Colorful
- Bamboo Products
- The new bamboo
- Love for Lemongrass
- Fact sheet: Lemongrass
Bamboo can easily get out of control as it grows. Successful containment of bamboo starts before you plant. Although a new planting spreads slowly in its early years, its growth soon speeds up. Put in a barrier — 40-mil high-density polyethylene — to a depth of 30 inches around the perimeter of your grove. Equally effective is a concrete barrier, which requires digging a 4- to 6-inch-deep surround trench and filling it with concrete.
To discourage deep rhizome growth, tightly compact the soil in the bottom of the planting hole and amend only the top 6-10 inches. Patrol the perimeter of your bamboo regularly in early summer to check for escapees. Check again when rhizome growth ceases, which will vary depending on where you live. At this stage, any new growth outside the barriers is relatively soft and hasn’t yet rooted to the ground, so it’s easy to remove.
How to Care for Bamboo
Image zoom Spring growth on a blue Coloradospruce creates a dramatic backdropfor culms of bamboo.
Bamboo appreciates plenty of water. Give water to new plantings once a day. The plant thrives in a moderately acidic, loamy soil and responds well to fertilizer high in nitrogen. In addition, bamboo benefits from a 2- to 3-inch mulch of compost, bark, grass clippings, leaves, or hay. Bamboo leaf droppings also act as mulch, nourishing the plant with silica, so you don’t need to remove the leaves. Hardy bamboo likes sun but will grow in shade, though it won’t get as large. Apply fertilizer just before new growth starts in the spring and then every two to four weeks through summer. After the first year, fertilizer isn’t necessary unless you want the plant to spread and send up larger shoots. Left ungroomed, bamboo forms a thicket, frustrating the eye in a blur of intertwined stems and leaves. Each year, use a fine-toothed saw or sharp clippers to prune out selected culms, focusing on the oldest, then removing spindly or crowded ones in an overall thinning. Finally, strip off the lower branches on new growth left standing to expose the beauty of the culms.
Get more bamboo-growing tips.
How to Select Bamboo
Image zoom Black Bamboo(Phyllostachys nigra)
The versatile nature of bamboo makes it adaptable to almost any size yard. In tight urban settings, Phyllostachys spp. provides a quick-growing screen. For mammoth homes on postage-stamp lots, bamboo helps bring the landscaping into scale, yet doesn’t take up a lot of space. It also grows well in tubs as long as it’s divided every two years, making it suitable for high-rise balconies or decks. Bamboo canes are rich in variety, too. They sport remarkable colors in solids, stripes, or mottles; they grow upright, zigzag at the lower joints (nodes), or swell like a turtle’s back. Some have leaves variegated white or gold. And unlike trees, bamboo can be topped just above a node anywhere along a culm without suffering damage. Shortening culms, as the stalks are called, are handy when you need to preserve a neighbor’s view but still want to assure yourself of privacy. Companion plantings can help bamboo blend in with the rest of your garden. Large-leaf underplantings of fuki (Petasites japonicus) and umbrella plant (Darmera peltata), both Zones 5-9, make spectacular companions for lofty bamboo in naturalized settings. So do contrasting forms and leaf shapes, such as those offered by evergreen conifers or Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). For those who must confine bamboo to relatively tight spots, shallow-rooted groundcovers, such as dwarf periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), will scramble about the margins of a grove. Although bamboo grows taller and wider in warmer climates, some bamboo from the Phyllostachys genus will grow in the coldest parts of the United States. The best species for colder sections of the Midwest and all of the Northeast are yellow-groove bamboo (P. aureosulcata), P. nuda, and P. bissetti. During heavy, wet snowfalls, bamboo culms can be weighted to the ground and may even break, though this is rare. Some species are more strongly upright than others, but growth habit varies widely across the country. Your best bet for selecting bamboo that will work for you is to consult an experienced grower, but here are two charts full of good species to consider.
Practical Uses for Bamboo
Bamboo is a “value-added” plant; you can build structures from it or even cook with its young, tender shoots. It’s great for yard projects because it’s a fast-growing, easily renewable source. Although the culms are usually hollow, they’re extremely durable; pound for pound, they’re stronger than steel. The strongest poles come from three- to five-year-old culms, but you can start using poles the second year. Cut the culms at ground level in early spring, strip them of side growth, and store them flat in a dry, sheltered space for use at a later date. Or, immediately turn them into stakes, hose guides, or standing plant supports and edgings. Bamboo poles can be used to build gates, trellises, panels, and fences. Many nurseries that specialize in bamboo offer classes on building with it and also sell bamboo poles.
Image zoom Bamboos need a little TLC, but areeasy once you get the knack forgrowing them.
More and more, bamboo plants are found indoors. Extremely versatile bamboo plants can be tall and airy, or short and striking. Some can grow in full, direct light others thrive in those darkened corners that the sun rarely sees. In general, bamboos are not to be considered an easy plant to grow indoors.
The use of a pebble tray, which is a tray of rocks that is placed under the plant container, is a good suggestion to help with the challenge of humidity. This tray must contain a small amount of water at all times. As the water evaporates it raises the humidity around your plant. It is important to keep indoor bamboos a little on the dry side, especially during the winter months. This however, by no means suggests that the plant should be allowed to completely dry out. The point is, it is easier to remedy plant stress due to lack of water, rather than trying to remedy plant stress due to overwatering. Overwatering often causes root rot, and once root rot has occurred, the plant can rarely be saved.
Like most interior plants, bamboos require more water in the summer months and less in the “resting” period, or winter months. You can feed your indoor bamboo with a well-rounded fertilizer when the plant is in active growth. You may want to use a fertilizer with trace minerals in it, ensuring the bamboo gets a well balanced diet.
How to Grow Dracaena
The strong stem cuttings of a dracaena species known as lucky bamboo imitate true bamboo with their exotic, banded form. For this particular design, use any species of dracaena, rooted or unrooted. They make a tropical-looking grove that provides an intriguing centerpiece or room accent. Keep in mind that the design is temporary because dracaenas do not live in water, even though they root in it. Plan to transplant the poles into soil after the stems develop several sets of leaves.
Dracaenas make a perfect plant for people who want an indoor garden but don’t have time to devote to a routine of watering and fertilizing. Numerous plants survive neglect, but dracaena thrives on it.
When potted in a 12-inch-diameter or larger container of soil, the dracaena plants need watering only when the soil dries to a depth of about 2 inches. Fertilize every two or three months, but don’t worry if you forget. In low light the plants grow more slowly and need less feeding. Dracaenas also adapt to varying amounts of light, from the low light of a northern exposure to the high light of a southern one if set away from the window.
What You Need:
Image zoom Dracaenas mimic bamboo with their segmented stems. The stem cuttings gradually develop leaves and a more tropical look.
- Nine cuttings of dracaena, 6-8 inches tall
- Copper wok or similar shallow container
- Polished black stones, sea glass, or marbles
1. Start your grove with rooted or unrooted cuttings. Roots, of course, provide the plants with more immediate stability as they spread out among the stones. On the other hand, the arrangement lasts longer if you start with unrooted cuttings. Once the cuttings have produced many roots and developed three or four sets of leaves, transfer the plans to pots of soil. Dracaenas won’t survive in water indefinitely.
2. Fill the bottom of the wok with a shallow layer of stones, sea glass, or marbles. Set the stems in the wok and hold them firmly as you sprinkle in more stones. Work the roots under and between the stones. Begin to separate and arrange the stems as you add the stones. At this point, however, focus on adding stones and keeping the poles upright. Continue to add stones until the stems feel secure and upright.
3. Work stems around in the wok, being careful to slide the stems rather than lift them, until the spacing resembles a natural grove, not a clump.
Pour in water to a depth of 1-1/2 to 2 inches. Maintain that depth for the life of the arrangement.
Carefully move the wok to its final location: an end table, dining table, or shelf, for example.
Bamboo is an amazing plant! It has so many benefits to offer on so many levels. Not only does bamboo produce oxygen, which helps to clean the area where you grow your plants, but many varieties are edible! And above all, gardening is just great for your health in general.
Unfortunately, growing bamboo is often frowned upon and viewed as a tedious task because it can be invasive. The awesome news is that there are several species that are not invasive, you just have to know what you’re looking for and how to grow them the right way.
Bamboo (Bambusoideae poaceae) is commonly mistaken to be a tree. However, bamboo is actually a subfamily of tall, tree-like grasses. There are currently 115 genera and over 1,400 species of bamboo. These fast-growing perennials can grow up to one foot a day in the right conditions.
5 Fun Facts About Bamboo
If you are considering growing bamboo but haven’t made up your mind yet, here are five facts that might spark a bit of interest!
- Many bamboo species are edible, some just taste better than others. The young bamboo shoots can be harvested and added to some of your favorite dishes. Bamboo shoots are a good source of healthy fiber, and they contain very little fat or calories.
- Bamboo fibers contain natural antibacterial properties. These same fibers are used to make clothing, diapers, bandages, towels, and dressings.
- A bamboo grove produces over 35% more oxygen than hardwood trees.
- It’s SO versatile! It can be used to make everything from bikes, bunk beds, houses, boats, clothing, medicine, food, oxygen, fuel, toothbrushes, natural fence lines, and so much more.
- It holds greater strength than steel! I know … I was surprised too. Bamboo can actually withstand being smashed better than concrete can.
Locations And Growing Zones
Bamboo is a relatively low-maintenance plant and it is great for beginners! Bamboo is easy to care for and generally takes care of itself. There is little to no work required outside of watering. The growing zones in the U.S. are mainly in the Pacific and southern states. This is because bamboo originates from tropical and sub-tropical regions, but there are some species that will now grow in mild temperate regions as well.
Hardy bamboo is the best choice when growing in USDA Zones 8 and 9 while tropical bamboo needs to be grown in Zones 9 and 10. Some species of bamboo can handle a few days of below-freezing temperatures, yet the tropical species have to be where the temperatures don’t drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bamboo Soil Conditions
When looking for the perfect spot to have your beautiful bamboo growing, keep in mind that they love full to partial sun. The plants naturally grow faster in full sunlight, but the younger plants will need a little protection during the summer months.
Backyard bamboo ?
A majority of the bamboo species can grow in most types of soil as long as it is well-draining. The right kind of soil will help encourage healthier root systems, increase growth, and produce healthier, more attractive plants. Here are the three keys to creating the proper soil content for bamboo:
- The soil must have good drainage, but at the same time, retain moisture.
- Bamboo likes aerated soil that is light in structure. So basically, it needs fluffy dirt.
- The soil has to be rich in organic nutrients, so go ahead and mix in some of your compost and organic matter to feed the soil.
If the soil in your area is too heavy, add some sand or another type of organic, grainy, granular material. If it’s too sandy or light, adding more organic matter such as compost will help solve that problem.
You will definitely want to avoid soggy, waterlogged areas. An inch of water daily is enough water for bamboo, and any more than that can cause the roots to suffocate or suffer from root rot and die.
Placing, Spacing, And Planting
If you’re trying to form a natural fence or screen, it’s best to space the bamboo about 3-5 feet apart. This will allow the bamboo to have the necessary space to thrive without overcrowding or the roots suffocating each other out.
Work compost, manure, or both into the soil where you plan to plant the bamboo. Make sure the hole you dig for the root system is deep enough and wide enough so that the root ball or root mass is level with the top of the surrounding soil.
The bamboo’s home should be 1 ½ to 2 times as wide as the root mass to ensure that the roots have plenty of space to grow. Once your bamboo is placed in its new home, cover the roots with about 3 inches of compost or a compost/soil mixture and water thoroughly. Now, all that’s left to do is to water them regularly and watch them grow!
Knowing The Difference
There are so many varieties and species of bamboo plants. When choosing to grow bamboo there’s an important question to ask yourself, do you want a non-invasive species or not?
Invasive species will take over your yard and any surrounding land rather quickly unless you have the time and the know-how to keep them under control. The main difference you’re looking for has to do with the roots, root systems, and how they grow. There are two different types of roots systems: clumping and running.
Running bamboo spreads and is invasive. Of course, some species are going to be more invasive than others. The roots, aka rhizomes, spread horizontally and create new shoots continuously spawning.
Clumping bamboo doesn’t have rhizome roots to shoot out. Instead of the roots spreading out feet at a time they grow a few inches wider. The bamboo plant itself has a faster growth rate because it grows taller rather than wider.
If, by chance, you prefer running bamboo for their looks or whatever it may be, there are a few solutions if you don’t want it to invade.
- Try container growing and keep the plants indoors. You can still make a privacy fence by lining up the planters in a row.
- Take some time to mow over any new and undesired shoots to help keep them at bay.
- Dig a small trench around the bamboo plants about 10 inches deep. As the roots begin to grow outward in the trench, trim up the roots when necessary.
Edible, Ornamental, And Colorful
Bamboo comes in different thicknesses, heights, colors, and can be trained to be grown into awesome shapes like spirals. I love the color varieties!
guido612 / Flickr (Creative Commons)
There’s black, purple, red, green, yellow, and more. While some bamboo is only for decoration, there is a whole slew of edible bamboo. The young culms, or new shoots, are the edible parts, and they’re rather tasty, too.
Bamboo products are growing in number and variety. You can find just about anything made out of bamboo. Here are just a few items:
- Charcoal bamboo toothbrushes
Growing bamboo is easy, enjoyable, and the plant is highly resourceful when it’s put to good use. I suggest you do your research about the specific details for the bamboo plants you like and take a dig in the dirt.
The new bamboo
There are only three genera that Whittaker recommends as clump-formers: fargesia, chusquea and thamnocalamus. Fargesias come from upland areas of China and have thin, colourful canes topped by a fountain of fine foliage. These arching bamboos can be grown in containers as well as in the garden, although they must never dry out.
Fargesia rufa, introduced in the past 15 years, is one of the showiest. Its foliage has an unusual blue-green glow. Each slender green cane is banded with colourful sheaths that vary from orange-red to shrimp-pink, depending on the soil. “More alkaline soil produces brighter sheaths,” says Whittaker. In 10 years, Fargesia rufa will grow to a maximum height of 2.5m (8ft), in a clump up to 1.2m (4ft) wide.
Whittaker rates the more spectacular, strongly vertical Fargesia robusta as “one of the top five bamboos”. Its thick canes, of a warm shade of green, reach a height of 5m (16ft) in five or six years and are banded with clean, paper-white sheaths in summer. The contrast of white and green makes this bamboo a must-have. It will form a tight clump 1.5m (5ft) wide in 10 years.
Most species of thamnocalamus are from the higher reaches of the Himalayas and like it cool, but they need shelter from both sun and wind. The star is Thamnocalamus crassinodus ‘Kew Beauty’: its canes have a sky-blue bloom. Patience is needed, because young plants take time to establish. It grows to 4m (13ft) in height and the spread after 10 years is 2m (5ft).
The chusqueas are from the Chilean Andes, where the climate is cool and the rainfall high. They form open clumps and grow quickly. The most refined, in Whittaker’s opinion, is Chusquea culeou, an elegant, arching bamboo with small leaves and deep-green canes. After 10 years, it should reach 4m (13ft) in height and achieve a width of 2m (5ft).
Although these clump-formers are easier to handle, there is still a role for aggressive, spreading bamboos, says Whittaker, in a large garden. “If you want to contain a slippery bank, there is nothing better for binding the soil and preventing erosion,” he says. He has a form of Sasa veitchii that came from Beth Chatto’s garden, where she uses it to cover a slope beside a pond. It is grown not for its purplish canes, but for its interestingly coloured oval leaves, which look especially dramatic in winter. “Each leaf has a bleached cream edge, and the bleached area spreads as the temperatures drop,” says Whittaker.
The tall, very upright Pseudosasa japonica, meanwhile, is perfect for forming a grove or high windbreak. It has pale-green canes, each as thick as your thumb, with straw-coloured sheaths. It reaches a height of 4m (13ft) and a spread of 3m (10ft) in 10 years.
With roughly half of all bamboos, their growth habit depends on climate and soil. In this country, their growth is more vigorous in south-west England, where summers are humid, winters warm and light levels high. In East Anglia, where it is dry in summer and cold in winter, the same plant might reach just half the size.
Among these uncertain varieties is Phyllostachys nigra, the most spectacular member of the most desirable group of bamboos, all of which have colourful canes. “More often than not, Phyllostachys nigra is a tight bamboo,” says Whittaker, “reaching a height of 6m (20ft) and a spread of 1.5m (5ft), but growth will vary according to location.” Its black canes are accentuated by narrow white rings.
Another of Whittaker’s favourites is Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis, which forms tight clumps up to 10m (33ft) high. But his desert island bamboo is Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. spectabilis. Each custard-yellow cane is grooved with deep green, and this bamboo can produce zigzagged canes as well as straight ones. It colours up best in harsh, exposed positions and the dark-green foliage provides a striking contrast with the gold and green canes.
- Hardy Bamboos: Taming the Dragon by Paul Whittaker (Timber Press, £25) costs £23 plus £1.25 p&p from Telegraph Books, 0870 428 4112.
Where to buy
PW Plants, Kenninghall, Norfolk (01953 888212; www.hardybamboo.com)
Gardening readers can buy one Phyllostachys nigra for £9.99, or buy two for £19.79 and get a further plant free. Supplied in 9cm pots. Delivered in February while stocks last, then remaining orders in June. Please send orders to: Telegraph Garden Service, Dept. TE630, PO Box 99, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2SN. Cheques/Postal orders should be made out to Telegraph Garden Service, or call 0870 112 6015 for credit/debit card orders. Please quote ref. TE630 when placing your order. Delivery can be made to all addresses within the UK.
What to plant with bamboos
- Bamboos provide foliage and form in abundance. You can highlight both their colour and their vertical accents by planting them with varieties of dogwood chosen for their colourful stems. The red stems of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and the olive-green C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ would both make good partners for green-stemmed bamboos.
- Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ forms a tight, upright clump some 1m (3ft) high, topped by upward-facing plumes. It is a perfect understorey plant for bamboos. The pinkish-red flower spikes of Persicaria amplexicaulis also stand well.
- Use large-leafed catalpas or paulownias to create an overhead canopy.
- Winter-flowering Asiatic mahonias, principally varieties of Mahonia x media and Mahonia japonica, provide an upright shape and rich bolts of green leaves, as well as clusters of fragrant yellow flower spikes (see The best mahonias).
Quick Guide to Growing Lemongrass
- Plant lemongrass in spring, once all chances of frost have passed. It’s a perfect plant for growing in-ground, as you would with ornamental grasses, or in containers.
- Lemongrass likes it hot, so grow it in an area with full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Space plants 24 inches apart.
- Kick off the growing season by mixing several inches aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil.
- Provide lemongrass with consistent moisture and water when the top inch becomes dry.
- Get the most out of your growing efforts by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Harvest lemongrass stalks once plants reach 12 inches tall and are a half-inch wide at the base.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Lemongrass thrives in full sun, even in hot Southern locations. Give this herb rich, well-drained soil. To improve fertility and enhance the soil’s ability to hold water, improve the soil by mixing in composted manure or aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. If you’re adding several lemongrass plants to planting beds, space plants 24 inches apart.
Plant lemongrass in a large pot that is at least 12 inches across, or use a 5-gallon bucket. Be sure to use a premium quality potting soil, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which contains aged compost and provides just the right organic nutrition to give lemongrass plants a strong start. Lemongrass grows tall, and pots can easily tip in windy weather, so place containers in a slightly protected location.
Provide a steady supply of moisture for best growth—don’t let lemongrass roots dry out. In addition to starting with great soil, fertilize plants every couple of weeks during the growing season with a water-soluble plant food like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition. It improves the nutritional environment for your lemongrass plants by feeding the beneficial microbes in the soil as well as your plants, leading to strong, impressive growth.
In cold regions, overwinter lemongrass indoors by digging up a few stalks, trimming them down to just a few inches tall, and planting them in smaller pots. Place them in a bright, south-facing window. Keep soil barely moist, as plants grow very slowly over winter. Another option is to store a pot of lemongrass, cut down, in a cool, dark place like a basement. Water just a few times over winter to keep roots alive. In spring, bring the pot into a bright spot, and resume normal watering. Shift outdoors when temperatures are above 40°F.
Due to its tropical nature, lemongrass usually only survives winters in zones 8 and warmer. In other areas, try growing lemongrass as an annual in planting beds or tucked into pots. This citrus-flavored grass overwinters well in a dormant state in a cool, dark spot indoors, or you can grow it as an indoor herb through winter in colder zones.
by Ruth Gulley
The citrusy aroma and flavor of lemongrass, alongside its pest-repelling properties, make it a wonderful addition to any garden or yard. Lemongrass is an eye-catching and unique addition to any garden, so passersby or your gardening buddies are sure to be impressed. Plus, it’s not very hard to grow or particularly prone to disease or infestation. Let’s get started.
Growing Conditions for Lemongrass
Lemongrass is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia, Australia, and Africa, so it comes as no surprise that it takes its environment with a dollop of heat and a generous splash of … you guessed it, water. Lemongrass is not a fan of frosty weather, so if you live in a climate that gets cold, use a container if you plan to enjoy your lemongrass year-round. It likes moist but well-drained soil, plenty of sunlight, and high humidity levels.
What’s the most common way for a home gardener to get in on a nice crop of lemongrass? Take a few healthy stalks bought from the grocery store, and place them in a glass with about an inch of water in it. Change the water daily or every other day. In a few weeks, roots should reach one to two inches in length. At this point, plant the stalks in your garden (after all chance of frost has passed) or in a garden container.
But that’s not your only option. People have also been successful planting the stalk directly into soil, buying a started plant at a nursery, and even starting lemongrass from seed. In all cases, lemongrass needs plenty of water and a warm environment to really get going. Once the plants do get going, they will propagate on their own and begin to form large clumps of tall grass, which can eventually be harvested or simply enjoyed as a fragrant landscaping feature.
Care of Lemongrass
Because lemongrass does not do well in cold weather and because it is self-propagating, many people will find that container planting is the best option. If you are able to bring your lemongrass inside during winter months, the plant could last you multiple years. And while it’s not exactly invasive like a lot of grasses are, it can still crowd other plants’ root systems. If you live in an environment with little to no frost in the winter and if you don’t intend to plant the lemongrass near other plants, you can certainly get away with growing it in the ground.
While your soil should drain well, you also do not want to let the roots of your lemongrass get dried out. Water frequently in the spring and summer, and use a less heavy hand with the garden hose or watering can in the winter. Use a spray bottle to create humidity if you do not live in a humid climate.
Finally, lemongrass does best in a nitrogen-rich soil. There are tons of inexpensive, resourceful ways to amend your soil without chemical fertilizers. Check them out in these Gardening Channel articles on natural fertilizing methods.
Once the lemongrass plant is at least a foot tall, you can begin harvesting the leaves. Simply cut off as much of the green part of the plant as you’d like to use. Lemongrass leaves don’t dry or freeze particularly well, so it’s best to use it fresh. The tops are quite tough, but they can be steeped to flavor teas, soups, curries, and rice. You can also crush the leaves with your fingers to release their mosquito-repelling oil.
To harvest the whole stalk, you’ll want to wait until the base width is at least half an inch thick. Once it reaches that point, either cut it off just above the soil or pull it up from the base. Harvest from the outer edges of the plant so it can continue to propagate. The leaves closer to the base are more tender than leaves harvested from the top of the plant. The most commonly used part of the plant is actually its white core, which you can get to by peeling away the outer layers of the stalk. You can grate or finely chop it to use in cooking. It also freezes much better than the leaves, so you can harvest a lot of it at a time.
Common Pests and Diseases for Lemongrass
Lemongrass is not particularly prone to many diseases or pests, but a relatively common issue is “rust.” This is a fungal disease characterized by the browning, wilting, and death of stalks and the whole plant if it’s not controlled. That means as soon as you see the signs of rust, it’s time to take action. To manage the problem, remove infected parts of the plant, avoid overhead watering, and promote quick growth by providing your plant with plenty of nutrients.
Whether you’re growing lemongrass to add a fresh, out of the ordinary look to your yard or garden or to harvest it for cooking, this guide tells you what you need to know for a successful growing season. While lemongrass isn’t a typical choice, it’s no more difficult to manage than old gardening standbys. Follow these steps, and you’re sure to have a handsome crop of lemongrass in no time.
Want to learn more about growing lemongrass?
Visit these resources:
Verticla Veg in UK covers How to Grow Lemon Grass in Containers
The Prairie Homestead covers Lemongrass – How to Grow It and Use It
Grow Veg covers How to Grow Lemongrass
Plant Care Today covers Lemongrass Plant: How To Care For Lemon Grass
Grow This cover How to Grow Lemongrass
National Horticulture Board covers Lemon Grass
SF Gate covers How to Germinate and Grow Lemongrass
Plant Village covers Lemon Grass
Love for Lemongrass
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 17, 2008.)
A native of India, lemongrass is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Therefore, when growing lemongrass, you’ll want to replicate its native Indian climate by giving the plant full sun, sandy, well-draining soil and average water – do not over-water.
In areas of the country that do not experience freezes, lemongrass will act as a perennial and grow rather large – up to 9′, in fact. However, if your winters can get harsh, better to pot up the plant and bring it in to the garage. This will stunt its growth somewhat, but it should survive. (Before storing, first see if it needs divided. Lemongrass is a clumping type of grass, which means you can eventually divide and get several plants out of it…or, of course, you can re-plant some and eat the rest!)
When harvesting your lemongrass, select a firm stalk with leaves that appear green and fresh. If leaves are browning, wilted or dried out, there won’t be much flavor. The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups for a lemony twist. Also, the bulb can be bruised and minced for use in a variety of recipes.
Prepare lemongrass by peeling off and discarding one or two layers of the woody exterior leaves. These leaf blades are tough and therefore better for teas, potpourri and flavoring, but not so good for outright eating. Instead, use the tender white inner hearts.
Medicinal herb teas can also be brewed from lemongrass. The tea has been used for everything from lowering cholesterol to soothing digestive problems. Externally, the oil can be used to treat athlete’s foot or acne.
Many lemon-scented and lemon-flavored products actually get their lemony goodness from lemongrass rather than from real lemons. Some have reported it being a successful insect repellent.
If you have trouble finding lemongrass at your local nursery or gardening center, check with Asian grocery stores, farmers markets or organic groceries selling fresh herbs. Pick a plant that has fat, healthy-looking stalks and light-green bases with leaves wrapped tight so they do not curl or dry out.
After you get the lemongrass home, peel off the outside leaves, place the stalks in a jar of water and put it on a bright windowsill. The stalks should root in a couple of weeks and be ready for planting outdoors, so long as the soil has adequately warmed.
Lemongrass is especially yummy with fish or chicken. Or, try this fabulous herb oil as a salad dressing or bread dip:
Fresh Rosemary Twig
Fresh Lemon Grass
Fresh Thyme Twig
Clove of Garlic
Peppercorns, red and black
Combine all the above ingredients in a clear bottle. Let sit for at least a week. Shake vigorously before serving.
Lemongrass is one of our favorite edible decorative plants that we have on our porch. It is not only known for keeping pesky mosquitos at bay, but it can add a tasty flavor to your food!
How to Grow:
You can start seeds indoors 4 weeks before the last spring frost and place them outside 2-4 weeks after your last spring frost. Make sure temperatures are above 50°F (10°C). You can see specific dates for your location using our FREE iOS, Android, and Universal Web App.
Seeds are planted 1/4in deep. You will want to space plants out to around 1 every square foot. Lemongrass will need full sun. Take care to notice what plants are around the area as well, see the companion plant section below. Expect your lemongrass seeds to sprout within 7-21 days. Lemongrass will require consistent moisture.
Companion planting is a vital part of organic gardening. Companion plants assist in the growth of others by attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests, or providing nutrients, shade, or support. There are also plants that do not like being next to each other. Some plants get too tall and can provide too much shade for your plant. Sometimes certain plants attract the same pests, so it is important to try and separate these. Herbs are especially great companion plants because they help to repel pests from your other plants!
Fact sheet: Lemongrass
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is an easy to grow herb that requires warm, humid conditions, full sunlight and plenty of moisture. It is a tender perennial that is commonly grown as an annual in cooler areas. Plant lemongrass after the last frost or grow it in a pot and move it outdoors after temperatures warm in the spring. Nurseries and seed companies will generally sell small starter plants. Fresh stalks of lemongrass (leaves and roots absent) can be purchased at grocery stores specializing in Asian cuisine and will root in a glass of water in about 2 weeks. Water and feed regularly from June through September to maximize growth. Bring potted plants indoors when temperatures cool in the fall.
Only two of the 55 species of Cymbopogon are used as lemongrass. The East-Indian lemongrass (Cochin or Malabar grass) and the West-Indian lemongrass are typically used for cooking. Check with specialty nurseries and garden centers for available plants.
How to Grow
Soils: Lemongrass prefers well-drained, moist, rich loam soil with high organic content. It will tolerate poor soils if provided adequate moisture and good drainage. Water logged soils should be avoided.
Soil Preparation: Before planting, amend soils with 2 to 4 inches of organically rich compost. Work it 4 to 6 inches deep into the soil. For outdoor grown potted plants, apply a ½ strength solution of a nutrient balanced water soluble fertilizer every week to 10 days to maximize growth.
Plants: Divide last year’s lemongrass clumps or purchase starter plants from local nurseries. Lemongrass is rarely grown from seed. Plant the divisions after the danger from frost has passed. Lemongrass grows slowly until the heat of summer arrives, then it increases in size dramatically. Typically plants will produce several harvestable stalks by the end of the summer.
Planting and Spacing: Lemongrass divisions should be spaced 3 feet apart in the garden since it can grow 3 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, if water, fertilizer and growing conditions are optimal. In cooler areas, lemongrass should be planted in a pot. After harvest or before the first fall frost, save a 6 inch section of the bulbous shoot base. These sections with attached roots can also be divided and potted the following year. Smaller container plants can be overwintered indoors. Divided or containerized plants need to be grown in a warm, bright, sunny location.
Water: Lemongrass is native to tropical climates, so it prefers regular rainfall and more humid conditions. In a dry climate, it should be misted and regularly watered. Water lemongrass by hand or use flood irrigation rather than irrigate with sprinklers. If
grown in a container, water regularly so the pots do not dry out.
Fertilization: Like other grasses, lemongrass requires lots of nitrogen during the summer. It should be feed weekly with a half-strength solution of a balanced soluble fertilizer from June through September. Supply a similar fertilizer monthly for plants in the ground.
Weeds: Weeds don’t compete well with mature lemongrass. Hand weeding may be required when plants are small.
Pests and Disease: Lemongrass is generally free of pests and diseases when grown correctly.
Insects Identification Control
Spider Mites: Piercing type pest that feed on plants cell contents causing tiny yellow or white speckling. Problem mostly on indoor plants. Use insecticidal soaps, registered insecticides or spray plant with a forceful jet of water to dislodge the insects.
Diseases Symptom Control
Leaf Blight: Reddish brown spots on leaf tips and margins; appear to be prematurely drying. Spray with registered fungicides if positively identified or hand remove blighted leaves.
Little Leaf or Grassy Shoot: Stunted growth of normal inflorescence. Spray with registered fungicides if positively identified.
Harvesting and Storage
In cooler areas, harvesting occurs at the end of the growing season just before the first fall frost. However, lemongrass can be harvested at anytime, once the plant stalks have reached ½ inch thick. To harvest, cut stems at ground level, or push an outside stem to the side, twist and pull off or cut with a knife. Discard the outer woody layers and the leaves. The entire plant of the lemongrass can be used for cooking. Plant stalks are quite hard, so they are usually mashed and simmered in water to extract the lemony flavor. Stalks can also be crushed and placed in the bottom of foil wrappings with meat or vegetables. Once cooked the tender interior core can be sliced and used in a variety of dishes. The lemongrass leaves are used to flavor teas, soups and sauces. Dry lemongrass leaves in the sun or oven and use like bay leaf in soups and teas. Lemongrass can be frozen up to 6 months.
Stalk productivity depends on how well plants are maintained. It grows rapidly if supplied with sufficient water, fertilizer, sunlight and humidity. Productivity can be improved by dividing older plants. Older stalks should be harvested first to promote new stalk growth. Lemongrass grown indoors will not produce as many stalks, due to low light conditions. It comes back quickly when returned to the garden the next spring.
Nutrition and Uses
Lemongrass oil is used in soap, perfume, makeup, hair products, a cleaning agent, antifungal agent, incense and potpourri. It is also used as an effective, non-toxic insect repellent. Lemongrass is rich in vitamin A and reportedly has many medicinal benefits. For more information on herbal medicines, refer to a reliable information source for details on the benefits or hazards. One such source is the National Institutes of Health’s herbal medicine Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/herbalmedicine.html
Planted in Nassau County Extension Demonstration Garden
Bown, D. 1995. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Bremness, L. 2002. Smithsonian Handbooks: Herbs. Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 304p.
by Terra Linse and Dan Drost Utah State University