Lemongrass/ hua si kai ຫົວສີໄຄ (Lao) / ta khri ตะไคร้ (Thai) / Cymbopogon is an herb in the grass family. They prefer rich soil, loamy soil. Lemongrass is native to Asia and grows well in areas that are humid and warm. Given full sun and adequate water, they grow with minimal care and even in poor dirt.
Lemongrass is notably used in cooking, especially in Asian cuisine. They add citrusy flavors to soups and even grilled chicken (pieng gai). They can be steeped and enjoyed as a tea. Lemongrass oil is used in everything from makeup, medicine and even as natural insect repellents.
Once the stalks grow to about half an inch in diameter or so, they are ready to be harvested. Harvest the whole stalk. Remove the outer layers chop the lower white part for use in cooking. The whole stalk can be used in soup broth by twisting them into knots or bruising them to help them release their oils.
I have cousin in the cooler zones that will grow a bunch, harvest, clean, chop them up and freeze them.
Grow Zone and Overwintering:
They grow well and can be grown as a perennial if you are in hardiness zone 10 or warmer. Here in North Florida, zone 9, they can also be grown as a perennial plant, if they are given a little bit of protection. Grow them close to the house or by a fence. Both will help protect them from winter conditions and increase their chances of surviving. I have a clump/bush planted by my fence that has been there for years.
If you are in a cooler zone, you can overwinter lemongrass by growing them in pots. If grown in ground make sure to dig them up and transplant them into a pot and bring them inside by late fall, before the first frost.
- By seeds – start the seeds indoor two to three weeks before the last frost. They can be directly sown in warmer climates after the last frost. They’ll usually sprout within a week or two. After the sprouts are a couple of inches tall and danger of frost has past, transplant them into your garden. This method takes the longest to harvest as it could take 80-100 days to grow to size. I’ve eaten lemongrass my whole and have never seen seeds before until this year. I wanted test this method out. Although it does take a long time, you get a lot more from seeds in the long run. For those of us in warmer zones, this might be worth the time. Perhaps we’ve never seen seeds because we never let them run to seeds.
- By stalk – this is the most common method of propagation for my family. Growing up, it’s the only way I’ve seen them propagated. You can literally, buy a few stalks from the Asian market and stick them in the dirt as is. Make sure to water them regularly. This method is effective, especially if you have a shorter growing season. The stalks will sprout new plants and you’ll end up with a clump. Plant them in pairs and each pair about two to three feet apart.
- By soaking – If you really want to ensure a successful propagation, you can soak the grown stalks in water indoors for a couple of weeks until roots form. Remember to change that water regularly, otherwise it will get mucky. I tried this method over the winter when it was too cold to plant anything outdoors.
- By Scraps – yes, you can have your lemongrass and eat it too! Soak the root end of the lemongrass in water for a couple of weeks and watch it sprout a new grass. You can enjoy your pieng gai and start a new plant too.
You may also find them in the garden section of your local home improvement store, but these are usually a few younger stalks that will set you back five to six times the cost of buying a few stalks at the market.
Plant them two to three feet apart. They will grow in clumps. If you find that the clumps get too large and they start growing out of the dirt, start a new clump with overgrown stalks.