The easy way to grow lemon grass in containers

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When you start to grow your own food, a nice surprise is that some ‘exotic’ plants turn out to be easier to grow than you might expect.

Lemon grass is one.  A few years ago, I thought this only grew in the warmth of Thailand or Vietnam. The good news is that it also grows happily in the UK and other temperate climates, as long as it is brought inside over winter.

Rewarding and full of flavour

It’s a fun and rewarding edible to grow. The flavour is more intense and delicious than shop bought, you get leaves as well as the stem (good for tea and flavouring), and the grasses look lovely waving in the breeze on a balcony or window sill.

It can be grown from seed but the easiest way is from a fresh lemon grass stalk –  that you can buy from most supermarkets, Asian stores and grocers.

Lemon grass can be grown from fresh stalks from the grocery or supermarket.

Lemon grass can be grown from fresh stalks from the grocery or supermarket.

Last summer I met up with Sally Cunningham, horticultural expert for one of my favourite growing projects in the UK,  Sowing New Seeds run by Garden Organic.  Sally shows you how to grow lemon grass – and inspiring ideas on how to use it – in the video below.

Start lemon grass in spring or summer and use the freshest looking lemon grass stalks you can find in the shops.

Warmth is the secret

I’ve been growing lemon grass this way for about seven years. Not all my early attempts were successful – but, as often in growing, you learn most when things don’t work! I discovered that if you start it in a warm place, it is much more likely to grow than somewhere cool.  You can use a heated propagator (a heated tray for starting plants) or a warm place above a radiator – or simply wait until warmer weather in early summer (June / July in UK).

Once growing, warmth is less critical, and your lemon grass plant can be moved outside in summer.

Growing lemon grass on my balcony in London.

Lemon grass on my London balcony

What to do in winter

Lemon grass is killed by cold so will need to be moved inside again before the first frost. Sally shows you in the video above how you can cut the leaves back so it takes up less space on your windowsill. If you don’t have much space inside (or don’t want a flat full of plants), the alternative is to harvest all the stalks at the end of the year (they freeze well), and simply start again next year.

Your turn

If you’ve grown lemon grass before, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. Have you discovered any other unusual or ‘exotic’ plants that have been easy to grow?

29 comments… add one

  • I started lemongrass from seed at the start of spring last yr (just over 12 months ago). It has happily overwintered in my sunny laundry here in albury, australia and been divided because it outgrew it’s pot and still growing strong and happy.

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  • Back again! Lemongrass growing all over the place! greenhouse and inside the house doing the best. I wondered when you harvest it (thinking to freeze stems and keep a pot going with some).
    Loving it!

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  • My lemongrass in a pot is sparse, if I cut it back will it thicken up?

    Does it like constant damp, or to dry out between watering?

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  • so I now have some growing! super excited. sometimes it takes a while, but then it just starts to power through!

    Just wondering about keeping some in the greenhouse , or do people think it should be more a house plant (in the UK) because of the winter?

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    • It grows well outside / or in a greenhouse in summer. It may be possible to keep it alive in a greenhouse over winter (eg by covering with fleece) but mine died in a polytunnel this year – and the winter wasn’t that cold. So perhaps greenhouse in summer, then trim back, and keep inside over winter?

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      • Aaah that’s good to know! Just thinking how to repot it/ where to put it, and not keen on importing beasties into the house (some suspicious shiny tracks on my carpet!!). Thank you!
        hope you are enjoying the summer! my first one with a greenhouse and it’s pretty hot in there!

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  • I’ve bought a pot of lemon grass a year ago and wintered it inside, but I’m only half content. It’s alive, but it has hardly grown all this year. Can anybody give me tips how to boost it when I put it outside? I live in Vienna, Austria, and have a very sunny and windy balcony facing south, where chillies and even pineapples do well. Should I provide for some shade? Should I use a saucer, or doesn’t LG tolerate wet feet? Thanks for suggestions.

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    • Have you tried replanting them? From time to time that’s what I do with mine. Cut the leaves, more or less like in the video, clean up the roots a bit and plant again in fluffy soil, with compost. In some weeks they are growing gloriously again

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      • Hmm, I could try that. I put it in a slightly bigger pot in autumn, but I didn’t care for compost, or for trimming roots and leaves. Would cutting leaves enhance growth?

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        • that’s what i do.
          it works for me.

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          • Thanks! I’ll try that.

  • I do exactly the same (i.e. trimming the dry base off to reveal the live bit) but I actually use the lemon grass stalk first, it’s wasteful to propogate this from a whole stalk and it will take root just from an inch or so of the base of the stalk. I also start it off in a jar of water so I can see the roots forming before transferring it to a pot of compost.

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    • Very interesting that you discovered it can work with only an inch of stem – thanks for sharing that Nathan. Starting them in water is another way of doing it – I know others who prefer to do it this way. I’ve always found it easier to start them directly in soil – but maybe that’s just because I’m lazy and it cuts out a step. How do you support your one inch pieces in water – I’m finding it hard to visualise that?

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  • Thak you. Some tips of using LG;
    a. cut LG and smash then put it in a small pot, boil with water. After the water is boiled, use the strainer to sift LG. This is a way we drink lemon grass tea in Thailand. Sugar added is ok for good taste and it can drink with Ice in summer or just hot tea.
    b. Pull lemon in the middle help the new root sprouting quicker than pull from the rim.
    c. remove brown leaves around the trunk., and trim the leave if grow in winter.

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    • Thank you very much for sharing your experience and tips Porntipha. I really like your suggestion of harvesting from the middle – I will definitely try that.

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  • I’ve overwintered lemongrass in an unheated greenhouse on my London balcony for the last two winters. Even if it dries out and looks a bit sad, trimming the leaves and watering well in the Spring has revived it. It is now a huge plant!

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    • Hi Kerri, great stuff! And thanks for sharing your experience – great to hear you manage to keep it alive in a greenhouse over winter. You might want to keep an eye on it if we have a very cold winter – I put one of my plants in a polytunnel in Newcastle this year and it most definitely died! I’m also impressed you’ve managed to squeeze a greenhouse on a balcony, that’s brilliant. Do you use the leaves as well as the stems?

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      • It’s just a lean-to greenhouse – very small but big enough for propogation and a couple of tomato plants in the summer! I haven’t used the leaves but I’m interested in trying them for making a tea – I assume you chop or bruise the leave and infuse in hot water as you would for mint tea?

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        • To make tea, I just add a few leaves to hot water, Kerri – but I’m not really an expert on lemon grass tea – I use the leaves more for flavouring cooking. The first time I made lemon grass tea I think I added far too many leaves (I had lots to use) and felt quite odd for a whole day – so probably best to add them in moderation at first!

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  • Aloha in love and the light

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  • I live in Southern Brazil, where lemon grass is very common – for teas, mind you. It’s been only a few years since I discovered it can also be used for cooking – marinates being the first experience. From then on, I’ve become a huge fan and have lemon grass spread all over the garden, both in vases and on soil.

    Do you happen to know a recipe for pickled lg? Have read somewhere someone raving about it, looked everywhere for the recipe to no results =(

    Almost forgot to mention: frost is common in our area and my plants bravely resist till spring =)

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    • Hello Heloisa, very interesting to read your experience of lemon grass – and funny how I discovered it could be used to make tea after using it in cooking! I haven’t tried pickling it but sounds awesome. Good to hear yours survive some frost. I think it must get colder here – I’ve tried leaving my lemon grass outside over winter and it most definitely died!

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      • Oh ‘tea’ is delicious, both warm and cold. Also, I’ve learnt how to make a refreshing juice with leaves and water in the mixer, then straining and adding ice cubes. Fabulous for summer!

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        • ooh, all those sound delicious – particularly the cold juice on a hot day. Thanks.

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  • I grow lemon grass from bought stems in the supermarket,, starting it off in water and potting if up under a plastic bag- but it eventually gets too enormous and spiky for indoors -then I give it away and start again – any ideas how to manage it overwinter?

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    • Hi Celia, you can cut down the leaves to make the plant smaller. I also harvest most of the stems before that. Sally shows you how she cuts the leaves off in preparation for winter in the video.

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  • I was just having a Thai curry and saying that I need to grow lemongrass. (already doing the Thai basil and kaffir lime). Great timing!

    I wonder if rooting hormone would help? (total newbie at all this)

    I didn’t know it was also called fevergrass. Super interesting.

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    • Ha, ha – that was good timing! It works fine without, rooting hormone is not necessary. Very good luck with it – hope you have as much pleasure growing it as I have.

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      • I’ve usually just put them in a shot glass, it’s narrow enough they don’t go anywhere but I’ll probably follow your lead and just plonk them straight in the compost in future :-)

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