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.
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.
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.
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?