Lemon grass is a tall growing grass with fat lower stems that have swollen bases. A bit like a giant spring onion, it is the lower part of the plant that is most sought after for culinary use. Lemongrass has a sweet, pungent lemony fragrance that is called upon in many Asian dishes. Most at home in a warm, humid location it is ideal for growing in warmer parts of the north island. Lemongrass is slightly frost tolerant but can easily be grown in a container and protected during cold weather in parts of the country that get regular hard frosts in winter. Lemongrass forms as clump of crowded stems and a single plant can be productive for many years. Lemongrass stems or leaves, steeped in boiling water, make a delicious, soothing tea that is said to aid sleep.
Companions Mint, lavender, sage
Quantity 2 plants should suffice for most families.
Plant early spring and summer.
Lemongrass grows best in full sun. It grows to around waist height – maybe a bit more - depending upon soil type and location. Lemongrass makes a large clump of swaying foliage that is an attractive sight in itself.
Lemongrass needs a fertile free draining soil.
Place lemongrass plants about a stride apart. Prepare soil by digging in plenty of rotted manure and compost.
If planting in a container make sure it is big enough – something about the size of a half barrel or tyre stack should do the trick. Mix a rich planting medium with compost and well-rotted manure.
Water plants in hot, dry periods. Mulch to retain moisture and feed with a mulch of well-rotted manure. Watering is reduced in winter.
Water container grown pants regularly to maintain soil moisture. Feed with liquid worm. juice every few weeks in summer.
Leaves can be trimmed to make teas once plants have reached about knee height. To harvest a stem for cooking cut it out at the base of the plant with a sharp knife. Use outer stems first, as long as they are at least as thick as your finger. Often the outer leaf casing is peeled off the stem to reveal a tender stem underneath. Lemongrass will last for around a week or so standing in water in the fridge. The firm lower part of the stems freezes well for later use.
In cooler parts of the country lemongrass may die back during winter but fresh growth will start in spring. Mulch plants to protect their crowns in very cold spells. In warmer areas foliage may be present all year round. Cut back dense foliage in spring to stimulate fresh new growth The cut foliage makes a good mulch.
To create new plants, in early spring cut sections comprising two or three stems with roots beneath them and trim back tall leaves. Theses ‘divisions’ can be planted to grow as new plants.