Cymbopogon citratus
Common Name: lemon grass
Type: Ornamental grass
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: Southern India, Sri Lanka
Zone: 10 to 11
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: Rarely flowers
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual, Herb, Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Fragrant, Evergreen
Tolerate: Black Walnut, Air Pollution

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-11 where it is evergreen (roots may be hardy to Zone 8b). In St. Louis, it is grown as an annual in gardens or in containers. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade, but prefers full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils, but is best in organically rich loams with good drainage. Seed is difficult to obtain. Nurseries and seed companies generally sell starts in small pots. Fresh stalks of lemongrass (leaves and roots absent) can also be purchased from grocery stores specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine for rooting in a glass of water. Plant outside in spring after last frost date. In fall just before first frost, stalks can be harvested (cut off top leaves and save 6-" sections of the bulbous shoot bases) and frozen for culinary use during the winter. Several leaf sections with attached roots can also be divided and potted with top leaves removed for overwintering in a bright window. These saved sections can be then used as starts for the following year. Smaller container plants can be overwintered indoors in bright light locations.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Cymbopogon citratus, commonly called lemongrass, is a frost-tender clumping perennial grass that is popularly used as a lemony flavoring in Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian cooking and is widely cultivated in Southeast Asia for that purpose. It is also an outstanding ornamental grass that lends great beauty to garden areas regardless of whether its culinary uses are to be tapped. In the St. Louis area, it typically forms a dense rounded clump of foliage to 2-3’ (less frequently to 4’) tall and as wide in one growing season. Gracefully-arching, strap-shaped linear leaves (to 3’ long and to 1” wide) are light green. Leaves emit a lemony fragrance when bruised. It rarely produces flowers. Extracted plant oils have been used for many years in herbal medicines and perfumes.

Genus name comes from the Greek words kymbe meaning a boat and pogon meaning a beard.

Specific epithet means resembling Citrus for the scent.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Spider mites can be a serious pest on indoor plants.

Garden Uses

Rapid-growing ornamental grass for herb gardens, borders, along walkways or for tubs/containers. Harvest bulbous lower leaf sections for cooking. Though tough and inedible (unless finely minced or mashed in a mortar and pestle or food grinder), sections of the mature leaf blades may be used fresh or dried for flavoring teas, soups or stews.