How to grow lemongrass from a store-bought stalk.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates) is fast becoming a fashionable herb best known for putting the lemony zip in Southeast Asian cuisine. Slices of fresh stalks are added to soups, salads and seafood dishes. Dried leaves and bits are also widely used medicinally or as a tea.
But lemongrass is still the new kid in town and hasn’t made it into my local garden shops up here in the great white north. Thankfully, despite its exotic reputation, lemongrass is easy to grow and can be started from stalks purchased cheaply in the produce section of most large supermarkets or Asian food stores. I bought a bunch of mature stalks for about a buck and had a pot growing on my windowsill in a few weeks.

Grow Your Own

Choose the freshest, plumpest looking stalks at the store. It will take a divine miracle to revive stems that have become dry and desiccated so pick the choicest stuff possible. Your best bet are stalks that have a bulbous base with traces of root buds visible under the surface. If you find lemongrass with actual, viable roots still intact then you’re really rockin’.

At home, trim a few inches off the top of the plant and peel away any dead outer leaves right off from the base. Plop the stalks into a jar of shallow, room temperature water and set the whole kit and caboodle near a sunny window for a few weeks. Make sure to do this as soon as you get home from the store. Lemongrass dries out quick so the faster you can get it revived the better. And of course once your jar is in the window check on it intermittently to be sure it doesn’t run out of water-otherwise you’ll have to start all over again.

After a week or two has passed you should start to see small roots emerging from the bottom end of the stalk. When the roots have grown an inch or two in length it’s time to transfer everything into soil. Fill a pot (with drainage holes in the bottom) with rich, all-purpose container soil and bury the rooted stalks with the base (also called the ‘crown’) just below the surface.

Place your pot in a warm and sunny spot on your deck or window ledge. Water regularly, keeping the soil moist like a damp sponge, but not soggy. Lemongrass will thrive outdoors during the summer months or year-round in southern climates (at least zone 9). Southerners can super-size their plant by growing their plant in the moist soil around a backyard bog or pond. In climates that experience freezing conditions, plants must be brought indoors for the winter– which is cool because a pot in the kitchen means easy access to fresh clippings.

How to Use

For a lemony herbal tea, steep fresh clippings of the grassy parts in hot water. Fresh leaves also add a lemony tang to ice cream or salad dressing. Tender, chopped stalks are great in spring rolls, desert cakes and soup or when used to flavor oil or fish dishes. To harvest the stalks, gently yank a stem or two from the pot, roots and all. The remaining stalks will continue to reproduce throughout the growing months. My cat goes wacky for lemongrass so keep yours out of kitty’s reach or grow a pot just for her.

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