Lemongrass, Citronella Grass ~ Cymbopogon Plant Care Guide
Cymbopogon (lemongrass) is a genus of about 55 species of grasses, (of which the type species is Cymbopogon citratus [a natural and soft tea Anxiolytic]) native to warm temperate and tropical regions of the Old World and Oceania. It is a tall perennial grass. Common names include lemon grass, lemongrass, barbed wire grass, silky heads, citronella grass,cha de Dartigalongue, fever grass, tanglad, hierba Luisa or gavati chaha amongst many others.
Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus) grows to about 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) and has red base stems. These species are used for the production of citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent (especially mosquitos) in insect sprays and candles, and also in aromatherapy, which is famous in Bintan Island, Indonesia. Therefore it’s assumed that its origin is from Indonesia. The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps. Besides oil production, citronella grass is also used for culinary purposes, in tea and as a flavoring.
Citronella is usually planted in home gardens in order to ward off insects such as whitefly. Its cultivation enables growing some vegetables (e.g. tomatos and broccoli), without applying pesticides. Intercropping should include physical barriers, for citronella roots can take over the field.
Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) is a tall grass that originated in Southeast Asia and grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12. The plant is often used as an ornamental and is the source of citronella oil, which is used in some types of insect repellents.
Like most grasses, citronella prefers a moist loamy soil that drains well without drying out completely. This type of soil ensures a steady stream of nutrition gets to the plant and that the roots of the grass do not dry out or become disentangled from the ground.
The citronella can tolerate full sunlight if necessary but prefers a slightly shaded area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Place citronella near a patio wall or in a location where trees will give it natural shade for part of the day. Move it to a more shaded location if the grass looks scorched or withered.
Like many species of grass, the citronella plant requires a great deal of water. Especially if exposed to direct sunlight for most of the day, water the citronella plant as often as once per day. Overall, a healthy citronella grass plant will consume up to 30 inches of water per year.
Other Environmental Needs
While citronella is a resilient and adaptable plant, it does not handle long periods of cold very well. If keeping the citronella plant in a pot, move it inside if temperatures are expected to fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Citronella grass is not technically considered invasive because of its clumping growing habit and because it reproduces from seed and through division, rather than through grass runners that shoot out from the main plant. Still, citronella grass is an aggressive grower and can crowd out other plants if left to grow wild in the landscape. Instead, plant the citronella in a grass container, a planter or within an enclosed area with a heavy mulch barrier.
- Floridata: Cymbopogon Nardus
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Cymbopogon Nardus (L.) Rendle
- Mountain Valley Growers: Cymbopogon Nardus Citronella Grass
- Lemongrass plant
- General-purpose garden fertilizer
- Lemongrass is appropriate for growing in containers with a minimum diameter of 12 inches. Use a general-purpose potting soil. Place the lemongrass in bright sunlight, keep the soil consistently moist and fertilize the plant weekly.
- If you have an existing lemongrass plant, or if you have a friend who is willing to share a plant, you can start a plant by dividing a small section from an existing plant. Be sure the section has a clump of healthy roots.
- Dig up a small section of lemongrass in early autumn if you live in a climate with frosty winters. Plant the section in a pot and bring it indoors in a warm, sunny location for the winter. Replant the lemongrass outdoors when danger of frost passes in spring.
- Utah State University: Lemongrass in the Garden
- Ecomii: Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon Citratus)
- Sloat Garden Center: Herbs: Growing, Harvesting and Storing
- Texas AgriLife Extension: Lemongrass
About the Author
Sean Russell has been writing since 1999 and has contributed to several magazines, including “Spin” and “Art Nouveau.” When not writing, Sean helps maintain community gardens in Silver Lake and Echo Park, California. Russell also worked extensively on the restoration and rejuvenation of public parks in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi after damage from 2004-2005 hurricanes.
An attractive, lemon-scented ornamental grass, lemongrass thrives in sunlight and warm, moist conditions where it adds a distinctive, decorative element to the home landscape. A native of tropical climates, lemongrass is a tender perennial that lives for years in mild climates. In climates with frosty winters, lemongrass is treated as an annual. Allow plenty of sunny garden space for this low-maintenance plant because the plant grows rapidly during the summer growing season.
Purchase a lemongrass starter plant at a nursery or garden center.
Spread 2 to 4 inches of compost on top of the soil. Dig the compost at least 4 to 6 inches into the soil.
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the rootball of the lemongrass plant. Allow 3 feet between plants, as a mature lemongrass is a large plant growing to widths of 2 to 3 feet and heights of up to 6 feet.
Place the lemongrass plant in the hole. Ensure that the top of the rootball is even with the surface of the soil, as planting too deep may cause the plant to suffocate and die.
Pat soil firmly around the roots of the lemongrass.
Water the lemongrass immediately after planting. Thereafter, water regularly to keep the soil evenly and consistently moist. Lemongrass requires soil that is damp but not soggy.
Fertilize lemongrass weekly with a general-purpose garden fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer according to the specifications on the package label.
Things You Will Need
About the Author
M.H. Dyer is a longtime writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the “East-Oregonian Newspaper” and “See Jane Run” magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life.” She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.
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