How to Grow Lemongrass From Seed

Lemongrass can be propagated by taking cuttings or by division, but why not try starting it from seed? It is easy and rewarding and will boost your seed-starting confidence! Gardening expert Kelli Klein walks you through the steps.

Close-up of a growing lemongrass from seed plant in a sunny garden. Lemongrass is characterized by its tall, slender stalks that grow in clumps. They have a pale green color and are cylindrical with a slightly bulbous base. Lemongrass leaves are long and linear, resembling blades, and grow in a tuft at the top of the stalks.

From tasty Thai curries to pest-deterrent aromatic landscaping, lemongrass has a great diversity of uses in the garden and kitchen. But it can get expensive to buy this herb from the store. Growing lemongrass from seed is the quickest and cheapest way to establish a robust stand of this fragrant grass for years of ornamental and culinary use.

Here is some background info on this unique plant and a step-by-step guide to growing it from seed!

What is Lemongrass?

Close-up of Lemongrass in a sunny garden. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tall, aromatic grass with thin, green stalks. The plant forms dense clumps, and its long, linear leaves are green, with a strong lemon scent and a slightly waxy texture. The leaves are arranged in tufts at the top of the stalks, and they have serrated edges.
Cymbopogon is used for cooking and repelling insects.

Botanically known as Cymbopogon citratus, lemongrass is a plant in the grass family with a lemony citrus-like scent. Citronella grass (C. nardus) is in the same family as culinary lemongrass and is used to produce citronella oil for soaps, candles, and insect- repellent sprays. It has antiseptic and pest-deterrent properties, hence its use in household soaps, as well as mosquito and housefly repellants

Lemongrass oil is also used in beekeeping. The oil mimics a pheromone emitted by honey bees in order to attract them into a swarm or hive. In your home garden, it can perform double duty as both an ornamental grass and an edible plant. 

C. nardus (citronella grass) is most popular for ornamental uses, while C. citratus is best for culinary applications. Fortunately, they are grown in a similar way. This video covers the hands-on processes for tending lemongrass in the garden:

YouTube video

Native Area

Close-up of growing Lemongrass plants. Lemongrass, a perennial herb with a distinctive citrusy aroma, features long, slender, and grass-like leaves that grow in dense clumps. These linear leaves have a pale green color and sharp edges, resembling blades of grass.
East Indian lemongrass and West Indian lemongrass are cultivated for cooking.

Cymbopogon is a genus of lemongrass plants in the grass family that originated in Southeast Asia and Australia. These tropical plants prefer the hot and humid environments in these areas, and as a result, they have become a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine. 

East Indian lemongrass (C. flexuosus) is native to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. West Indian lemongrass (C. citratus) is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. C. citratus is specifically cultivated for its culinary uses and is said to be more suitable for cooking. This is the type we’ll focus on starting from seed.

Characteristics

Close-up of lemongrass plant in the garden. The lemongrass plant is characterized by its tall, slender stalks that grow in dense clumps. Its linear leaves, resembling blades of grass, emerge from the stalks and can measure up to 1 meter in length. These leaves are narrow, smooth, and have a vibrant green color, with sharp edges that taper to a point.
This aromatic grass grows in dense clumps with upright, blade-like foliage emitting a lemon scent when bruised.

Lemongrass grows in dense clumps with upright, stiff stems that are sometimes blade-like. The leaves are blue-green in the summer and turn an auburn red in the fall. The leaves emit a lemon scent when bruised or damaged.

This grass spreads via underground rhizomes. The stems are thick and woody at the base and thin and sharp at the tip. While you can purchase pre-established lemongrass transplants, growing from seed has the most benefits.

Reasons to Start From Seed

  • Cost-Effective: You will always get more bang for your buck when buying a packet of seeds. One packet yields many plants for the same cost as buying a single plant from the nursery.
  • Larger Plantings: Seeds make it easier to establish a large patch of lemongrass clumps.
  • Learning Experience: Starting seeds is a great learning experience for kids and adult gardeners alike. You get to sprinkle the tiny delicate seeds onto the soil and, with the proper care, you’ll nurture tiny seedlings into maturity.
  • Faster Harvests: Get a head start by starting seeds indoors in early spring and then transplanting outside when the weather warms.

How to Start From Seed

Close-up of Lemongrass seed pods on a blurred background of a sunny garden. Lemongrass seed pods are small, slender, and cylindrical structures that develop at the end of the plant's stalks following flowering. These pods are brown-green. Each seed pod contains numerous tiny seeds.
Propagate lemongrass via cuttings, division, or seeds using common tools.

As mentioned above, there are a few different methods used to to propagate lemongrass. It can be grown from cuttings or divisions, but these methods only work if you or a friend already have an established plant.

Growing from seed is rare and difficult, but it’s the cheapest way to grow plants from scratch. You’ll need to have a few tools and materials, but you likely have many of them already. 

Tools

  • Trowel or small shovel for scooping seed-starting soil into seed trays
  • Germination Heat Mat (optional, but can help speed germination)
  • Grow light (also optional, but can be helpful if you don’t have a sunny windowsill for your seedlings)
  • Watering can or spray bottle for keeping seedlings evenly moist

Materials

  • Seed starting mix (either purchased or mix your own)
  • Seeds purchased from a reputable supplier
  • Seed trays and containers

Seeding Indoors

Tray of seed pots germinating under a humidity dome. These eed pots are black, plastic, and filled with moist soil and sprouted lemongrass, chamomile and veronica seeds. Each pot contains a white or yellow sticker with the signature of the seeds.
Start lemongrass seeds indoors three weeks before the last frost.

When starting seeds indoors, it’s important to get the timing right. You want to start seeds about three weeks before your average last frost date. This will give you time to germinate seeds and grow them to a transplantable size just as the weather warms up enough to bring them outside. 

Temperature and Moisture

These tropical plants need a warm and moist environment to germinate. Create the ideal conditions with a heat mat or humidity dome. Lemongrass seeds require a minimum temperature of 68°-70° Fahrenheit (20°-21° Celsius) to germinate. While waiting for the seeds to germinate, it is also important to keep your seed starting medium evenly moist but not waterlogged.

Seed Depth

Another important note is that lemongrass seeds need light to germinate. The best way to sow these tiny seeds is to sprinkle them on top of the soil and just barely cover them with a dusting of vermiculite. The vermiculite will hold the seeds in place but also allow light to pass through. At this stage, it is best to use a spray bottle to gently mist the seeds to keep them moist. If you use a watering can, you risk washing the seeds away.

Thinning 

Since the seeds are so tiny, it will be next to impossible to sow one seed per seed starting pot. And the germination rate of lemongrass is low at around 50%. It’s best to sprinkle several seeds into each pot, then thin them out once they emerge. The seeds should germinate within 10-14 days. When they have an inch or so of growth, thin to just a few plants per cell or pot.

Light

Once seedlings emerge, ensure that they are located in an area that receives enough direct light. You can use a sunny windowsill or grow lights. Keep an eye on your seedlings. If they begin to stretch out in one direction or become tall and leggy, this is a sign that they are either too far from the grow lights or the windowsill is not receiving enough direct sunlight. 

Direct Sowing

Close-up of Lemongrass seedlings in wet soil. Lemongrass seedlings emerge as small, delicate shoots with slender, cylindrical stems and fine, grass-like leaves. The leaves of lemongrass seedlings are pale green and have a slightly glossy appearance.
Direct sow lemongrass seeds after the soil reaches 68°F (20°C).

While sowing indoors produces the best results, you can attempt to direct sow. When direct sowing these seeds, you’ll need to wait until your soil has warmed to at least 68° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius). This can be determined with a soil thermometer at least 4-6 inches deep in the planting bed. Keep in mind that certain areas will warm faster in the early spring if they receive more sun. In colder climates, direct sowing isn’t usually possible until two to three weeks after your last frost date. 

Other than the difference in timing and soil temperature monitoring, you can follow the same guidelines for indoor seed starting. This includes sprinkling the seeds lightly on the soil surface so they receive light to germinate, keeping them evenly moist, and ensuring at least six to eight hours per day of direct sunlight.

Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to at least six inches apart. Once mature, your lemongrass will begin to replicate via underground rhizomes and spread to fill in the area. 

Planting

Close-up of a gardener planting lemongrass in a garden in clay soil. Lemongrass is a perennial herb with long, slender, and aromatic stalks that grow in dense clumps. Its linear leaves, resembling blades of grass, emerge from the stalks. Gardener's hands in blue rubber gloves.
Plant lemongrass in full sun and water weekly.

When choosing a planting site for your seedlings, consider what the mature plants will require to thrive. Like many other grasses, this plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil.

Lemongrass can even handle sandy soils. It requires moderate moisture and needs weekly irrigation in hot climates. This tropical grass is not drought-tolerant, so don’t let it dry out completely

Hardening Off

Close-up of Lemon grass seedlings growing in mosses pellets on a blurred green background. These seedlings consist of beige-pinkish cylindrical shoots.
Transplant seedlings after hardening off outdoors for about a week.

Once the seedlings are three inches tall, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors. But don’t let your excitement to plant in the garden get ahead of you! Your lemongrass seedlings will fare best when put through a period of hardening off.

Hardening off seedlings involves slow and incremental exposure to outdoor temperatures for about a week before planting them into the ground. This adjustment phase prepares the seedlings for the outdoor elements after spending their early days in a temperature-controlled indoor environment.

On the first day of hardening off, place your seedlings outside in dappled sunlight for an hour and then bring them back inside. Increase this time by an hour every day, slowly moving them into more direct sunlight. On the final day, your plants should spend at least eight hours outdoors in direct sunlight.

This process can take one to two weeks. Do not begin the hardening-off process until your last frost date has passed and overnight low temperatures are at least 60° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius). 

Transplanting

Close-up of lemongrass growing in black pots. Lemongrass is a perennial herb with long, slender, and aromatic stalks that grow in dense clumps with linear leaves, resembling blades of grass. At the base of the plant, the leaves and stems are pinkish-beige and dry.
Transplant into pots for cooler climates or directly outdoors for warmer climates.

Once the hardening-off process is complete, it is time to transplant. Keep in mind that it is possible to grow lemongrass in cooler climates, provided that you grow it in a pot or container that can be brought indoors during the winter.

If you are in a cooler climate, then transplant seedlings into larger pots. In warm climates of USDA growing zones 8b-11, the plant can be grown outdoors year-round and you can plant it directly into the ground. 

When transplanting, take care to dig a hole the same depth as the seedling cell and at least two times the width. Gently lift your seedling from the container and transplant it into the planting hole. Avoid disturbing the roots.

Backfill with any remaining soil and give your seedling a good drink. Keep it well watered for the first week, or until new growth appears, which indicates that your plant is established. 

Harvesting

Close-up of a gardener's hands with harvested lemongrass stalks against the background of a blurred field with growing lemongrass plants. Lemongrass stalks are characterized by their tall, slender, and fibrous structure. These stalks have a smooth surface with a pale green to pale yellowish hue.
Harvest by cutting at the base for regrowth.

Like most grasses, lemongrass will regrow after cutting. So once your plant is mature, don’t be afraid to harvest from it! This will encourage new growth and maintain a bushier habit as well.

To harvest, take pruning shears to the base of the plant and cut at the woody base of the stem. The bottom half is the portion with the most flavor. The top half of the step can be discarded or composted.  

Uses

Close-up of a plate with fresh lemongrass stalks on a gray marble table. Lemongrass stalks are characterized by their long, slender, and cylindrical shape. These stalks have a smooth texture, are usually green, and have a slight pinkish or purplish hue near the base. The outer layers are tough and fibrous, while the inner core is softer and holds the plant's strong fragrance lemon.
The “hearts” add flavor to savory dishes or teas.

To use your lemongrass, remove the tough outer layers of the stem and utilize the inner heart. It can be simply bruised and tossed into a stock, soup, or curry to impart its flavor. Remove just before eating.

Alternatively, it can be finely minced and sauteed alongside other aromatics like garlic and ginger. It can also be minced and dried to use as tea at a later date.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do lemongrass plants come back every year?

Lemongrass is a tender perennial that will come back every year when grown in warm parts of USDA growing zones 8b through 11. If it is exposed to hard frosts, the plant may die and need to be replanted.

Is lemongrass an herb or a spice?

Lemongrass is a grass-family herb that is used to impart flavor to dishes like soups, stews, stocks/broths, curries, etc.

Do lemongrass plants spread?

Lemongrass plants spread quickly via underground rhizomes and can reach a mature size of six feet tall and two feet wide.

Can you eat lemongrass raw?

Yes, you can eat it raw, but you will want to discard the outer woody parts of the stem and dice it very finely. It is best used when cooked into dishes or steeped in hot water for a flavorful tea.

Final Thoughts

Lemongrass is fun and challenging to grow from seed. But it’s a fun project for those who want to get to know their lemongrass plants better. This beautiful ornamental is fragrant, edible, and easy to care for once established. It is prized for its distinctive flavor in culinary dishes throughout Southeast Asia.

The inner heart of the leaves also add a unique flavor to homemade tea blends with a light lemon citrus burst. This plant is worth growing from seed to save money and add low-maintenance beauty to your garden.

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