Freshly harvested lemongrass from the backyard
Flowers & Herbs, Garden of Eatin', How-To

Two-Year Lemongrass Update (and How to Tame That Wild Thing)

Actually, make that two and a half years… Back in September 2010, I rooted a bunch of lemongrass stalks (purchased from the produce aisle) and planted them in the ground. They were given ample sun, weekly watering in the summer, no (or hardly any) watering in the winter, and quickly grew into something that kinda resembled Cousin It.

That original bundle of three little stalks looks like this now.

Overgrown lemongrass clump

And embarrassingly, this is what it looks like most of the year as I’m a pretty lazy pruner. The plant has multiplied into a clump of at least 50 stalks, with the whole thing spanning 4 feet wide by 3 feet high.

I’ve never trimmed it and never divided it, but since the herb doesn’t really get going again until summer, I finally decided to give it a much-needed haircut last week.

In colder climates, lemongrass goes dormant in the winter. The leaves will turn brown and you’ll think the plant has died off. Milder climates (like my zone 10b region) still see a green plant in winter, but the leaves will look a bit bedraggled.

The best time to prune your lemongrass is while it’s dormant, but not until temperatures start to warm up in the spring. Cold-climate gardeners can simply cut back the entire plant to just a couple inches above the tender white part of the stalk, trimming off all the brown leaves.

Gardeners with green plants just need to maintain the shape of the shrub. Light pruning of the leaf tips can be done throughout the year, but a heavy pruning should be done in the spring to give your lemongrass a chance to grow back.

To begin, rake out all the dead leaves under the plant. (If this is your first time pruning, you might be surprised by how much organic matter accumulates under there!) Then put on some gloves (those leaf edges are paper-cut sharp!) and pull out any brown outer stalks as well as brown or rusted leaves. You may have to reach in between the clump to get all the leaves out (but leave the inner stalks intact, as those are the newer ones). I give a light tug and anything dead comes out easily.

Dead lemongrass leaves

Once you’ve removed all the brown bits, use hedge shears to cut back the leaves. I just do a straight cut across and trim a section of leaves at a time.

Homegrown lemongrass

Pruning lemongrass

Trim as much as you want, as lemongrass can take a pretty good pruning. I like to trim my plant into a Tina Turner-esque mound of grass, keeping it funky and clean.

Growing lemongrass

Once you’ve got the shape you want, you can finesse the cut and go all Edwards Scissorhands on it, trimming random brown tips here and there until your OCD wears off.

When finished, you should have a shapely green clump with healthy white stalks.

Healthy lemongrass clump

Healthy lemongrass stalks

The arrival of summer will spur your lemongrass to grow vigorously again, and bright green leaves will fill out the plant more.

Newly pruned lemongrass mound

If you don’t use your lemongrass that often, try to tame the clump by removing wilted outer stalks once a month. Or, you can dig up healthy stalks with the roots intact and replant them elsewhere in your garden. If you’re doing some major dividing on the clump, you can even repot a few stalks to give as gifts!

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  • Sig

    That is the best ever description on how to prune something. I hope you have these guides for kiwi fruit, passion fruit and many other plants!! Thanks heaps!!

    • Thank you, I’m happy you found it useful!

  • ted939

    Great how-to on the lemongrass (or “fever grass” as the local islander told me off the coast of Nicaragua as I was sweating and shivering for a couple days there with dengue fever. “Have da lady ova deh make you some tea wit dis.”, he said, as he cut it from the jungle and wrapped it up nicely for me.)

    MY lemongrass plant in the backyard was a 2’+ diameter, 2′ tall dense beauty a few months ago, and then I didn’t water it for a long time, and about 90% of it died off brown and crunchy, and I’ve been wondering what to do with it – so thanks for your article!

    I can add this – I took some of that dried crumbly dead leafage and made tea with it – it was great! I guess it’s like dried herbs, but they just dried on the stalk naturally.

    Now if I could just find someone to put my 3’x3’x2′ lemon geranium beast to harvest and use (I don’t have the time to figure out what to do with it, but it is thriving!)

    Thanks again!

    • Lemongrass is wonderful and its medicinal benefits are a bonus. It’s one of the most-used herbs in my garden!

    • Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent

      Holy cow, I also got the dengue in Nicaragua! It was the summer of 2005… I was playing baseball in their professional league. Random! I’m growing lemongrass here on Delmarva. No idea it’s helpful with fevers!

  • Fanniefarmer

    The nicest thing I’ve found to do with lemongrass is use its essential oil as a scent for cold process soap. One of my friends says she takes two showers a day to enjoy the soothing calming happy scent. She swears it cures anxiety and the blues.

  • meadow

    I live west of roswell,nm–the icy cold winds we had these past couple of months I think finally browned up 3 young lemon grass plants to the point I think they might be dead :(( I left them out in their square planters in a partial covered porch(I was careful about watering them during the days it got over 65 and of course I mulched them to give them warmth. My husband trimmed them the other day and I noticed out of all 3 clumps, maybe 10 leaves if that are trying to turn green. It’s still February and we’ve had above 70 deg temps–will they come back and any advise what to do with them at this point will be greatly appreciated. I wish there was a way to upload pics of them here 🙁

  • lawliett

    Can the lemongrass be grown in just a big pot of water? We live in high rise apartments with limited space and no garden. We use 3-4 stalks a week for cooking and i thot we should grow them instead.

    • No, you’ll have to move the lemongrass to a container once you’ve rooted the stalks. They grow to fit the space you give them, so they’ll be fine in a 1-gallon pot but if you’re using 3-4 stalks a week, you’ll want to put them in a 3-gallon pot or bigger. Keep in mind they also grow quite large and bushy, and require ample sun.

  • Corinne

    This is my first year I am growing lemongrass from seed. How do I know when to harvest this herb. Also I live in Chicago, is there an way I can keep some for the winter months, I just love it in soup.

    • I have never grown lemongrass from seed so I don’t know how long it takes for harvest. But I’d assume you can start harvesting when the stalks look like the ones you’d find in a store. I pull mine when they’re about the size of my thumb.

      If you want lemongrass to survive the winter, you should start some in a pot indoors. You can also freeze the stems and dry the leaves.

  • Misti

    Nice! I bought a clump for our flower garden as an ornamental with intentions to use it for cooking. Glad to know it’ll get nice and bushy! Do you dry any of the green cuttings or is it best used fresh?

    • You can dry the leaves to make herbal teas (and I imagine they’d be nice for infusing broths), but I have so much lemongrass that I always just use it fresh.

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