Also known as lemongrass, lemongrass is a perennial, evergreen, herbaceous plant native to Southeast Asia that grows wild in the Mediterranean basin.
It belongs to the genus Cymbopogon and to the family of the Poaceae and includes about fifty species of caespitose and rhizomatous grasses. But those with the greatest repellent power, used to produce the well-known citronella essence are the Cymbopogon Nardus, the Cymbopogon Citratus and the Cymbopogon Winterianus.
Lemongrass is in fact a plant known mainly because it is a powerful natural anti-mosquito. It has, in fact, a citrus scent similar to that of lemon, which, very pleasant for humans, is, however, particularly unwelcome to insects.
Besides being an aromatic plant, it is also cultivated in the garden or in pots for ornamental purposes in our peninsula, excluding the northern regions with a cold climate.
Citronella Plant: Characteristics
The citronella plant is formed by a robust root system fasciculated and rhizomatous, well anchored to the ground.
From this depart numerous erect stems, with a bushy habit, similar to bamboo canes, which reach the meter of height if cultivated in the ground and 70-80 cm if the plant grows in pots.
The leaves are similar to long ribbons, of an intense green color, with an appearance falling in the apical part and with sharp margins.
Lemongrass: Properties and Uses
The citronella plant is the natural anti-mosquito remedy par excellence.
From this plant is extracted the essential oil of lemongrass, used for scented candles, but also in the cosmetics industry for creams, perfumes and lotions.
In addition to insects, the scent of lemongrass also disturbs cats and a cotton ball soaked in lemongrass oil, put in strategic points of the house, can avoid the unpleasant smell of spraying the animal.
Moreover, dried and conserved in the drawers, it keeps away the moths.
Lemongrass is also used in numerous practices and treatments inspired by techniques of oriental medicine. It has, in fact, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and expectorant properties.
In addition, recent medical studies have found that the citral, a molecule found in lemongrass, induces the programmed death of cancer cells.
But its most appreciated use is certainly in the kitchen, in the preparation of Asian dishes or to flavor those of our tradition.
Its root is used to flavor meats, fish, soups, sauces and vegetables, while the leaves are excellent for preparing tea or digestive infusions.
How To Start Growing A Lemongrass Plant
You can start the cultivation of your plant either through lemongrass seeds or by division of heads.
If you want to buy a citronella plant already grown in a nursery, you should immediately transplant it into a pot of suitable size with a rich and well-drained soil.
Propagation by Seeding
- Get lemongrass seeds from a nursery or gardening retailer.
- Sow between March and July, when temperatures are warmer.
- Place the seeds in seedbeds or jars filled with a mixture of peat, earth and sand.
- Check that the soil is always moist, but never soaked with water or risk rotting the seeds.
- When the plants have reached the height of 10 cm, they can be planted in the garden or in pots.
- Select the 5-6 seedlings which seem to you to be more robust and transplant them in the garden, or all, in a single capacious pot, digging quite deep holes.
Propagation By Division Of The Heads
- It carries out this operation in autumn, when the citronella plant enters into vegetative rest.
- Gently extract the plant from the ground and separate the heads with the healthiest and most vigorous roots from the mother plant.
- Plant each head in a pot at least 30 cm in diameter, with a mixture of peat and sand, until new leaves appear.
- Alternatively, you can also put the lemongrass heads in water to promote root growth.
- Keep the container in a place where the temperature is never below 10°.
- When the plants are well rooted, they can be transplanted to their final destination.
Cultivation Of The Lemongrass Plant
Cultivating a citronella plant is very easy.
The only thing you can do is to grow it in pots in regions with a harsher climate, so that you can repair it indoors when there is a risk of frost.
Planting Of The Lemongrass Plant In The Ground
- Plant the lemongrass plant in the spring, when there is no risk of night frost.
- Plant it in a well-worked hole twice as deep as the block of soil that surrounds the roots.
- Distribute a layer of sand or gravel on the bottom of the hole to help drain the water.
- Keep the plants at least one meter apart if you grow more than one.
- After planting, compact the soil well around the collar of the lemongrass plant.
Planting the lemongrass plant in a pot
- It uses a medium-sized container, which can be moved to the shelter in winter.
- Prepare on the bottom of the gravel pot and fill with fresh and fertile soil.
- Place the plant in the pot and add soil, leaving some of the bulb uncovered.
When the roots come out of the holes for water drainage, it is time to transfer the lemongrass plant into a larger container, keeping the same soil.
The citronella plant prefers a fertile soil, rich in organic matter, but above all well drained and with a slightly basic PH.
Being native to tropical countries, the citronella plant loves sunny places, sheltered from the wind and does not tolerate prolonged periods of frost.
The lemongrass plant loves moist soils. It should be watered regularly from March to October and more frequently in particularly dry periods, always avoiding waterlogging.
Lemongrass: Parasites and Diseases
The citronella plant is hardly attacked by parasites, thanks to its perfume, which has insect-repellent properties.
But, if the cultivation conditions are not suitable and the humidity is excessive, fungal diseases such as rust or powdery mildew, which form a white patina on the leaves, can appear. In this case, it is sufficient to move the plant to a more ventilated place to prevent the development of the disease and create optimal growth conditions.
In addition, attention must be paid to the amount of water in the watering, to avoid root rot.