When you hear “lemon verbena,” are you immediately whisked away to a tranquil spa-like setting where aromatic fragrances are swirling through the air? Do you find yourself unwittingly suspended in a state of deep relaxation? If so, you have already experienced the delightful scent of lemon verbena. Its perfume alone is reason enough to add this tangy little herb to your garden this year.
And that’s not to mention that it can be used to flavor teas, to infuse into sugar, and to add zing to many other culinary delights. If you are looking to grow just one lemon scented herb, lemon verbena is a superb choice.
Most herbs used in the U.S. are indigenous to Asia, the Middle East or to Europe, but lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) originated in South America. The leaves have a lemon zesty fragrance and flavor that have been used historically in a myriad of medicinal and edible ways. While lemon verbena has many uses, it also makes an attractive ornamental plant. It is a surprisingly large herb that can grow up to fifteen feet tall in U.S. Hardiness Zones 8 to 11. In colder climates it will stay much smaller and can be grown as an annual, or grown in a container and overwintered indoors.
How To Grow and Care for Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena can be started from seed. If you choose to start your seeds indoors, begin your seeds several weeks before the last frost in your area in flats or trays. Use a good garden soil mixed with a handful of peat moss or compost. Place your seeds an inch apart over the surface of the soil and cover very lightly with a thin layer of soil. Moisten the soil well, and wait until your seedlings have at least one set of leaves before transferring them into larger pots or into the garden.
In warm, tropical climates, you will be able to plant lemon verbena seeds directly. Consider planting your seeds in the fall. Or wait until the last danger of frost has passed and the ground is warming. Plant your seeds in rows in a sunny location, and cover lightly with soil. Water thoroughly, and keep your seedlings moist but not wet. Thin away the weaker seedlings to allow the stronger specimens better access to nutrients and water.
Another option for growing lemon verbena is to grow it from a cutting. Place the cutting in a vase of water. When several roots have developed, carefully place the cutting with its new roots directly into soil. Be gentle with those roots.
Lemon verbena plants will be the most flavorful and aromatic when allowed 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. They like to be moist, but never wet. In fact, it is best for you to err on the dry side rather than to allow your lemon verbena to be overly soggy.
Lemon verbena loves to be fed occasionally. Try a fish emulsion early in the season to stimulate growth. Once a month during the growing season, treat your lemon verbena to another round of fish emulsion or compost.
Well before the first freeze nips your garden, bring your lemon verbena plant inside. It is a heat-loving plant that can’t tolerate much more than a chill. Protection from the wind specifically seems to improve the plant’s hardiness.
Your lemon verbena will drop its leaves and go dormant in the fall and winter. This is normal, as it is a deciduous plant, so don’t give up on it. Set your lemon verbena aside to rest for the season. Early in the spring, begin to water it lightly. Place it in a warm and sunny location to wake it from its sleep. Prune your lemon verbena early in the spring after you see green appearing on the plant. The green will indicate which part of the plant is still living and which part is dead and should be pruned.
Pests and Problems
Aside from protecting your plant from chilly temperatures and maintaining a proper moisture balance, your lemon verbena should be easy to maintain. Its lemony scent acts as a natural insect repellent. In spite of that, lemon verbena is prone to infestations of spider mites and white flies, especially if the plant is too dry. Isolate your infected plant away from other plants, and mist it with an insecticidal soap. Rinse it with water, and hopefully your lemon verbena will be as good as new.
For an excellent overview on how to grow lemon verbena, visit:
And for a simple yet delicious lemon verbena recipe, watch this video:
CC flickr photo courtesy of Dick Culbert