Name: native lemon grass (Cymbopogon ambiguus).
Plant type: clumping grass.
Climate: warm temperate, sub-tropical, tropical.
Soil: well-drained, adaptable to most soil types.
Position: full sun to part shade.
Foliage: grassy tuft of blue-green leaves, with older leaves becoming dry, purple-brown and wavy.
Flowering and fruiting: tall flowering spike with small flowers that develop fluffy, silver-brown seed heads.
Feeding: feed after flowering with a native-specific fertiliser.
Watering: water regularly when young. Once established, fairly drought-tolerant, but will benefit from a deep watering in hot, dry weather.
Native lemon grass is an ornamental tussock grass with narrow, blue-green leaves that can grow up to 2m tall, but is generally smaller in a garden setting. Its leaves are wonderfully lemon-scented and are said to taste like lemon sherbet or lemon with a hint of ginger. The scent is released when the plant is brushed against, crushed or pruned. As older leaves age and die, they dry and become wavy, resembling loosely curled ribbons. They continue to persist on the clump, giving the grassy tuft character and interest.
Clumps generally flower in the first year, producing long flowering stems up to 1m tall. Small clusters of flowers appear at the ends of the stems, followed by fluffy, silver-brown seed heads.
Plants are highly drought-resistant once established.
This tufted perennial makes an attractive ground cover and is ideal for planting in rockeries or mass planting in low-water gardens. Harvest the leaves for use in savoury dishes and sauces, teas, desserts or any dish that requires the use of lemon. It’s widely used for medicinal purposes, too – the leaves and roots are steeped in hot water for a steam inhalation to relieve colds, while the leaves and stems are brewed into a tea to aid with headaches and inflammation.
Choose a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. Enrich the soil with compost and well-rotted manure and dig in well. If growing in a pot, use a premium quality potting mix. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, tickle the mix to loosen the roots, and place in the centre of the planting hole. Backfill, firm the soil and water in well.
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant to help conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Native lemon grass is fairly low-maintenance once established. If the clump starts to look messy, cut back the foliage to encourage new growth.
Harvest the leaves as needed. Pull from the base or snip the foliage where the stems begin to branch into leaves.
Water regularly at first. It is drought-tolerant once established but will benefit from a weekly deep watering in hot, dry conditions.
Feed in spring and autumn with a slow-release native fertiliser.
Harvest regularly throughout the year to encourage new growth. If it’s mostly being used as an ornamental plant, prune every couple of years in late winter to promote new growth in spring.
Native lemon grass is not troubled by pests and diseases.
Grow native lemon grass from seeds or division. Sow seeds in punnets and position in a warm, protected spot. Mist regularly to keep the soil moist. Germination may take a couple of weeks. For a faster way to grow, divide established clumps in spring. Use a fork to gently lift the clump, then divide it into smaller sections. Plant in pots or in other areas of the garden.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Lemon myrtle: an attractive tree with strongly lemon-scented foliage.
Ruby saltbush: a low-growing, fleshy-leafed shrub with sweet and salty flavoured berries.
River mint: a fast-growing herb that can be used in place of common mint.
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Photo credit: tuckerbush.com.au