Introduction to Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Lemongrass plant is a perennial herb widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. In India, it is grown in Punjab, Kerala, Assam, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. It is a fragrant herb that is used in teas, beverages, herbal medicines. Lemongrass plants rarely flower or set seed, propagation is by root or plant division. The plants are harvested mechanically or manually about 4 times each year with a productive life span between 4 and 8 years. The leaves can grow up to a height of 2 meters. It is a wonderful herb used to add a citrus flavor to many dishes.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Organic Lemongrass Cultivation, Farming Practices
Lemongrass is a tropical perennial herb that yields aromatic oil. Aromatic or essential oils are concentrated secondary metabolites of diverse functions in the plant system. They constitute hundreds of organic compounds like terpenoids, benzenoids, organic Sulphur, and nitrogenous compounds, which work at different levels. Organic Lemongrass cultivation is commercially done for its aromatic oil. Normally, the oil contains citral which has an odor like lemon, that’s why the grass is also known as Lemongrass. It is cultivated in a variety of soil, different climate, and high foliage yield in a short period.
Lemongrass Cultivated Areas in India
Lemongrass crop is a tropical grass type originally from India. Lemongrass plant will do better with full sun and rich, moist, loamy soil. Select a location that has full sun and rich, moist, and loamy soil. You can plant Lemongrass in sandy soil, but this will require more consistent watering and use plenty of mulch.
Lemongrass plant is easy to germinate, but as it is native to tropical regions may require slightly warmer soil than many other herbs. Starting indoors is recommended for optimum seed germination rates. It is widely distributed worldwide and especially in tropical and subtropical countries.
In India, it is cultivated in about 4000 hectares and the annual production is around 250 tonnes. The well-ramified root system of the Lemongrass plant helps in soil and water conservation. Lemongrass is widely cultivated in the tropical areas of America and Asia. Lemongrass cultivated states in India are Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal in the northern region and Assam in the northeastern region. At present, East Indian Lemongrass is cultivated in the western part of India. India is the largest producer of Lemongrass crop and about 80% of the produce is being exported.
Plant Lemongrass in the spring season, once all chances of frost have passed. Lemongrass is a perfect plant for growing in-ground, as you would with ornamental grasses, or in containers. In its native habitat, it grows in full sun, even in hot climates. At least 6 hours of direct sun per day will meet the plants’ energy needs. Lemongrass plants growing in shade will be sparse and may attract pests. Provide Lemongrass with consistent moisture and water when the top inch soil becomes dry.
Common Types of Lemongrass
There are mainly two types of Lemongrass which are native to the Indian and Southern Asian regions;
West Indian Lemongrass – It is commonly used for cooking purposes, in teas (leaves) and perfumes. It grows easily in any warm climate and gets up to about 90cm.
East Indian Lemongrass – It grows taller up to 1.5 meters. It has purple tinges to the stems and prominent pinkish or purplish seed heads. It can be used in cooking and teas. It is considered to have higher essential oil content than Western types of Lemongrass, but newer hybrid and crosses have blurred that distinction in recent years.
Soil Preparation for Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Lemongrass crop thrives in full sun, even in hot Southern locations. Give this herb-rich, well-drained soil. To improve soil fertility and enhance the soil’s ability to hold water, improve the soil by mixing in composted manure or aged compost-enriched. If you’re adding several Lemongrass plants, space plants about 24 inches apart.
The Lemongrass plant grows on a wide range of soils. The best crop yields will be obtained from well-drained sandy to loam soils, with a pH value ranging from 4.3 to 8.4, and with access to water throughout the year; it can give 3 to 4 harvests. Crop yield and oil content are influenced by soil conditions. Poor soils will give low crop yields and a short economic lifespan. Fertile soils will give higher crop yield but lower oil percentage and citral content. Waterlogged conditions must be avoided as they are unsuitable for its cultivation.
Lemongrass requires a warm humid climate and rainfall ranging from 1800 to 3000 mm. High-temperature levels and sunshine are conducive to the development of oil in the plant. Lemongrass gives the best result when grown under loamy-sand soils with high organic content and it can even tolerate poor soil. You should avoid Lemongrass cultivation in the soil which have a poor drainage system or have long water holding capacity. Soil pH level 5.0-5.8 ranges best for the growth of the crop.
Sowing Depth and Method in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
- Sowing depth should be 2-3 cm.
- Two-month-old seedlings are ready for transplantation in the main field and prepare nursery beds in March – April.
Seed Spacing and Production in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Depending upon crop growth habit 60 cm x 60 cm spacing for seedlings and 90 cm x 60 cm spacing for slips is required. The crop flowers during November-December and seeds mature in the next 2 months viz. February-March (dry season in Kerala). For seed collection, the Lemongrass plants are maintained in good health. On average, a healthy Lemongrass plant gives about 100 to 200 g of seeds. At the time of seed collection, the whole inflorescence is cut and then sun-dried for 2 to 3 days. These are threshed and seeds are again dried in the sun. These dry seeds are stored in gunny bags lined with polythene. The seeds lose their viability if stored for more than 1 year.
Lemongrass planting is done in May-June. Though, irrigation planting can be done during any month of the year except December-January. About 1 or 2 slips are planted into each hole, about 5-8 cm deep. It is better to plant on ridges in high rainfall areas and then slips are transplanted firmly into the ground. Plants get established well within 25 to 30 days after planting.
Seed Rate and Seed Treatment in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
- Use seed rate of about 1.6 – 2 kg/acre.
- Seed treatment with Ceresan by 0.2% or Emisan by1 gm/kg of seeds before sowing helpful to protect the crop from long smut disease.
Propagation Method for Lemongrass Cultivation
Generally, Lemongrass propagated from seed, from cuttings, or by division. Lemongrass plant can handle a wide range of soils but prefers rich, free-draining soils where possible. Improve poor soils with compost and manures for better crop growth. Once established, it should receive at least half a day of full sun and is drought tolerant.
Lemongrass propagated from seed, established plants, or division of an existing clump. The seed must be sown in spring into punnets and watered in with eco-seaweed. Seeds will germinate in 14 to 25 days. Or, young plants can be bought from nurseries almost year-round but will establish faster if planted in the spring or summer season. Division of an existing clump is best done in the spring season. Either you can dig up the entire clump before splitting into smaller sections or just slice off a side section.
The Process of Propagating Lemongrass from Seed
- If you choose to propagate Lemongrass from seed, start in the spring season.
- Lemongrass is normally propagated through seeds. Then, the seed is mixed with dry river sand in the ratio of 1:3, and the seed sown in the field at the rate of about 20 to 25 kg/hectare. Alternatively, seedlings can be raised in a nursery in one-tenth of the area of the main field and then transplanted after 45 days. This requires 3-4 kg seeds/ha is ideal for uniform stand and better growth of the plants.
- Select a location with full sun and well-draining, nitrogen-rich soil. Plant individual seeds 6 inches apart.
- Only put a sprinkling of soil over the seeds, as they require plenty of light to be able to germinate. Seedlings can take up to 3 weeks to emerge, and you’ll need to keep the soil moist during this period.
- Once seedlings are a few inches tall, thin individual plants to 2 feet apart. Then, you can transplant the seedlings you remove to another location if you wish.
- To transplant seedlings, wait until they are at least 3 inches tall and all danger of frost has passed. Plant 2 feet apart with 2 to 3 feet in between rows.
Process of Propagating Lemongrass from Seed
- First, cuttings taken from mature Lemongrass plants can be rooted for later planting. To take a cutting, cut the stalk cleanly by using a knife about an inch from the ground. Then, this will allow the stalk left in the ground to regrow. Cut off the stalk upper portion, leaving only the bottom 3 to 4 inches. Lemongrass plants normally found in grocery stores.
- Cut off the plant leaves and use them in your cooking, making sure that you’ve got a good 3-4 inches of stalk, to allow for successful root formation. Don’t cut off any of the bottom portions of the plant stem. If you do so, it’s unlikely to be able to form plant roots.
- Next, to root your cutting, place it in a cup of water with the base of the stalk submerged and change the water daily.
- The Lemongrass plant will begin forming roots within a week. After 2 to 3 weeks, the roots will be large enough to support the plant.
- At this point, transplant Lemongrass into well-aerated, nutrient-dense soil in a container or outdoors. Then, dig a 1/2-inch hole; place the cutting root side down, and backfill around the stem with soil. You should be able to start harvesting about 2 to 3 months after you’ve planted them out.
Irrigation Requirement in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Water supply mainly depends on the soil type, the crop, and the growth stage of the crop. The critical stage of Lemongrass crop is at the nursery, during transplanting, and after harvesting. The use of mulch and compost will increase soil water storage capacity. Irrigate in the warm season every 7 to 10 days and in the cold season every 10 to 14 days.
During the rainy season, it is very important to keep track of the frequency of the rains. If the rain is frequent enough and the soil has water no irrigation is needed. However, if no rains have been received for a period of 10 to 14 days after the last rain then irrigate. If you can’t mould a weak ball from the soil (except sandy soils) sample (taken from the soil until root depth) or the leaves are discoloring or wilted in the early morning then irrigation is necessary.
Nutrients Requirement in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Organic fertilizers used are Jeevamrit, Vermi Compost, FYM, Green Manure, and Azatobactor. Bio Pesticides that are used in Lemongrass are Bebaria Besiana, Trycoderma, and herbal spray. Then, there are no fixed intervals for spraying as there are no adverse impacts and are done as per requirement. So far there are no unmanageable pest attacks.
Lemongrass removes a large number of nutrients from the soil, so it is general practice to supply sufficient organic manures and organic fertilizers. The fertilizer requirement mainly depends on the fertility of the soil and the climatic conditions.
Before plantation, 10-15 ton/hectare well-decomposed FYM/compost and 100 Kg/hectare is applied to the soil, second dose after every cutting near the roots of the plants. After plantation, root treatment is done by 1-liter cow urine, 5 liters of water, and 7.5 gms of Bovistin must be applied. The fertilizer requirement of about 120 kg nitrogen, 40 kg of P2O5, and K2O hectare is optimum. The time of fertilizer application must be followed as under- half of nitrogen and full P2O5 and K2O at the time of plantation in the first year and before hoeing. After rainfall in subsequent years, the remaining nitrogen must be applied in 4 equal splits after each harvest. In chromate overburdened soil, application of lime at 6 t/hectare and fertilizer at 100 kg N, 50 kg P2O5, and 50 kg K2O/hectare produced higher plant height, tiller number, and good yield of Lemongrass.
Lemongrass crop benefits from a weekly summer nitrogen boost by way of a balanced fertilizer, such as a 15-15-15 formulation. You can amend the soil when transplanting by adding a little fertilizer or a soil supplement to the planting hole.
Weed Control in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Normally, weeds can be harmful but also useful to the crop. Though weed control is done under good management hardly any problem will appear and less work has to be done. Weeding in the first 2 weeks after planting will ease the work because the roots of the weeds are still small. The best time to weed control is just after sunrise when the soil is still a bit wet from the dew. Leave the weed residues as mulch in between the plants. Mulch and Green manure will suppress and reduce weeds in crops. Weeds can be used as soil indicators (e.g. clover (lack of N), the useful organic controller (e.g. lantana as organic insecticides).
Pests and Diseases Management in Organic Lemongrass Cultivation
Lemongrass crop makes a great natural pest repellent because of its lemon-scented oils. Not only will it keep bugs off its leaves, but also you won’t have to worry about pesky intruders bothering nearby plants as well. Though, some people have issues with their cats taking too much of a liking to their Lemongrass, so you might find your leaves nibbled on for no good reason.
Leaf blight is also common in Lemongrass. If your plant leaves start to wilt and have rust-covered spots on the ends, the best thing to do is pick them off and spray the whole plant with a natural fungicide. If an entire plant seems affected, a smart solution for this problem is to remove it to reduce the risk of infecting the ones around it.
Lemongrass crop is one of the easiest to grow in terms of pest and disease pressure. Pests rarely attack it as it has citronella, a natural pest-repelling compound.
Lemongrass rust – The only real disease threat to Lemongrass plants is a fungus called Lemongrass rust. Some important symptoms include brown, red, and yellow streaks on the leaves and this usually occurs in excessively damp, moist conditions.
If you spot rust on your Lemongrass plants, prune out infected areas. To prevent Lemongrass rust, ensure that plants have adequate space between them to allow for proper airflow.
Yellow sugarcane aphid – Most pests give Lemongrass plant a fairly wide berth, apart from one persistent aphid. This pest is yellow and about 2 millimeters in length. It sucks the sap out of leaves, causing yellow or brown color spots.
If you spot this pest on the Lemongrass plant, spray the aphids off with a blast of water or use neem oil or insecticidal soap.
When and How to Harvest Lemongrass
Lemongrass harvest can start when plants are 4-8 months old or roughly 1 foot tall. Though it’s possible to harvest them at any time of the year, it grows much faster in summer weather. Simply cut off the entire stalk below the white swollen end and use it fresh in teas and dishes. From that point on, Lemongrass is ready to be harvested every 4 months for the next 4 years. Though best used fresh, also you can dry Lemongrass in a cool, dry place for use in teas. This way stalks can be stored up to a year.
After the harvesting process, distillation is done. For the distillation process, it is dipped in sodium chloride solution for 24 hours because it will increase the citral content in the crop. After that, Lemongrass is stored in a shady place and is packed in bags or packets for transportation in local markets.
By depending upon soil and climatic conditions, plantation lasts on average, for 6 years. Then, noticed that the yield of oil is less during the first year. It increases in the second year and it will further increase in the third and fourth years, after which it might decline. We intend to maintain the plantation for 6 years.
Commonly Asked Questions about Lemongrass Cultivation
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Can Lemongrass grow in shade?
Normally, Lemongrass can grow outdoors with 4-6 hours of direct bright light and indirect bright light for rest of the day.
Does Lemongrass multiply?
Yes, Lemongrass is multiplied from stem cuttings.
When to plant Lemongrass?
You can plant the Lemongrass crop in the spring season (Jan-Feb).
Why Lemongrass repels insects?
Lemongrass repels insects because of the strong scent of its essential oil.
Is Lemongrass easy to grow?
Lemongrass is one of the easiest crops to grow, as long as you protect it from the cold.
Is Lemongrass annual or perennial?
Generally, Lemongrass is a perennial plant.
In case if you are interested in this: Lemongrass Oil Extraction Methods.