The City Magazine Since 1975

Container Garden Planting and Harvesting Tips

LemonGrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Citrus Splash

A tropical grass with a sweeping upright habit, lemongrass can reach six feet in height.  It thrives in full sun but is tolerant of light shade. Although grown as an annual, it may come back after mild Lowcountry winters. Worried about frost? At the end of the growing season, simply remove a few stalks with the roots intact, plant in a small pot, and bring indoors to overwinter—a great way to save space and have a fresh plant for the next warm season. It does not take much as lemongrass is a rapid grower. The foliage will release citrus fragrance when crushed and is excellent for dressings, marinades, stir-fries, and beverages.

You may harvest lemongrass throughout the growing season. Select stalks that are 1/4- to 1/2-inch in diameter. Although both foliage and the stalk can be used, it is the bottom third of the stalk just above the root system that is highly prized for its flavor. 

Cut the stalk at the base and discard roots that may still be attached. Peel the outermost leaves from the lower third of the stalk to reveal the core. Set aside the green foliage from the top of the plant for another use.

(Left) Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus), Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), and Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis); (Right) Variegated Calmondin (Citrofortunella mitis ‘Variegata’) 

Select a container with good drainage and place it in an area that will receive full sun. Plant herbs using a lightweight, nutrient-rich potting soil. Water thoroughly. You may harvest up to a third of the foliage for use right away. 

With its variegated foliage, fragrant blooms, and globed fruit, the calamondin will delight the senses year-round. A cross between a Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulate) and a kumquat (Fortunella margarita), this plant is well-suited for a shallow container and scaled perfectly with its petite size. The calmondin prefers full to partial sun and will feed heavily on nitrogen. Use an organic fertilizer such as Citrus Tone that is specifically formulated to meet the plant’s nutritional needs.

The fruit is quite sour so it is frequently used in marmalades and beverages. Snip the foliage and use it to garnish a favorite dish, beverage, or place setting. 

(Left) Bouquet Garni Topiary; (Right) Tea Time

Bouquet Garni Topiary

For this full-sun arrangement, select a container with good drainage and add nutrient-rich potting soil. Start with a rosemary (Rosmarinus officinlis) topiary at the center. Underplant using flat-leaf parsley (P. crispum var. neopolitanum), curly-leaf parsley (P. crispum var. crispum), French thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus). Water at the base of the plants until it drains out the bottom of the container. Water again when the top inch of soil has become dry. 

Tea Time

This grouping will do well in full sun in a well-draining pot. You’ll see blooms from May to early fall. For the calendula (Calendula officinalis, aka pot marigold), deadhead spent flowers to encourage new blooms. As a gardener’s general rule of thumb, it is fine to harvest up to a third of the herb’s overall size at a time. Use herb scissors to make defoliating woody herbs such as thyme effortless.