Lemon scented herbs are a delight to grow in the garden and use in the kitchen. There is a nice selection of plants to choose from that emit the light, refreshing scent, as well as the taste of lemons. Most are easy to grow from purchased plants, and those that need a bit more care are worth the effort. Lemon herbs can be grown in an herb bed or in the garden with vegetables. Below is a description and summary of each herb and with tips on growing and location.
Lemon Balm: A nicely scented herb that has a growth habit similar to mint. It spreads quickly, so beware. Lemon Balm is a hardy, perennial herb that can be grown in full sun or partial shade. It can be harvested 3-4 times each summer, cut down to 4-6 inches from the ground each time. This is a full proof herb that can be grown just about anywhere. The only downside is it’s invasive nature, which can be controlled by frequent harvesting and never allowing it to go to seed. Lemon balm can also be grown in containers and placed around the garden, as long as it’s kept watered.
Lemon Basil: The basil scent and taste is more pronounced and the lemon is subtle, but it’s a nice change from regular basil. It can be sown directly into the garden or containers after temperatures reach 50 degrees F. at night. Lemon Basilneeds full sun, and well drained soil, though it’s not drought tolerant and should be kept watered during dry spells. Pinch out any flowers that start to form in order to keep it producing until Fall. It isn’t a hardy herb and will be damaged by frost.
Lemon Thyme: Like with the basil, the lemon is fairly subtle, but it’s still almost the perfect herb. Lemon thyme has a low, spreading growth habit without being invasive, is a hardy perennial, and it can be harvested continuously throughout the summer and fall. Choose a place in full sun with well drained soil. Once thyme of any variety is established it is drought tolerant. If you can only grow one lemon herb this is the one to choose.
Lemon Verbena : Perhaps the lovliest of the lemon scented herbs with the most amazing scent and flavor. It grows year round in Zone 9 and above, which means those of us in colder climates treat it as an annual. I find it’s easiest to buy a small plant each year, harvesting small amounts throughout the summer, then the entire plant before the first frost. grows best in Lemon Verbena full sun and a well drained soil. It grows quickly when starting with a small plant that has been transplanted into the garden. It will also grow well in a container, but will be less vigorous.
Lemongrass: this is another tender perennial needing Zone 9 or warmer to overwinter. It looks much like an ornamental grass and grows to about 3 foot tall. It’s not always easy to locate but small plants can usually be found in garden centers or online. While this isn’t ornamental it has a wonderful scent and flavor and is often used in Thai cooking. It can be grown in containers fairly easily or placed in the garden.
All of the above lemon herbs can be used dry or fresh in teas, and to season poultry or fish. I also love making herb vinegars, mixing the lemon herbs with the peppery flavor of nasturtium or chive blooms.
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