Lemon Verbena – A delightful citrus scent
Aloysia triphylla, the Lemon Verbena, is a large tender shrub native to Argentina and Chile. It gets its common name from the lemony scent given off by the leaves when they are crushed or brushed against. Lemon Verbena belongs to a group of plants called “citrus mimics,” which, as can be inferred, all have citrus-scented foliage.
Lemon Verbena has narrow oval leaves in whorls of 3 or 4. It reaches a height of 6-10 feet when grown in the garden, less in containers.
The tiny lavender or white flowers appear in early summer and bloom for several weeks. They are borne in a loose, pyramid-shaped panicle at the ends of the stems.
Many ways to use it
Whether you grow it in a container or in the garden, plant Lemon Verbena where you can take advantage of its fragrance. Put it near a pathway or place a small pot in a sunny kitchen window. The leaves can be used in potpourri or added to iced drinks. Lemon Verbena makes an excellent herbal tea. Add a sprig or two to a bouquet, or float some in small finger bowls. Lemon Verbena can also be used in cooking, for example, in sauces for fish or chicken. Put a leaf in the bottom of a jar when making jelly.
Grow it indoors or out
Lemon Verbena is only winter-hardy in the mildest climates, but it can be successfully grown outdoors all year in a container if given winter protection. Planting against a warm south-facing wall will allow it to survive in areas with cooler winters. Otherwise Lemon Verbena can be grown indoors in a cool position all year or placed outdoors for the summer. It can stand on the patio or the whole pot can be sunk to its rim in the garden. Bring it in again when the weather turns cool in fall.
Through the year with Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena should overwinter indoors in all but the mildest climates. Place it in a bright, but cool position; 50°-60°F is best. The night temperature can go as low as 40°F. Water sparingly, keeping the soil on the dry side, and don’t feed.
Remove Lemon Verbena from its pot and carefully shake off the old soil. Repot in fresh soil; well-drained commercial potting soil is fine. Older, larger specimens can be top-dressed instead. In February-March, the plant can be pruned back by 1/3 to 1/2 to shape. Step up watering and begin feeding every 3 weeks.
Regular watering is a must and dilute liquid fertilizer can be added about every 2 weeks.
Prepare Lemon Verbena for its winter rest. Outdoor plants should be brought indoor or placed in a sheltered position.
Lemon Verbena is easy to propagate from tip cuttings taken in spring or early summer. Take cuttings from the pruning done in spring, or use the pinched tips removed later. The cuttings should be 3-4 inches long. Remove the lowest leaves, dip the cut ends in rooting powder, and insert them in a moist mixture of peat moss and perlite. Cover this with a perforated plastic bag and place in a bright spot away from direct sunlight. Once the cuttings have rooted, they can be re-potted into individual pots and otherwise treated as mature plants.
Lemon Verbena is one of those rare plants that is hardly ever bothered by insects or diseases. Even aphids seem to leave it alone. The only problems likely to be encountered are in the overwintering. If plants are kept too warm and wet in winter, soft, leggy growth will result.
Mites may be a problem in warm dry conditions indoors. Prevent an attack by keeping plants in a cool spot and misting frequently.
Lemon Verbena is usually available at most nurseries and garden centers.
Lifespan: Can live for many years.
Season: The leaves can be used all year. Blooms in summer.
Difficulty quotient: Easy as long as it is overwintered properly.
Size and growth rate
Narrow oval leaves in whorls along the stems. Can grow as large as 6-10 feet, but usually much less than this in containers. Fast growing.
Flowering and fragrance
Panicles of tiny white or lavender flowers at the ends of the stems for several weeks in early summer. The flowers are scentless, but the leaves have a strong lemony fragrance when crushed or brushed against.
Light and temperature
Full sun both indoors and out. Normal indoor temperatures are fine during the growing season. Frost tender; overwinter indoors in a bright but cool position, 40°-50°F at night, 50°-60°F by day.
Watering and feeding
Water regularly spring-fall–never let the soil dry out. Reduce watering in fall, and keep it to a bare minimum in winter. Add dilute liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks spring-fall, none in winter.
Soil and transplanting
Regular well-drained commercial potting soil is fine. Repot into fresh soil each spring. Older, larger specimens can simply be top-dressed.
Prune back by 1/3 to 1/2 in February-March. Pinch tips of new growth to keep plants bushy. Can be trained as a standard.
Lemon Verbena is delightful anywhere its scent can be appreciated–by a doorway, along a garden path, or on a windowsill in the kitchen.