Growing Lemon Verbena

growing lemon verbena

Lemon verbena offers a sweet lemon flavor that’s refreshing in tea or desserts and useful for seasoning meat dishes. The plant is a beauty in the landscape, forming an elegant shrub 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide. Leaves release their refreshing fragrance each time they’re touched, making this herb a good choice for planting near outdoor living areas or paths, where you can enjoy its lemony scent. A native of tropical climes, lemon verbena is perennial in frost-free areas. To savor the flavor in regions with cold winters, try growing lemon verbena in a container you can carry indoors.

Note: While we do not currently carry this variety, we offer this information for gardeners who wish to grow it.

Soil, Planting, and Care

lemon verbena in a container to bring indoors

Many gardeners choose to grow lemon verbena in a pot and bring the pots indoors for the winter, after the leaves drop.

Plant lemon verbena in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Drainage is a key to success with this herb, which will die if roots stay constantly wet. If you’re growing lemon verbena in a container, choose one at least 12 inches in diameter to give roots room to spread. A larger pot also insulates roots somewhat against soil temperature changes. Burying the container in the ground provides the best insulation for roots, but it’s a risky choice. If plants root into surrounding garden soil, when you remove the container in the fall, severing the roots will likely trigger leaf drop.Full sun yields best growth and the most flavorful leaves, although plants in southernmost and desert regions benefit from light afternoon shade. In Northernmost areas, siting a plant near a white wall or fence will surround the plant with reflected light, which enhances growth. If plants receive more shade than sun, stems will be spindly and sprawling and leaves will lack strong essential oil levels. Lemon verbena is a heavy feeder and, unlike many herbs, benefits from frequent fertilization. In early spring and throughout the growing season, fertilize lemon verbena with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. This organically based fertilizer is low in salt and won’t cause ugly brown leaf tips. During periods of active growth, fertilize plants every four weeks outdoors, every two weeks indoors.

Lemon verbena typically drops its leaves when temperatures dip below 40 degrees F, entering dormancy. It’s possible to overwinter lemon verbena outdoors in Zone 8, but it’s wise to help plants harden off. To do this, reduce watering a few weeks prior to the typical onset of below-freezing temperatures.

In northern zones, carry plants indoors before cold weather arrives, or wait until a cold snap causes the plant to drop leaves, then move it indoors. Most likely, the move from outside to inside will cause the plant to drop all its leaves. Many gardeners let the weather trigger leaf drop to avoid indoor clean-up and prevent carrying insects inside. Thin plants before bringing indoors, removing spindly stems. Save these stems to dry and scent dresser drawers and closets.

Avoid overwatering dormant (leafless) plants. This is a common way gardeners kill lemon verbena, whether it’s growing in planting beds or pots.

Troubleshooting

Spider mites and whiteflies adore lemon verbena. Some gardeners won’t grow it because they feel this herb attracts those pests. Avoid carrying these pests indoors by allowing plants to stay outdoors until leaves drop.Lemon verbena drops its leaves prior to entering dormancy in the fall and also in response to stress. Situations that trigger leaf drop include root disturbance, an intense cold draft, quick temperature change, or transplanting. Plants also seem to enter dormancy in response to shortening day length.During dormancy, don’t overwater plants. New growth typically emerges eventually (in spring for overwintering plants).

Harvest and Storage

Lemon Verbena Sprouts

Lemon verbena responds well to regular trimming, which keeps the plant from getting too lanky. This branch is sprouting back after being cut.

Harvest leaves as needed throughout the growing season. Each time you snip a stem, new growth will emerge at the whorl of leaves beneath the cut. This growth pattern makes frequent cutting necessary to keep stems from becoming leggy.To make a large picking, cut plants back by half. Dry leaves individually on screens or bundle stems together and hang upside down in a dark, dry place. Store dried leaves in sealed containers in a dark place. To release flavor, crumble leaves finely just before using. You can freeze lemon verbena, whole or chopped, in ice cube trays filled with water. You can also blend chopped leaves into softened butter. Store butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or form into balls and freeze on a cookie sheet. Store frozen balls in zipper bags, using them to flavor vegetables and fish or spread on bread or pancakes.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

leaves of lemon verbena are slender

The leaves of lemon verbena have a long, slender shape.

Use lemon verbena in recipes in place of lemon zest. Leaves are tough and leathery; mince them very fine with a food processor for consumption. Many times it’s easiest to use a whole leaf to season a dish and remove it before serving. Steep lemon verbena in hot water to brew tea or in milk to create a flavored base for ice cream, sorbet, or pudding. Bury a few leaves in sugar in a sealed container; use this sugar to flavor cookies and dough. You can also use leaves to flavor vinegar, salad dressing, or marinades. Add dried, crumbled leaves to rice just before serving or blend into quick bread batters. You can also use the leaves and stems to flavor an icing for our Lemon Verbena Tea Bread.

15 Comments

sharyl

I successfully overwintered my pot of lemon verbena in my garage (near Portland, Oregon), but when the new growth began in spring I mistakenly put it outside. One cold night completely killed it. In this area it can’t go outside full time until May!

Pauline Cerullo

When the plant flowers do I leave them on the plant or should I cut them off?
Thank you!
Pauline
Long Beach, CA

Danielle Carroll

Hi Pauline,
I like to leave them … the pollinators like it too:) -danielle, Bonnie Plants

Fay Onyx

I’m in Seattle, which I believe is zone 8. It also rains a lot in the fall. I plan on growing my Lemon Verbena in a pot. I can’t really “reduce watering” to help it harden off. I could move the pot to a drier area (under an overhang). Or would it be better to just take it inside? If I do bring it inside, where can I keep it. I have a dark cold (but not freezing) garage, but it would be hard to remember to water it at all there. I could also put it in the main part of my house, but wouldn’t the warm temperatures of the house trigger growth? There isn’t enough light indoors in winter for it to be happy.
Thank you!

Danielle Carroll

Hello Fay,
Moving the pot to a drier area for a while would work well. It will overwinter in zone 8, with extra mulch for protection. If you would like to bring it indoors, store it somewhere where the temperatures are not freezing. Keeping it in the main part of the house is fine – there probably will not be enough light for a lot of new growth. Just remember when you take it back out in the spring to let it adjust to the outdoors before leaving it outdoors. It will probably need to be pruned back as well to stimulate new growth. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

Abbie Gail Arndt

My lemon verbina is very spindly. I’m having trouble finding a new plant. I’m in northern Illinois and just brought the plant out from our sun space in the house. It’s still alive but very little growth. Can I just cut it back to promote new growth?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Abbie,
You can prune the lemon verbena back to promote growth. Be sure and prune back to a bud or a growing point. You can do this just as the plant starts to leaf out when warm weather starts. If a frost or low temperatures (below 40 degrees) are expected, bring the plant in or cover. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

Danielle Carroll

Hi Kathleen,
It is perennial in zone 8 (with care) and up. In northern zones, it would have to be taken inside or to a sheltered location to try and overwinter it. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

Leslee

Will Lemon Verbena still do ok with just morning sun in Zone 8?

Danielle Carroll

Hi Leslee,
As long as the lemon verbena is getting full sun (at least 6 hours), it should grow well. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Patty De Bono

I bought a small lemon verbana plant at the open market here in San Francisco. I put it in my planter in the sunny kitchen window. I now see many small flying insects around the plant.
How can I rid the plant of these pests?

Mary Beth

Hi Patty,
Those could be fruit flies or white flies. Fruit flies at the market might have come home with you in the moist soil, which they love. White flies often disperse with a great shot of water (take it outside) and a few applications of neem oil, though it’s harder to kill them without harsher insecticides. Both are very frustrating in your house! Read the links within here for more information. Enjoy the lemon verbena; it is heavenly! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

lois zalc

I am looking for a perrenial lemon verbena, even an annual one that I could keep in the house. I have no luck every summer. I hope you can help me. I do not want an $80.00 large one, just a starter one for about $10.00 or so. Thank you for your help.
Lois
loiszalc@yahoo.com

Mary Beth

Hi Lois,
We did sell Lemon Verbena during this season. If you would like to ask your local retailers if they still carry this item, check out our zip code store locator tool here. Unfortunately, I imagine that you may find the season’s stock is gone from shelves at this point in August. Have you searched other plant providers via online sources? ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

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