Herbs & Spices · Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena and I: relationship status it’s complicated

My relationship with lemon verbena 檸檬馬鞭草 is complicated. Lots of mixed signals, and I’m not sure we have decided whether we enjoy each other’s company. But there is no denying that it does smell good, and is (secretly) among one of my favorite scents in my balcony farm.

It all began on March 22nd, with me picking up a lemon verbena plant at a nursery. I didn’t know enough about lemon verbena at that point to recognize that despite the many green leaves, the plant was generally leggy and fragile (leaves would easily fall off).

Mar 23-24.jpg

First step as always was research:

  1. Soil: Well-draining soil rich in organic matter. The plant hates constantly moist soil, so drainage is especially important.
  2. Sun: Full to partial sun
  3. Watering: Maintain soil on the dryer side. Water when soil is dry, and avoid wetting the leaves as much as possible (to avoid fungal diseases but also because the leaves can be quite fragile and prone to falling off)
  4. Temperature: Native to South America, lemon verbena prefers warmer weather and is sensitive to cold temperatures.
  5. Other notes: As with many other herbs, regular trimming will increase yield and promote growth.

With homework done, it’s time for some action!

March 26: Lots of leaves but with leggy stems and leaves that easily fall off.
Mar 26-23

March 26: Moved lemon verbena into a larger pot / recycled steel container.
Mar 26-26.jpg

March 26: Trimmed some of the sprawling stems and flowers. Hmm… they smell good!
Mar 26-28.jpg

March 27: Just one day later, not much difference. 
Mar 27-15.jpg

March 28: Giving the plant some sun love.
Mar 28-10.jpg

April 2: Removed some yellowing leaves, not much significant growth, still seem fragile and leaves would easily fall off.
Apr 2-12.jpg

Okay it’s unavoidable, I have to make a confession. Somehow (I don’t know how), I overlooked the ideal pot size for lemon verbena. I figured the initial pot was tiny so anything larger should be perfect.

But no (shake head vigorously), experts suggest pots of at least 12-inches (30cm) in diameter. What?!!! Why didn’t this information register in my head 7 days ago? And it wasn’t until I reread some of the guides – I was worried of the fragile-looking plant – that I saw this crucial information.

6. Pot size:  Large, at least 12-inches (30cm) in diameter.

Sigh. So on April 3, I moved lemon verbena (again) into a 12-inch pot, while muttering my apologies, motivating the plant to forgive me and asking it to please stay alive.

April 3: In a 12-inch pot. Finally.
Apr 3-24.jpg

April 4: It doesn’t look as leafy since I have been doing some light trimming, but looking stronger???
Apr 4-10.jpg

April 11: Still some fallen leaves every so often, but the stems seem to be stronger, and one of them are starting to gain quite some height.
Apr 11-12.jpg

April 14: Better? The same? Worse?
Apr 14-22.jpg

April 17: Center young leaves wilting, why?!!! Odd seedling in the middle….
Apr 17-12.jpg

April 18: One stem growing tall!
Apr 18-02.jpg

April 20: New bug in town~~
Apr 20-25.jpg

April 21: Trimmed off big stalk, because remember, regular trimming = bushier plant. Decided to experiment with moving it to a shadier spot.
Apr 21-27.jpg

April 24: Good news! New leaves showing up at trimmed spot. This is the previously towering stem. Interesting to notice that the bottom of the stem has become woodier, which I am going to take as a good sign.
Apr 24-25.jpg

April 26: More new leaves! 
Apr 26-29.jpg

Apr 26-30.jpg

Apr 26-31.jpg

April 26: And even though not as important, yes, the weed seedling is also growing strong! I’m feeling curious, so I’m going to leave it for now and see what happens.
Apr 26-32.jpg

April 28: Still not sure if this is better, but at least it is alive!
Apr 28-10.jpg

This sums up the short time I have had with lemon verbena, and our relationship status is definitely “it’s complicated”. I would like to take comfort in at least the plant is:

  1. No longer as fragile, leaves does not fall off as easily.
  2. Leaves are growing much larger.
  3. Leaves are regrowing from trimmed spots.

I felt better learning that I wasn’t alone, and that while many succeeded, at the same time many were frustrated of repeatedly “committing herbicide” with this plant. I’m going to hang in there, and hopefully with the weather warming up, our relationship will take a more positive turn.

Because it is definitely worth it. Yes I am repeating myself, but it is worth repeating. IT SMELLS REALLY GOOD.

The limited ways I have used lemon verbena so far:

  1. Chop finely (the leaves are a little leathery) and mix with plain cream cheese. Spread on your choice of bread. (Yum!)
  2. A few leaves in hot water for a scented herb tea.
  3. A stem of leaves in a cold water bottle for a refreshing drink on hot days.

Favorite how-to guides on growing lemon verbena

Short Guide: Growing Lemon Verbena

Longer, more comprehensive guide: Growing Lemon Verbena and Keeping It Alive

The Vege Girl Project: Day 55

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