One of the most favorite food flavors is lemon. We enjoy it added to lemon chicken, lemonade, lemon poppy muffins and a host of other goodies. Fortunately this wonderful flavor is available in several popular herbs. Here’s a quartet of lemony herbs I invite you to add to this year’s garden for fresh flavor all year long.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) is a shrubby herb with long pointed leaves. The stems are light green in spring but develop a khaki colored bark by mid-summer. It is hardy to Zone 8 but during frosty weather it will lose all its leaves. The remaining branches look downright scraggly and you’ll wonder if you’ve lost the plant. Just clip the stems down to the ground and be patient. Once daytime temperatures move back into the 60s, you’ll see new leaves appearing at the base.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a hardy perennial to Zone 5. This bushy herb can grow to three feet high in ideal conditions, although it usually only reaches two feet in most gardens. With regular watering this herb can provide fragrant drifts of bright green that can help highlight summer blooming annuals. Remember to keep this herb regularly pruned – about two times during the garden year. If left to grow unchecked it can sprawl and flop over onto its neighbors.
Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) is a spreading thyme reaching a foot tall with tiny egg-shaped leaves. Lemon thyme is one of the best for cooking, surpassing even common thyme in some opinions. It’s also one of the most beautiful and fragrant in the garden. Watch for variegated cultivars such as “Aureus” (golden edged), “Golden King” (mostly gold), and “Silver Queen” (cream to light yellow edged).
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) grows in clumps of tightly wrapped leaves with a bulbous base. The inner core is pale green and tender, somewhat resembling the lower part of a green onion. The light green strap leaves are finely serrated. It is hardy only for Zones 10-11, but it will survive mild winters with brief frosts. Lemongrass generally grows about three feet high, although it may grow to six feet high in ideal conditions. The overall effect in a garden is a gently rustling fountain of green, a nice contrast to other herbs. When grown in its native Asian tropics it sends up a large, loose compound flower head, but this is rarely seen when it is grown in more temperate climates.
Each of these four lemony herbs can be used in foods, teas, and aromatic preparations. Having them available in your garden guarantees their fresh aroma and taste can be harvested anytime you want. Plant them today.