How To Grow Lemon Verbena In The UK
Lemon Verbena is a tender perennial and as such needs a little bit of extra care and attention over the Winter months, luckily it is well worth the effort!
Lemon Verbena needs fertile soil to grow and will benefit from it’s roots being kept frost free. What this means for us in the UK can be a simple solution by using a terracotta pot that you can move to a sheltered area when the worst of the weather arrives. Lemon Verbena is readily available as plug plants and will also grow well from cuttings.
You have three main ways to grow your lemon verbena from seed, cuttings or from plugs. I have chosen to buy plugs as I wanted to kick start our garden.
Growing Lemon Verbena From Seeds
Lemon Verbena grows easily from seed and in warmer climates can be sown directly. In the UK we can start the seeds off under cover 8-10 weeks before the fear of frost has passed.
Sow thinly into a pot of prepared soil, a well rotted garden compost is ideal with plenty of organic matter in. Cover the seeds with a light covering of perlite then mist with water. Cover and put into a heated propagator on your windowsill if in the UK. Germination times vary and you may find that some seeds pop up quite early on, whereas others are a little shy. You should find seedlings emerging from about 20 days onwards.
Give your seedlings sunlight immediately and allow the heat to remain constant. The issue in the UK is that they will require around 16 hours of sunlight a day. Even the sunniest of windowsills will not allow for that. So you will benefit from an LED Plant Light, which you can buy from Amazon via the link. It may seem a bit excessive but the lamps will be helpful to so many other herbs that you may want to grow indoors. I would say buying plugs is still a really good idea though!
When you have at least two pairs of true leaves, around 4 weeks after germination. Then you can transplant to individual pots about 6 inches in diameter.
Start to harden the seedlings off by introducing them to the British Spring time in the day, bringing them back indoors every evening. If you have a poly tunnel or greenhouse then start to leave them in there one the fear of frost has gone.
Then you can pot them on to where they are to live forever more. I recommend in larger pots and then we can look at locations and how to protect them from frosts. As tender perennials they enjoy full sunshine, but will struggle in frosts. So a nice spot in the greenhouse needs to be put aside for them during winter.
I just want to be open here, I do not grow from seed any more. There are too many variables that can go wrong and we have experimented with soaking seeds overnight before planting and leaving in the fridge and really the germination rate is still not great. So unless you have a heat mat and led plant light set up, plugs are the way to go every day of the week. That is until you have your own healthy crops that you can take cuttings from! You are going to be doing some pretty harsh pruning in Autumn (fall) and a lighter prune in Spring, so use those cuttings and propagate!
Growing Lemon Verbena From Cuttings Or Plugs
You can get Lemon Verbena Herb Plants on Amazon via reputable sellers. We find that if they are sold online you can still get fresh plugs that are ready to go into pots. What you don’t want it to pay too much for a more mature plant.
Your plugs should have good a good root system already in place.
- Use a 8-12 inch pot with good drainage holes and then pop some broken pots or pebbles into the bottom for extra irrigation.
- Use mature compost with plenty of organic matter in. We make our own and find that this works well when mixed with a little peat free compost.
- Put the plug into the pot in a hole you have made in the firm soil, use your fingers to firm it in gently.
- Water well and leave in a warm location with plenty of sunlight.
- If you intend to plant into the ground, prepare the soil by digging in well rotted compost that is humus rich. Dig down two spades in depth to ensure that the root ball can really grow into the good quality soil
- Plant individual plugs out around a foot apart. The adult plants will grow to around 3 foot high so keep this in mind when thinking about surrounding plants.
- Tease out the roots when planting to encourage them to spread.
- Plant so that the top of the roots is in line with the top layers of soil and firm it in gently.
- Water well. Fertiliser will be of benefit to lemon verbena throughout the year and especially the growing season.
How To Grow Lemon Verbena From Cuttings
- You will prune the plant in early Spring as the growing season starts. Use cuttings that are showing fresh growth and that are around 6 inches long
- Remove the lower leaves, with just the top fresh pairs of leaves to show.
- With a sharp knife cut along one side of the stem to reveal the flesh beneath.
- Dip in rooting hormone and use a pot of compost to plant in to.
- Use a little stick to make the hole and then push our cutting into it, firming around it with your fingers.
- Water and cover. Leave in a warm and sunny location. In a few weeks time check to see that the soil is still most and ensure that the cuttings show no signs of rot or decay.
- After a few more weeks you will be able to perform a gentle tug test to feel any resistance. This will show that roots have started to from. Then leave without the cover on and allow the cuttings to have full sunlight.
- Around six weeks later you may want to repot the cutting but you should be seeing new growth emerge.
- Harden off and plant out to its final location.
Growing Tips For Lemon Verbena
- If you are growing in pots, think about submerging them into the ground to help retain moisture.
- If you are planting directly and treating your lemon verbena like an annual, then a layer of mulch will help to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. So think about organic solutions to that, even using the cuttings from your green manure can help.
- Keep weeds at bay as they can seriously compete for nutrients.
- Use a liquid feed during the growing season and introduce it to the base only, avoid getting any on the leaves as it can cause nitrogen burn.
- Plant or move pots to close to paths and where you can brush past and release their scent. Also plant them where they are easily accessible to harvest.
- The citric aroma is a real deterrent to pests and bugs, but when they are young protect them from any harm.
- Regular harvesting of the leaves by pinching out above a node will allow for a bushier shrub and a much more productive herb!
- Make sure to overwinter if you want a perennial shrub.
How To Over Winter
You can grow lemon verbena as an annual in the UK and let it die back over winter and the colder months. But We prefer to keep it as a perennial and try to overwinter it as much as possible.
By growing in a decorative pot we can move it inside and away from the fear of frosts. Even into the poly tunnel seems enough to protect it and the various other plants we keep inside like the bay tree.
There is another way to take advantage of your lemon verbena being in a pot. This may sound odd, but hold in there with me. Bury the pot with the lemon verbena into the ground. That way in Summer months it reduces the chance of drying out and it will be better able to retain moisture. It will also mean you can easily lift the plant and not disturb the roots. Meaning less damage is likely to be caused.
Alternatively by growing in pots you can create your own outdoors eating area with highly aromatic leaves to brush passed.
Pruning For Overwintering
You will want to prune back hard and take it down to about a third to a half of the Autumn growth, do this before the first frost. Cut just above a leaf node. A leaf node is where the pairs of leaves start to come out as a v shape.
Once you have pruned back you can then bring into the green house or conservatory. If you are leaving it outside and there is the chance that the green house will freeze, then think about getting some fleece to protect the roots and base of the plant.
Winter is the dormant month for lemon verbena so it is natural to see it slow down a little, but come Spring it will be ready to get going again and you can give it another, more gentle prune. That will encourage a bushier, more substantial shrub. The leaves are more robust than many herbs and will dry very well, so the bushier the plant is the more leaves you can harvest throughout the growing season of early Spring to late Autumn.
Uses For Lemon Verbena
The leaves of the lemon verbena are one of the most lemony of all the herbs. However they are a bit like bay leaves in that you don’t want to stumble on one in your food! So use them in dishes almost as a bouquet garni, where you can successfully remove them before serving.
Uses include sorbets, ice creams, teas and cocktails! We make a lemony syrup that can be added to cakes, like the ultimate lemon drizzle cake! You can also bury the leaves in sugar and make up lovely Christmas hampers with the resulting tastiness.
You can use the leaves fresh in tea or dry them and store in a sealed mason jar for year round use. We love to grow chamomile, mint and lemon verbena and then combined all of the leaves and flowers into one pretty relaxing pot of tea!
Don’t forget where you choose to grow you lemon verbena can also play a part in uses as it serves like a natural citronella, meaning flying pests stay away in the Summer evening.
Give lemon verbena a go as it will grow in the UK and you will find success with it as a perennial as well. Just be prepared to give it a little love and care!
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