Lemon verbena: cultivation, companion plants & propagation

Verena
Verena
Verena
Verena

I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

Favorite fruit: Even if a bit boring - apples
Favorite vegetables: Bell peppers, red beets, zucchini, white cabbage

Lemon verbena is great for growing in gardens, on balconies, or as a houseplant. It is a fragrant, insect-friendly herb with myriad uses from cooking to medicine.

lemon verbena foliage and flower buds
Lemon verbena is a popular potted plant [Photo: Skyprayer2005/ Shutterstock.com]

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora), also known as lemon beebrush or lemon-scented verbena (French: verveine odorante), is the ultimate refreshing herb. Like Verbena officinalis, which is native to Europe, lemon verbena belongs to the Verbenaceae family. This article will guide you through what to consider when planting lemon verbena in pots and in gardens, and give advice on good neighbours for companion planting and propagating lemon verbena from cuttings.

Lemon verbena: flowering, properties and origin

Lemon verbena originates from subtropical regions of South America and was only first cultivated in Europe at the end of the 18th century. Its botanical name Aloysia is in honour of Maria Luisa Teresa de Parma (1751-1819), the wife of the then Spanish king. Some of its common names also reflect this history such as “Hierba luisa” (Herb of Luise) in Spain and “herb Louisa” in English speaking countries. As people often struggle with the Latin name, the lemon verbena is also commonly known as Lippia citriodora and Aloysia triphylla, which refers to the plant’s three-leaf arrangement.

Bright green lemon verbena leaves
The leaves of the lemon verbena stand together in threes [Photo: Elly Mens/ Shutterstock.com]

Lemon verbena makes a wonderful potted plant for terraces and balconies. However, it can only tolerate temperatures down to around -5°C, so is not winter hardy in harsh climates. The perennial, deciduous shrub reaches heights of roughly 1 to 2 metres in the temperate climates of Europe. In the favourable conditions of its native regions, lemon verbena can grow even taller, up to 3 metres. But don’t worry if you have a small space, potted verbena does not usually grow more than 1.2 metres.

Lemon verbena leaves are elongated with serrated edges and if you look closely, you will notice little dark spots – these are the plant’s oil glands. Just a light touch on the leaves releases a refreshing citrus aroma. But even though it smells similar to lemons it is unrelated to the lemon tree (Citrus x limon), which – like many other citrus plants – belongs to the rue family (Rutaceae). The delicate lemon verbena flowers can range in colour from white to violet.

white lemon verbena flowers on green stem
The delicate flowers of the lemon verbena attract many insects [Photo: Skyprayer2005/ Shutterstock.com]

In our part of the world, the lemon verbena’s growing season stretches from May to November. Lemon verbena blooms from July to September and is mainly pollinated by insects such as butterflies, carpenter bees and bumblebees, so cultivating it helps create an insect-friendly garden. It is important to note that the lemon verbena seeds only ripen in long, warm summers.

Tip: Orange verbena (Aloysia citriodora ‘Orange’), is a very close relative of lemon verbena which only differs in its scent, smelling like oranges rather than lemons. As for its uses and winter hardiness, the orange verbena is very similar to lemon verbena.

lemon verbena seedlings growing in wood shavings
Out in the garden, lemon verbena only sprouts again after very mild winters [Photo: Malchus Kern/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting lemon verbena

Planting lemon verbena is easy if you follow a few tips. You can also grow the plant from seed with a little more patience and care.

The right location for lemon verbena

Lemon verbena herb thrives in a warm, sunny and sheltered spot. As mentioned, the plant’s winter hardiness is limited, so it is best grown in pots in the UK. It can even be grown as a year-round houseplant. In its native habitat, lemon verbena prefers loose and neutral to slightly alkaline soil that is not at risk of waterlogging.

Planting lemon verbena in pots: When grown in pots or tubs, it is important to use the right kind of soil. We recommend a high-quality, peat-free potting soil like our Plantura Organic Flower Compost which will nourish young lemon verbena plants with all the essential nutrients in their first few months of growth. A sunny or partially shaded place on a terrace or windowsill is ideal. Depending on its growth, repot your lemon verbena into a larger container with new soil every one to two years.

Young lemon verbena plant in a pot
It is easier to grow lemon verbena as a perennial in pots [Photo: Veera/ Shutterstock.com]

Sowing lemon verbena seeds

Not all shops stock lemon verbena seeds, however it is possible to harvest the seeds from your own plants. Growing seeds can be a little tricky, as it takes a while for the seeds to germinate.

  • Sow from February in a greenhouse or windowsill.
  • Fill seed trays with a soil that is permeable, but still retains water well, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost.
  • Spread the seeds approx. 3 cm apart over the soil and only cover very thinly with soil, as lemon verbena requires light to germinate.
  • Then water well and place the planting tray in a bright place, but out of direct sunlight. Keep soil moist and the temperature at 20°C.
  • Place a transparent cover, such as glass or plastic, to help maintain the right temperature and humidity conditions.
  • After about 2 to 3 weeks the first seedlings should appear. If the plants are too dense, they can now be pricked out.
Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost
Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly: for aromatic herbs, as well as sowing seeds, planting cuttings & transplanting seedlings

Whether home-grown or bought, transplant the young plants to their permanent bed of pot in late spring. If you want your lemon verbena to survive for several years, put the plants in pots so that they can easily be sheltered from frost over winter, although it also looks good as an annual plant in gardens.

  • Plant lemon verbena in containers or beds from mid-May after the last frost.
  • For potted plants, choose a pot with a diameter of at least 20 cm; keep a plant spacing of 40 cm for plants in beds.
  • Make sure to add a drainage layer to the bottom of pots, like a few centimetres of sand, gravel or clay.
  • Fill the pots with loose, well-drained and nutrient-rich soil.
  • Water the plant well and place in a sunny, warm spot.

Best companion plants to grow with lemon verbena 

Plants that thrive in similar conditions are good companions for lemon verbena, for example, liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), some species of St. John’s wort (Hypericum) or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon verbena can also be planted together with coriander (Coriandrum sativum) or beebalms (Monarda).

Propagating lemon verbena

Propagating lemon verbena from seed is difficult because the plants do not usually mature with ripe seeds in the UK. Therefore, we recommend propagating lemon verbena from cuttings.

Propagating lemon verbena plants
Lemon verbena is quite easy to propagate with cuttings [Photo: Ratda/ Shutterstock.com]

In spring or summer, cut off new or soft shoot tips about 15 cm long. Ideally, cut off the shoots where the wooden stem meets the green stem. Remove lower leaves and put the cuttings into potting soil.

To increase the humidity around the cuttings and promote healthy root growth, cover them with cling film. Root development is best at temperatures between 18 and 25°C and takes about three weeks. When new leaves form, transfer the cuttings to individual pots. Prune the little plants when they reach 10 cm to encourage the shrub to branch out and grow bushier.

Tip: The left-over leaves can be brewed into a refreshing tea.

Alongside lemon verbena, there are many other herbs in our gardens that can be brewed into delicious teas. Discover some of the best herbal tea blends from your own garden.

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