Growing Lemon Verbena and Keeping it Alive

Growing lemon verbena, includes a detailed plant profile for this perennial herb, cold hardiness and tips on keeping lemon verbena alive.


| June/July 1993



Almost everything you wanted to know about growing lemon verbena.

Almost everything you wanted to know about growing lemon verbena.

Photo By Fotolia/Unclesam

This plant profile shares helpful tips and tricks for growing lemon verbena.

Growing Lemon Verbena

Plants grown outside their native territory often need special care, and the South American native lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is an excellent example. North American home gardeners who try to grow this tender, wonderfully fragrant perennial herb may succeed more often than they fail, but a large number who try year after year eventually develop a deep sense of frustration and guilt when they repeatedly “commit herbicide”.

Many of the latter group responded sympathetically to Linda Ligon’s editorial in the December 1991/January 1992 Herb Companion, in which she expressed frustration at her own inability to keep lemon verbena plants alive. Other readers offered constructive advice and encouragement along with their tales of radiant success. Letters of both types are included with this article, and beginning on page 54 in the hardcover copy of this issue.

A curious pattern became evident from those responses and from subsequent research and conversations with growers around the country. Many people who consistently fail in their attempts to grow lemon verbena live near people who have the opposite experience—those who fail often get their plants from those who succeed—yet neither group seems certain why one can barely coax an inch of growth from a 6-inch plant while the other cuts a 5-foot bush back to 3 feet twice in the same season.

Although our research doesn’t claim to have solved the mystery or to offer a sure-fire formula for success, it has uncovered a few misconceptions about the plant and a lot of solid advice. Those who have succeeded with lemon verbena agree that the plant is worth a bit of effort, and we hope that discouraged verbenaphiles will give it another try, armed with information and a positive outlook.

Profile of the Victim

Lemon verbena is one of more than 30 species of aromatic shrubs in the genus Aloysia (family Verbenaceae), all native to the warmer parts of North and South America. Its botanical name has undergone a cycle of change in the two centuries since it was introduced to England as Verbena triphylla. Its lemon scent was the source of an alternative name, V. citriodora (verveine citronelle in France). A Spanish researcher assigned it to the genus Aloysia (named for Maria Louisa, wife of King Charles IV of Spain) because its fruit separates into two nutlets, whereas the fruits of Verbena species separate into four. The plant was known as A. citriodora until it was moved again in the early nineteenth century, this time to the genus Lippia (named for an Italian botanist named Lippi). Though lemon verbena is sometimes still offered as L. citriodora, it has long been reassigned to the genus Aloysia, this time as A. triphylla. The species name describes the characteristic whorls of three leaves that form along the stems. Not uncommonly, however, the whorls consist of four leaves, sometimes on the entire plant and sometimes just on certain stems.





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