Would you like a plant that has a wonderful lemon scent when it brushes up against something?
Try adding the shrub lemon verbena, Aloysia triphylla, to your landscape. If you prefer, this shrub can be pruned to resemble a tree, remove some of the bottom branches, leaving a main one as a trunk.
This plant came from Chile and Argentina; from there it went to Europe in the 17th century and then eventually to us here in the United States.
In its native countries, the shrub can grow to 15 feet, here 6 to 8 feet seems to be the maximum height. It can sprawl from 2 to 5 feet if left on its own without tending to it. It will look messy if it gets too tall and wide.
I have one planted by a window that is about 5 feet tall. I planted it near the window, so that when the wind blows and the window is open as it brushes against the screen the leaves release their lemon scent, which enters the house.
Lemon verbena has bright green 3-inch-long narrow leaves on long branches, planted for its lemon scented leaves and not the inconspicuous flowers that grow on the end of the branches. My shrub has white flowers, but I have read that you can get this plant with lilac-colored flowers too. Lemon verbena is a sun-loving plant. If planted in the shade it will get spindly and tall. It needs the sun so that the oil that forms the lemon scent will develop. Once established, they require moderate watering and good drainage to keep them at their best.
Prune lemon verbena after the branches have budded out. This is usually from mid- to late-spring, and this will make the pruning easier. If you wait too much longer the old branches, which could be dead, get tangled with the new.
Because I want my shrub to stay about 5 feet tall, I prune heavy in late winter to about 2 feet above the ground after it has gone dormant. Come mid-spring it is back in all its glory.
Lemon verbena tends to be a spindly plant so be careful where you plant it. You might want to plant it next to a fence or a wall, with shorter plants in front rather than by itself; that will help disguise some of the way that it tends to grow.
For allergy suffers, in his book “Allergy-Free Gardening,” Thomas Leo Ogren has ranked on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst offender for allergy plants, Lemon verbena as a 3.
As for pests, spider mite and whitefly could be the ones you find on this plant. You can use an insecticidal soap will help to control them.
If you have this plant and would like to share with friends and family, it can be propagated by soft wood cutting in the spring.
Try lemon verbena in flower arrangements in your home for that fresh lemon scent. Put some of the branches in water, they will release their lemon scent into the room lasting about a week to 10 days.
Betty Victor is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.