Do you know how awesome lemon balm is? Not only can it be used as an ingredient for a cup of fresh herbal tea, but it can also be incorporated into various other drinks and foods. And it all thanks to its lemony aroma. Here, we have a guide for growing lemon balm. Don’t worry, growing it isn’t difficult.
We start with a short introduction of lemon balm, cultivar options, and the benefits of growing it. Then, we proceed to growing from seed, indoors, and in pots. The following section is for caring for the plants. How to harvest and store comes next. When you finish, you will know how to grow lemon balm from start to finish. Let’s start
- 1 What Is Lemon Balm?
- 2 Lemon Balm Cultivars to Grow
- 3 Benefits of Growing Lemon Balm
- 4 Growing Lemon Balm from Seed
- 5 Growing Lemon balm Indoors
- 6 Growing Lemon Balm in Pots
- 7 Caring for Lemon Balm
- 8 Harvesting
- 9 Storing
- 10 Diseases and Pests
- 11 Some Useful Tips
What Is Lemon Balm?
Melissa officinalis or lemon balm is a herbaceous perennial plant. Native to Europe and Asia, lemon balm can withstand a wide range of climate (USDA Zone 3 to 12), including temperature as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also grow in just about any type of soil, albeit it grows best on soil that is not too wet.
Growing lemon balm from seed is not difficult, as you will see shortly. In fact, left alone lemon balm plants will seed and may even overcrowd the garden. Because of this, some gardeners consider lemon balm as invasive. With proper care, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. You can grow lemon balm as needed and not more.
Lemon balm can also be grown indoors and in pots. The growing process is a bit different as the media and the placement is also different. So if you are planning to grow lemon indoors and/or in pots, there are things you need to know. No need to worry, we will help you with that too.
Lemon balm takes about 70 days to reach maturity. It can grow up to 5 feet tall, with 1 to 2 feet of spread. The leaves grow in the opposite direction and have a citrusy fragrance with a hint of mint, something that we all know and love. After all, it is a part of the mint family.
Lemon Balm Cultivars to Grow
1. Standard Lemon Balm
If you like the classic, old-school lemon balm, then just go for the standard variety.
Unlike the standard lemon balm cultivar, Aurea cultivar grows dark green leaves that have yellow variegation which appears in spring and fades in summer. Due to its unique look, Auera cultivar can be both consumed and used as an ornament.
Growing lemon balm takes space as the plant sprawl. But what if you have limited space available and can’t afford sprawl? In that case, the Compacta cultivar is for you. Compacta grows up to 6 inches in height and 12 inches in width. It neither produces flowers nor seed.
As the name suggests, Citronella cultivar has a strong smell of citronella. Compared to the other cultivars, Citronella has a high oil content. This cultivar is also resistant to mildew.
Benefits of Growing Lemon Balm
1. A fresh supply of lemon balm leaves
Since you can harvest the leaves once the plant is established anytime, you basically have a fresh supply of lemon balm leaves to use whenever you want. Not to mention you can harvest a lot of leaves (almost to the entire plant!) in a single harvest, too. Don’t worry. The leaves will grow back sooner than later.
2. Grow lemon balm as a companion plant
Not only lemon balm is unlikely to be affected by diseases and pests, but it can also be used to protect other plants (like cabbage family crops, for example) from pests. The smell of lemon balm hides the smell of cabbage as well as deter insects that like to eat cabbage.
3. Lemon balm attracts honeybee
On one hand, lemon balm deters insects that attack cabbage. On the other, it attracts beneficial insects like honeybees. So if you want to improve pollination in your garden, growing lemon balm near fruit trees can help. This is probably where lemon balm botanical name, Melissa which means bees in Greek, came from.
Growing Lemon Balm from Seed
1. Planting the seed
Growing lemon balm from seed is quite straightforward. Here are the steps to do so:
- Sow lemon balm seed in the early days of spring. To sow, simply spread the seeds on the soil and just let them be exposed. Alternatively, you can cover them with soil if you want. Make sure that you cover the seeds lightly as they need light to germinate.
- You can amend the soil with compost if you want. It is not a must, but if you do so it will help the seed to grow.
- Try to keep the soil temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds should sprout in about 5 to 9 days.
2. Preparing the soil
What about the soil? Lemon balm is not a demanding plant. And this includes even the soil. Lemon balm can grow in just about any type of soil although it doesn’t grow well in very wet soil. For best growth, plant lemon balm in well-drained soil with a pH of 6.7 to 7.3.
3. How many lemon balm plants should you plant?
If you are growing lemon balm for cooking purposes, 4 lemon balm plants should be enough. If you are growing for preserving and making tea, you might need 6 to 12 lemon balm plants. Have a small space available? Don’t worry. The leaves can harvest almost the entire leaves and they will grow back.
Growing Lemon balm Indoors
Growing lemon balm can also be done indoors, too. How you grow it is the same as you how you would do in the garden. The difference is how you meet the sunlight exposure that the plants need. If you keep your plants indoors, you need to provide 14 to 16 hours of artificial light so the plants can grow optimally.
Growing Lemon Balm in Pots
Growing lemon balm can also be done in containers or pots. In fact, lemon balm is a nice choice for container gardening. Also, you can plant lemon balm together with other summer annuals like basil or dill. Below are the steps how to grow lemon balm in pots:
- Prepare a pot or pots. Use pots that are 15 to 18 inches wide and 8 inches deep, at a minimum. If possible, find larger pots so there is enough space for the lemon balm to grow.
- Add soil into the container. Like growing lemon balm in the garden, well-drained soil is ideal for lemon balm. Alternatively, you can also use sandy loam.
- Plant lemon balm seeds or transplants lemon balm seedlings into the pots.
- Place the pots in a location where the plants can get 5 hours of sunlight at a minimum.
- As the plants grow, you may need to divide them to prevent root-bound.
When you are growing lemon balm in pots, keep an eye on the soil moisture. Although lemon balm plants can withstand drought once established, they still need water. Not to mention containers drain faster than the ground, too. For best growth, make sure to water the plants regularly and evenly so the soil is slightly moist.
Caring for Lemon Balm
It is true that once established, lemon balm is able to tolerate drought. That being said, lemon balm grows best in soil that is slightly moist. As such, water the plant regularly and evenly.
Extra feeding is not necessary when it comes to growing lemon balm. To feed lemon balm, prepare aged compost and use it to side-dress the plants. Feed during the growing season.
3. Preventing lemon balm from becoming invasive
Another thing to keep in mind when growing lemon balm is that the plant spreads by underground roots. So in order to prevent it from becoming invasive, consider using a bottomless container when planting lemon balm in the garden. This should keep the roots in place and not become invasive.
If there are unwanted lemon balm plants growing, remove these plants before they are established. For the remaining lemon balm plants, cut back the plants by half after they flower to keep a compact form and encourage new leaves to grow. Lemon balm is also self-sowing so deadheading the plants can help them from becoming invasive.
The last step of growing lemon balm is, of course, harvesting. The question, when is the best time to harvest lemon balm leaves? Lemon balm leaves can be harvested once the plant is established. Here are the times to harvest:
1. When you need the leaves
Just take some lemon balm leaves and sprigs that you need. You can do this whenever you want during the growing season. If you want to enjoy leaves with the strongest aroma, harvest the lower leaves
2. Before the plant flowers
If you are planning to dry and store the leaves, the best time to harvest balm is in summer, when the leaves start to turn yellow.
3. At mid-season or in autumn
At this time, you can cut back the plant by half. Lemon balm responds well with cutting and will grow new leaves in about 4 weeks.
As for how to harvest, it is very simple. All you need is a garden pruner. Using the pruner, snip the sprigs and leaves or cut a few inches of new growth. Make sure that you harvest the leaves carefully as the leaves bruise quite easily. For easy drying, keep the leaves on stems.
Want to have large yields at a single harvest instead of small, steady ones? In that case, just do so.. Just cut the whole plant back to almost ground level and enjoy the reward of growing lemon balm. You can do this large harvest several times through the growing season.
Lemon balm leaves are at their best when they are fresh. Keep in mind that the leaves tend to lose their flavor over time so if you don’t plan to use them immediately, be sure to store them properly. To preserve their flavor, but the leaves on trays and let them dry.
Alternatively, you can also hang the leaves in a location where there are good air circulation and less light. Putting the leaves inside a dehydrator set on a low setting for 12 to 18 hours is a good idea as well. The most important thing here is to dry the leaves immediately as excess moisture diminishes the flavor.
How to store
- After drying the leaves, remove them from the stems.
- Put them inside an airtight glass container and close the container.
- Put the container somewhere dry and dark.
You can also store fresh leaves by freezing them as well. Here’s how
- After harvesting the leaves, chop them.
- Mix the leaves with water.
- Put the leaves in the ice cube trays and let them freeze.
Diseases and Pests
When it comes to diseases and pests, there is little to worry about. Why? Because lemon balm is unlikely to be affected by either. Insects like spider mites or aphids may attack the growing lemon balm but they can be removed easily by hosing them with a hard stream or washing the plant in the sink.
As for diseases, two of the most common for lemon balm are powdery mildew and septoria leaf spot. Both are fungal diseases. The two diseases can be prevented easily by regular pruning, regular harvesting, and good air circulation. If all else fails, just cut the whole plant to the base and wait for regrowing.
Some Useful Tips
- When a lemon balm plant bolts, the flavor of the leaves diminishes. So if you want the best flavor, don’t allow the plants to bolt.
- To prevent the plant from spreading, harvest the top parts before it starts to flower. This way, you prevent the plant from going to seed, thus preventing the plant from spreading.
- Mulching helps lemon balm to grow optimally as it improves drainage. Mulching also helps in preventing lemon balm seeds from spreading.
- Thinning out the plants is necessary to improve air circulation as well as keeping the growth of the plants is kept in check.
Growing lemon balm is easy. The plant requires very little maintenance. Yet, with that little care you give it, you can harvest satisfying yields. The best thing about harvesting lemon balm is that you can do it whenever you want once the plant is established. So, are you ready to plant your own lemon balm in the garden?