Lemon balm is one of the many varieties of mint. It is pervasive, prolific, and smells sweetly of lemon and mint. It repels insects, makes a wonderful tea, is a delightful garnish, and seasons food. Eating lemon balm has a number of health benefits, helping with everything from headaches and fevers to stomach upsets. The best source for lemon balm is your own garden, and it is very easy to grow.
Step 1 - Where to Plant
Lemon balm, as a member of the mint family, can quickly take over a garden unless you monitor it religiously. The easiest way to avoid this is to grow it in a container. Alternatively, you can divide off a section of your garden to keep it in. Insert plastic or metal walls to a depth of 12 inches below the soil, all the way around the lemon balm. Allow the walls to extend slightly above the soil. The runner roots probably won't grow deep enough to go under the wall, and if they try to go over the wall you can spot them and cut them off.
Lemon balm grows best in partial shade when the soil is kept moist. However, it can grow in anything from full sun to nearly full shade and withstand dry conditions if necessary.
Step 2 - When to Plant
Plant your herbs, including lemon balm, in the spring when the soil has warmed.
Step 3 - How to Plant
Dig a hole in the soil slightly larger than the pot your lemon balm came in and just as deep. Loosen the root ball and surrounding soil from the sides of the pot and slide the plant out. Place the root ball in the hole you dug, with the plant stem at ground level. Fill in the hole with the soil you removed, pressing lightly to compact it. Water well to moisten the soil and fill in any air bubbles.
If you plant multiple plants, space them at least one foot apart. The lemon balm will quickly spread to fill in the space you leave.
Step 4 - Long Term Care
Lemon balm is very simple to maintain. Keep the soil moist and harvest regularly to keep it under control. A thin layer of mulch will help keep the soil moist and provide protection for the runner roots.
If you live in a cold region, your lemon balm will die back to the ground in the winter and reemerge in the spring.
Remove the flowers before they bloom to ensure a larger harvest of leaves.
Step 4 - How to Get a Bushy Lemon Balm
Pinch off new growth from the beginning to encourage the plant to branch and become more bushy. The leaves you pinch off can be dried or used fresh.
Step 5 - Harvesting Time
Lemon balm needs to be harvested to keep it under control. If not trimmed it will grow leggy and scraggly. Small clumps of leaves can be removed as needed for fresh use. The bulk of the plant can be harvested once or twice a season to promote new growth. Cut the stems off above the bottom most set of leaves, about two inches above the ground. Use the leaves in your cooking immediately or dry them and use them later in the year.