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About the Lemon Balm Plant:
Lemon balm is a low-maintenance and resilient plant that grows into a bushy perennial herb with a height of up to two feet. Its squarish stems are adorned with pairs of wrinkled, serrated, oval leaves that measure about three inches long and are colored medium green.
During the period of June to August, tiny white flowers blossom on the top of each leaf pair, which may not be noticeable to us, but they are cherished by pollinators like honeybees.
Due to its self-propagating ability through seed and root, lemon balm tends to form dense colonies. Regular pruning is necessary to promote the growth of new, fragrant leaves, curb their spread, and prevent the plant from appearing weedy.
Lemon balm is an attractive ground cover that adapts well to partial shade, making it suitable for planting under bushes and shrubs to help control weed growth. It also makes an excellent companion plant for various food crops in the vegetable garden, as it helps increase yields and repel pests.
A vital member of any herbal garden, lemon balm can thrive in pots that can be placed around outdoor gathering spots like patios to keep mosquitoes and other irritating insects away.
Lemon Balm Growing Conditions:
Lemon balm is considered hardy in USDA zones 5 and higher, which means it can withstand cold temperatures and frost.
When planting lemon balm, it’s best to choose a location that receives full to partial sunlight. In areas with cooler climates, full sun exposure is ideal, but in hotter regions, it’s better to plant lemon balm in an area that gets some shade during the afternoon.
Lemon balm can grow in various soil types, but it prefers moist, well-drained, and fertile soil in cooler spots of the garden. Even though it can tolerate poor soil conditions, providing it with ideal growing conditions can help it thrive.
To maintain healthy growth, lemon balm plants should be watered consistently to keep the soil moist.
Give lemon balm plants a boost by amending the soil with finished compost.
Lemon balm makes a great companion plant for various crops, including all members of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. It also grows well alongside tomatoes, melons, squash, onions, and apples.
How to Grow Lemon Balm
To grow lemon balm from seed, start by planting them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, or sow them directly in the soil between late March and mid-April.
When planting the seeds, lightly cover them with soil and dust the surface with a spoon. Add enough water to the growing medium to prevent the seeds from drying out or washing away, and avoid disturbing the plants by misting the soil with water from a bottle. If you’re using starter pots, water them from the bottom.
The lemon balm seeds should germinate within 2 to 3 weeks. Once the seedlings emerge, keep the soil consistently moist.
If you started the seeds indoors, allow the plants to grow a few inches before transplanting them into the garden. Space the transplants 18 to 24 inches apart.
If you sowed the seeds directly in the garden, thin the seedlings to 8 inches apart initially, and after a few weeks, do a second thinning to a minimum of 18 inches apart.
Lemon balm can be propagated through cuttings like many other types of herbs. Follow these steps to successfully propagate lemon balm:
- Snip off a 2 to 3-inch cutting that has healthy-looking leaves and some new growth at the tip.
- Place the cuttings in a cup of water and set it in a spot that receives indirect sunlight.
- Replace the water as needed. It may take around 6 weeks for roots to emerge from the base of the stem.
- Once the lemon balm cutting has a good set of roots, plant it in nutrient-rich soil and water it well.
- Keep the plant indoors for a couple more weeks before hardening it off and transplanting it outdoors.
From Starter Plant
- Wait until the weather is mild enough to transplant outdoors.
- • Prepare the soil by digging to a depth of about 10 inches and adding compost to it.
- • Dig a hole that’s slightly larger than the pot the lemon balm came in.
- • Remove the plant from its container and plant it at the same depth as it was in the pot.
- • Replace the soil around the roots and gently press it down with your hands.
- • Water the plant deeply and frequently during the first two weeks to help it establish its roots in its new location.
Propagating lemon balm through division is an effortless option if you know someone who already has a thriving plant.
• With a spade, shovel, or garden fork, dig into the soil around 4 inches deep near the original planting.
• Carefully remove a portion of the plant and roots while retaining the soil clump it’s growing in.
• Place the root clump in a bag and add some water to transport it to your garden.
• Follow the previous steps for transplanting and watering to ensure successful establishment.
How to Harvest Lemon Balm
After your lemon balm plants have established themselves and started producing new growth, you can harvest their leaves throughout the season. When harvesting, cut a section of the stem and remove the leaves.
The plant will regrow from just below where the cutting was taken. To maintain the health and productivity of the lemon balm, avoid taking more than 25% of the plant’s foliage at once.
Younger leaves are generally more tender, aromatic, and flavorful than older ones. Fresh leaves are ideal for use in culinary recipes as their fragrance diminishes once they’re dried. To preserve for later use, hang bundles of lemon balm in a warm, dark, and well-ventilated location. After the leaves have completely dried, remove them and store them in an airtight container. Fresh leaves can also be frozen for later use.
To collect lemon balm seeds, wait for the plant to flower and the seed pods to appear. As the foliage starts to dry up and the stalks turn brown, remove them from the plant.
Hold the stalks over a paper bag or plate and pinch off the foliage while running your fingers along each stem. The tiny black seeds will be mixed in with the dead leaves, so use a fine mesh strainer to separate the seeds from the foliage. Repeat this process a few times until you’re satisfied with the number of seeds collected.
Finally, store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for future use.
Lemon balm has a tendency to propagate itself through both seeds and roots, which can cause it to spread rapidly in the garden. To prevent self-sowing, it is recommended to remove the flowers as soon as they appear. Additionally, if you wish to limit its spread, it’s best to keep the plants in containers rather than directly in the ground. If the plant has already spread, pulling out the entire plant from the ground can help reduce the root spread.
To treat powdery mildew, which appears as a white or grey powder on the leaves and stems, begin by removing all parts of the plant that show signs of this fungal infection. After doing so, be sure to wash your hands and clippers thoroughly.
To prevent future outbreaks, prune the plant to increase air circulation since powdery mildew thrives in humid environments. You can also spray the plant with plain water to keep its leaves moist, as powdery mildew cannot grow on wet foliage.
If powdery mildew persists, you can use a baking soda spray recipe to combat it. However, this spray is potent, so apply it with care and avoid spraying plants in full sun.