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Everything You Need to Know About Growing Lemon Balm

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Lemon Balm In Planter

Lemon balm plants are part of the mint family.  Unlike its family, though, growing lemon balm is a “little” different from growing mints.  The main difference is that it doesn’t spread as crazy as other mints with runners.

Instead, it prefers to spread like crazy by self-seeding.  Growing lemon balm plants will provide an excellent herb to perk up your food and drinks.  And don’t forget that wonderful aroma wafting into the air.

Lemon balm has a mix of lemon and mint flavors.  This makes it an excellent addition to drinks, teas, salads, soups, stews, and desserts.  Like other herbs, this one will lose its flavor if cooked too long.  The best thing is to add it near the end of the cooking cycle.

Types of Lemon Balm

Common Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis officinalis)

This plant goes by many names: melissa, sweet balm, garden balm, blue balm, lemon mint, and balm mint.

The stems are square (a characteristic of mints) with rounded or heart-shaped leaves and white flowers.  Be aware that lemon balm is not the same plant as lemon bee balm.

Lemon balm plants are hardy in Zones 4 – 9.  Once established, they’ll survive temperatures down to -20o Fahrenheit.

The plants will increase in size every year and reach a height of 24 – 36 inches and 18 – 36 inches wide.  They have a lifespan of 20 – 30 years.

Here are several varieties of everyday lemon balm:

  • Binsuga (Melissa officinalis ‘Binsuga’).  This variety is full of aromatic essential oils, which makes it a first choice for lemon balm tea.
  • Dwarf (Melissa officinalis ‘Compacta’).  This variety only reaches a height of 16 inches.
  • Yellow Variegated (Melissa officinalis ‘Variegata’).  Also known as Aurea.  The leaves on this plant have beautiful yellow and green patterns.  This variety and All Gold are both delicious and decorative.
  • All Gold (Melissa officinalis ‘All Gold’).  The leaves on this plant are entirely golden.
  • Citronella (Melissa officinalis ‘Citronella’).  This variety has a strong citronella smell and grows 10 – 12 inches high.
  • Lime.  Yes, there’s a lemon balm with a lime flavor and fragrance.  This variety has leaves that are bright and medium green.  Mixing these leaves with the lemon ones would make some delicious drinks and teas.
  • Other types of lemon balm grow wild in Asian and Mediterranean areas.  People only cultivate the common lemon balm varieties around the world.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

Lemon Balm Flowers
Lemon Balm Flowers

Preparing the Soil

Plant lemon balm in the late spring, well after the dangers of frost.  This herb likes well-drained soil with a pH of 4.5 – 7.5.  Before planting, mix the soil with about 2 inches of well-aged compost.

To learn about testing soil pH, please read our article “Testing Garden Soil and How to Make Improvements.”

Growing Lemon Balm from Seed

Lemon balm has a slow spread from runners but spreads fast from self-seeding.  When planting lemon balm in the ground, pick out an area where you can handle some spreading.  To limit the spreading, you can grow lemon balm in a pot.

When started indoors, plant the seeds 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost.  Transplant the early starters once the air temperature stays above 50o Fahrenheit.  This is also the temperature for sowing seeds in the garden.

Start the seeds indoors in peat pots or trays filled with potting mix.  Plant about three seeds in each pot in case there’s a problem with germination.  Cover the seeds with a small amount of potting mix.

The seeds need light to sprout, so a small amount of cover soil is essential.  Spray enough water to keep the soil moist during the growth time.  You should see sprouts in 10 – 14 days.

After the plants grow about 4 inches high, move them outside for a week to harden.  The plants like full sun but find a spot with partial shade to protect them on sweltering days.  Too much sun will cause the leaves to lose color and become less flavorful.

The soil should be fertile and moist.  Mix in a few inches of well-aged compost if the soil needs help.  Space the plants 18 – 24 inches apart.

If you plant the seeds in the garden, broadcast them on the surface.  Soil doesn’t need to cover them.  If you decide to cover the seeds, use a little soil so the seeds will still have light.

Keep the soil moist.  After the seedlings appear, you can thin them so they’re 18 – 24 inches apart.

Seeds and Plants for Your Garden

Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Lemon Balm Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - 92% Germination Rate Melissa Officinalis
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Lemon Balm Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - 92% Germination Rate Melissa Officinalis
$5.99
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2024-07-18
Bonnie Plants Lemon Balm Live Herb Plants - 4 Pack, Perennial In Zones 5 to 9, For Lemon Flavor In A Variety Of Dishes & Teas
Bonnie Plants Lemon Balm Live Herb Plants - 4 Pack, Perennial In Zones 5 to 9, For Lemon Flavor In A Variety Of Dishes & Teas
$22.99
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2024-07-18
Survival Garden Seeds Herb Collection Seed Vault - Parsley, Cilantro, Basil, Lemon Balm, Dill - Non-GMO Heirloom Survival Garden Seeds for Planting - Grow Herbs Indoors Year Round
Survival Garden Seeds Herb Collection Seed Vault - Parsley, Cilantro, Basil, Lemon Balm, Dill - Non-GMO Heirloom Survival Garden Seeds for Planting - Grow Herbs Indoors Year Round
$8.99
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2024-07-18

How to Propagate Lemon Balm from Cuttings

Get ready by filling enough peat pots with potting mix.  The best times to take cuttings are the spring or fall.  Cut about 3 inches from the tips of a mature plant and remove the bottom third of the leaves.

First, dip the bare stalks of the cuttings in the rooting hormone.  Next, punch small holes in the potting mix, and plant the cuttings in the holes.  The rooting hormone will scrape off if you force the cuttings into the potting mix without making a hole.

After 3 – 4 weeks, the roots should be ready.  To test for roots, you could gently pull up on the cuttings to see if there’s any resistance.  Transplant the rooted cuttings while they’re still in the peat pots.

Another option is to put the cuttings in a glass with about an inch of water. Change the water if it gets cloudy.  The cuttings are ready to transplant when the roots are about 2 inches long.

Rooted cuttings, need hardening before planting.  Move them outside for about a week to get them hardened.

Accessories for Starting Lemon Balm Seeds

SYITCUN 200 Cells Seed Starter Tray, 20 Pack Seed Starter Kit for Planting Seeds, Biodegradable Peat Pots, Value Germination Kit with 200 Plant Labels, 2 Transplanting Tools, 1 Spray Bottle
SYITCUN 200 Cells Seed Starter Tray, 20 Pack Seed Starter Kit for Planting Seeds, Biodegradable Peat Pots, Value Germination Kit with 200 Plant Labels, 2 Transplanting Tools, 1 Spray Bottle
$15.99
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2024-07-18
Daniel's Plants 3' Naked Pots | Natural Plantable Pots for Starting Seeds | OMRI-Listed Biodegradable | Earth Freindly no Peat | 60 Pack 3 Inch Round
Daniel's Plants 3" Naked Pots | Natural Plantable Pots for Starting Seeds | OMRI-Listed Biodegradable | Earth Freindly no Peat | 60 Pack 3 Inch Round
$22.97
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2024-07-18
Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix 8 qt., Protects Against Over and Under Watering Container Plants, 2-Pack
Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix 8 qt., Protects Against Over and Under Watering Container Plants, 2-Pack
$13.94
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2024-07-18

How to Propagate Lemon Balm by Root Division

This is easy to do when the plants are dormant in the fall or early spring.  Dig up the root clumps of a mature plant and divide them up.  Plant the clumps in pots or back into the ground, and they’ll sprout when the time is right.

How to Propagate Lemon Balm by Layering

Gardeners don’t use this method often since lemon balm spreads so well by self-seeding.  Start by scratching a short, shallow trench in the ground. Then choose an outer stem to bend down and lay in the trench.

The top 3 inches of the stem should be able to stick out of the trench.  Remove the leaves from the rest of the stem and lay the bare stem in the trench.  Then anchor it with a forked stick or a bent piece of stiff wire.

Cover the trench with soil and ensure the 3-inch tip is sticking out.  The tip will show new growth after a week, and the stem will have roots in the soil.  At this point, cut the stem from the parent plant. Then dig up and transplant the new plant.

Growing Lemon Balm in Pots

This herb is an excellent plant for pots or container gardening.  Potting the gold varieties is a great way to add an aromatic, decorative, and practical plant to your home.  In containers, it will grow together with annuals such as basil or dill.

Pots should be 15 – 18 inches wide and at least 8 inches deep.  Put the pot in an area with at least 5 hours of sunlight daily.  Fill the pot with 2/3 potting soil mixed with 1/3 compost.  You can then plant seeds or transplants in the pots.

A problem with container plants is that they’ll eventually become root-bound.  Cut back the extra roots to give the plants more space.

Pots for Growing Lemon Balm

The HC Companies 16 Inch Sedona Round Self Watering Planter - Decorative Lightweight Plastic Plant Pot for Indoor Outdoor Plants Flowers Herbs, Cottage Stone
The HC Companies 16 Inch Sedona Round Self Watering Planter - Decorative Lightweight Plastic Plant Pot for Indoor Outdoor Plants Flowers Herbs, Cottage Stone
$31.99
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2024-07-18
Classic Home and Garden Honeysuckle Resin Flower Pot Planter, Fossil Stone, 15'
Classic Home and Garden Honeysuckle Resin Flower Pot Planter, Fossil Stone, 15"
$26.57
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2024-07-18
Fox & Fern Extra Large 14.6 Inch Planter - Premium Lightweight Fiberstone Matte White Plant Pot with Drainage Plug; Ideal for Indoor and Outdoor Plants; Fits F&F Modern Plant Stand
Fox & Fern Extra Large 14.6 Inch Planter - Premium Lightweight Fiberstone Matte White Plant Pot with Drainage Plug; Ideal for Indoor and Outdoor Plants; Fits F&F Modern Plant Stand
$89.99
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2024-07-18

How to Harvest Lemon Balm

Harvest the leaves after the plant is 6 – 8 inches tall.  Don’t take more than 1/3 of the leaves at once to avoid damaging the plant.

You can often cut the plants back to a few inches tall during the growing season.  This will keep the plant bushy and prevent seeds from developing.  If you avoid this step, the plants could take over your garden space by self-seeding.

The leaves will remain green during mild winters. The plant will die back to its roots in areas with cold winters and reappear in the spring.

Storing Fresh Lemon Balm

Use lemon balm when its fresh to retain maximum flavor.  To start, wash the sprigs if they’re dirty and completely dry off the water.  The washing should be gentle to avoid losing any oils.

You can then strip off the leaves or keep them on the stems and store them in Ziploc bags.  They’ll keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To freeze lemon balm, chop the leaves and put them in ice cube trays.  Top off the cubes with water or olive oil and pop the trays in the freezer.  Use the frozen cubes as needed.  Frozen lemon balm is good for up to 6 months.

How to Dry Lemon Balm

Drying decreases the flavor of lemon balm leaves, but they still keep most of their aroma.  Store the dry leaves whole or grind them with a spice grinder.

Store all dried herbs in cool, dark places in air-tight containers or jars.  Dried lemon balm leaves will store for up to 1 year.  After that time, it’s still good, but the flavor decreases even more.

Air Drying

Tie sprigs of lemon balm together and hang them upside down in a dark area with good ventilation.  You can cover the sprigs with paper bags punched with air holes.  This will keep dust off the leaves and catch any leaves that fall off the branches.

You can also strip the leaves from the stems and lay them on trays for air drying.

Drying in the Oven

Lemon balm is a delicate herb, and oven drying isn’t the best method.  The oven needs to be at its lowest temperature, which can be 140o – 200o F depending on the oven.  The ideal highest temperature for drying lemon balm is 95o F.

At any rate, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the leaves in a single layer.   Place the tray in the oven and leave the oven door ajar.  Check the leaves for dryness after 30 minutes.

If they’re not dry enough, continue checking them every 10 minutes until they’re dry.  Be careful that the leaves don’t scorch.

Drying in a Microwave

Place paper towels in the microwave and lay on the leaves in a single layer.  Microwave for 30 seconds and then in 15-second increments until the leaves are dry.

Drying in a Dehydrator

Strip the leaves off the branches and lay them in a single layer on the dehydrator racks.  Follow the dehydrator instructions for drying herbs.

Accessories for Drying Lemon Balm

Encheng 16 oz Glass Jars With Airtight Lids And Leak Proof Rubber Gasket,Wide Mouth Mason Jars With Hinged Lids For Kitchen,Glass Storage Containers 6 Pack
Encheng 16 oz Glass Jars With Airtight Lids And Leak Proof Rubber Gasket,Wide Mouth Mason Jars With Hinged Lids For Kitchen,Glass Storage Containers 6 Pack
$22.99
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2024-07-18
COSORI Food Dehydrator for Jerky, Holds 7.57lb Raw Beef with Large 6.5ft² Drying Space, 6 Stainless Steel 13'x12' Trays, 165°F Dehydrated Dryer for Dog Treats, Herbs, Meat, Fruit, and Yogurt, Silver
COSORI Food Dehydrator for Jerky, Holds 7.57lb Raw Beef with Large 6.5ft² Drying Space, 6 Stainless Steel 13"x12" Trays, 165°F Dehydrated Dryer for Dog Treats, Herbs, Meat, Fruit, and Yogurt, Silver
$143.15
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
SHARDOR Adjustable Coffee Grinder Electric, Herb, Spice Grinder, Coffee Bean, Espresso Grinder with 2 Removable Stainless Steel Bowl, Black
SHARDOR Adjustable Coffee Grinder Electric, Herb, Spice Grinder, Coffee Bean, Espresso Grinder with 2 Removable Stainless Steel Bowl, Black
$39.99
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2024-07-18

Companion Plants for Lemon Balm

  • Lemon balm attracts beneficial insects like parasitic wasps, hoverflies, and tachinid flies.  These insects or their larvae eat many pests that attack garden plants.
  • When left to flower, lemon balm plants attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.
  • Lemon balm’s aroma is good for the good bugs, and bad for the bad bugs and deer. Incredibly many other herbs work the same way.
  • Lemon balm is good for more than protecting plants.  Rubbing the leaves on your skin will also help to repel mosquitoes.
  • Companion herbs for lemon balm include almost any other perennial herb.  Pairing lemon balm with other perennial herbs increases their ability to repel pests.
  • Lemon balm and its companion herbs will repel pests for winter and summer squash, cole crops, melons, and many others.

Lemon Balm Pests and Diseases

This is an herb that rarely has any pest or disease problems.  Aphids and spider mites will sometimes appear when the plants are growing indoors.

Remove the pests with a blast of water, or spray the leaves with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.  Marigolds, nasturtiums, or calendula are good plants that repel aphids.

Our article “Top 5 Natural Pest Control Methods You Can Use Now” has more information about organic pest control.

Overwatering can cause root rot or powdery mildew.  These are common problems when any plant gets too much water.  You’ll have to remove the infected plants and destroy them.  To prevent this problem, try watering less often.

Final Thoughts

So many herbs provide us with pleasant aromas and flavors.  Lemon balm is one near the top of the list.  The colored varieties also make decorative flowering houseplants.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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