The green leaves of lemon balm have the scent of lemon with a hint of mint. In fact, the foliage of lemon balm looks like oversized mint. Lemon balm grows 20 to 24 inches tall and makes a nice green clump of medium-textured leaves among the other herbs and flowers in your garden. The plant looks best when it is cut back periodically, so plan to use lots of fresh, flavorful leaves to brew tea, flavor a fruit or green salad, and season fish. Be sure to include stems in bouquets of summer flowers.
After all danger of frost has past, set lemon balm in rich soil where it will receive full sun to partial shade. Gardeners in zone 8 will find that lemon balm enjoys a little afternoon break from the hot summer sun. In zones 9 and 10, even more shade is helpful. In addition, lemon balm will remain green during mild winters, such as those in zones 9 and 10. Lemon balm responds well to cutting, growing back twice as thick. Whenever your plant is looking tired due to drought, hail, insects, or other stress, just cut it back and let it rejuvenate itself with fresh, new growth.Lemon balm likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Because it is harvested continually for lots of leaves, it needs a little fertilizer. When planting, add a coated, slow-release fertilizer such as 19-19-19 at the rate recommended on the label, or work plenty of organic nutrients from compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal into the soil.
Lemon balm does not spread by underground runners like mint. It will increase in size, making a bigger clump in the garden each season and sprouting from seeds that develop from inconspicuous flowers. To keep it from taking up too much of your garden, cut the plant back to a few inches tall several times during the growing season. This will keep the plant bushy and healthy-looking while preventing seeds from ripening. The flowers of lemon balm are not necessarily showy, but they will produce viable seeds that will germinate in your garden. Mulch will help prevent the fallen seeds from germinating, and it will slowly decay, feeding the soil with the rich organic matter that this plant needs.
Lemon balm loses much of its flavor when dried, so it is a seasonal delight to be enjoyed while the weather is mild and the plant is green. The fragrance remains sufficiently to warrant its use in potpourri.
Like many other herbs, lemon balm can lose its flavor in cooking, so add it near the end of the cooking process to both chicken and fish dishes. The fresh lemon fragrance is also nice with fruit and fruit juice drinks. Create your own herbal tea by cutting a few stems of lemon balm and any other appealing herbs, putting them in a pitcher, pour boiling water over them, and allow them to steep for about 15 minutes. Enjoy your tea hot or over ice.
Can I grow lemon balm in a pot?
I hear about plants that are lemon flavored. How does that happen?
My lemon balm looks pale and sick even after I fertilized it. What is going on?
How can I keep lemon balm from taking over my garden?