The green leaves of lemon balm have the scent of lemon with a hint of mint, with leaves that look like oversized mint—no surprise, since lemon balm is part of the mint family. Lemon balm can grow 24 to 36 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 fruit or green salad, and season fish. Be sure to include stems in bouquets of summer flowers.
Soil, Planting, and Care
After all danger of frost has past, set lemon balm plants 20 to 24 inches apart in rich soil where it will receive some shade during the day. Lemon balm will remain green during mild winters, such as those in zones 9 and 10. This plant 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 most people harvest it continually for lots of leaves, lemon balm 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. Or, use Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food when planting and then every couple of weeks thereafter.
Lemon balm does not spread by underground runners like mint. It will increase in size, though, 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. Adding mulch will not only help prevent the fallen seeds from germinating, but the mulch will also slowly decay, feeding the soil with the rich organic matter that this plant needs.
Harvest and Storage
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. However, enough of the fragrance remains when this herb is dried to make it a delightful addition to potpourri.
Like many other herbs, lemon balm can lose its flavor in cooking, so add it near the end of the cooking process. The fresh lemon fragrance and flavor go nicely with both chicken and fish dishes, as well as fruit and fruit juice drinks. Create your own herbal tea by cutting a few stems of lemon balm (plus 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.
Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.
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?