Add to tea, use as a cooking herb to impart lemony flavor, or enjoy its aromatherapeutic qualities in a relaxing bath. Traditionally valued as a medicinal herb, lemon balm has mild sedative properties. A good container variety!
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit.
- Just barely cover the seed with seed-starting formula.
- Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Sowing Directly in the Garden:
- Direct sow in average soil in full sun after danger of frost in spring.
- Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
- Sow seeds evenly and lightly cover with fine soil.
- Firm the soil lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings will emerge in 14-21 days.
- Thin to 12 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches tall.
- Mulches help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Cut plants back by up to two-thirds after they bloom, about 40 days after emergence, to encourage new growth.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- Divide plants every year or two in spring or early fall to control their spread.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Lemon balm is one of the easiest lemon-scented herbs you can grow and is suitable for flower borders, herb gardens, containers, or vegetable gardens.
- Use the fresh leaves to add to flavor to foods and teas, or toss them into your bathwater.
- Include the dried leaves in potpourri.
- To dry lemon balm, cut a bunch of stems on a sunny morning, tie them loosely and hang them in a dry, airy location out of the sun. When thoroughly dry, store in a tightly sealed glass jar in a dry, dark location, such as a cupboard, for one year.
- Lemon balm may be chopped and frozen in vegetable oil or water in ice cube trays.