Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, is a member of the mint family and is relatively easy to grow in Zones 4 through 9. It can be grown in containers or planted directly into the ground. This herb is used as a seasoning, in making liqueurs and has been used for centuries as a medicine. Smash a lemon balm leaf and you will smell the distinct lemony odor. Once established, this deciduous, perennial herb requires very little care other than basic watering needs.
Growing Lemon Balm Outdoors
Select an area in your yard that receives full sunlight or is mainly sunny with some shade. Lemon balm grows best in full sunlight but will tolerate some shade. In hotter, dry climates, plant the lemon balm in partial shade. Make sure the area receives good air circulation.
Amend the soil with manure and peat if the soil you are planting in is not fertile. Lemon balm prefers rich, fertile soil that will drain well.
Space each lemon balm plant 18 inches apart, if you are planting more than two. If you are sowing seeds, plant them at a depth of ¼ inch. Lemon balm can reach a height of 12 to 24 inches and have a width that is the same.
Water the lemon balm regularly, but do not flood the planting area. Lemon balm prefers the soil it is growing in to be moist, but root rot will develop if it is left in flooded conditions for too long.
Pinch off the leaves as you need them. Prune the plant back to two inch stems in the fall. The plant will sprout back out once the warmer weather of spring arrives. Mulch the lemon balm for winter protection, in colder regions of the country.
Growing Lemon Balm in Containers
Select a container six to eight inches in width and depth that has a drain hole. This size will give the plant’s root system enough room to grow properly.
Fill the container with a rich, well draining soil medium such as an organic potting mix.
Water the container on a regular basis to keep the soil moist. Feel the soil, and if it is dry to the touch, give the lemon balm some water. Grow the plant in an area that receives high light. Pinch off leaves and fresh springs as needed.
Protect the container-grown plant in winter by moving it inside to a patio area. The plant may look like it dies, but it should sprout new growth in the spring.