How to Grow Lemon Balm from a Seed
Lemon balm(Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented member of the mint family and one of the easiest, hardiest, and most rewarding herbs to grow. It's not only decorative and wonderfully fragrant, it's uses are also remarkably diverse - from decoration to aromatherapy to cooking and more. If you're looking to start growing herbs or add to your existing garden, you can't go wrong with lemon balm!
What You'll Need
- Lemon Balm seeds
- Starter soil or fine-textured potting soil
- Starter pots
- A plastic spoon or a trowel
- Rocks or gravel for drainage (optional)
- 8" pots (for re-potting mature plants if you plant to keep them in containers)
- All-purpose or herb-and-vegetable fertilizer
- Patience and enthusiasm :)
Planting and Sprouting the Seeds
- Gently press seeds into starter soil--either use store-bought "starter soil," or use very fine-textured potting soil (the soil needs to be fine to allow the tiny plant to emerge).
- Water delicately, so as not to disturb the seeds, but thoroughly enough to moisten the soil well.
- Place in a warm, sunny spot indoors, out of reach of curious children and pets :)
- Wait 14-21 days, checking the soil daily to ensure it stays adequately moist
- Wait for the newly sprouted seedlings to produce at least four leaves before transplanting them to individual starter pots (unless you choose to plant one seed per starter pot from the beginning)
Re-Planting and Caring for Seedlings
Once the leaves on the seedlings have divided at least twice, and if they aren't each already in individual pots, carefully transfer each plant into its own starter pot according to the following directions:
- Prepare your starter pots ahead of time. Fill them nearly to the rim with starter soil or fine-textured potting soil, and then use your pinky finger to make an indentation in the middle of each pot up to the first knuckle (about 3/4")
- Using a spoon, gently dig around each plant, taking care not to damage the root or stem
- Lower each plant into the small holes you made in each pot. Adjust the depth of the hole to ensure that the roots are adequately covered, and the base of the stem is just at the surface of the soil.
- Add or remove soil if necessary to achieve an even surface, then gently but firmly press the soil down to remove air pockets and ensure the roots have good contact with the soil. Don't press too hard, of course!
- Once you're done re-potting, water each plant gently until water begins to drain from the bottom of each pot.
- Arrange the plants in a sunny spot indoors, preferably on a tray to collect any water or soil that drains from the pots. **Try not to let the pots sit in a pool of their own drainage water, though**
- Check the plants regularly to make sure they stay evenly moist (not soaking wet), and don't use any fertilizer on them yet.
- Depending on the size of the starter pots you've used, it may take 1-2 months before the plants are ready to be transplanted to larger pots
Transplanting and Maintenance for Maturing Plants
Once plants are about 6" tall, the stems look sturdy, and their leaves have divided several times, they can be transferred to 8" diameter pots or placed in the ground.
If you plan to keep them in containers:
- Prepare the new, larger pots ahead of time, adding 1-2" of rocks or gravel at the bottom to improve drainage if you like. Use organic potting mix, a vegetable/herb potting mix, or potting soil mixed with a little compost. Make a hole in the center of each pot that's about 4" deep and wide, or a little bigger or smaller, depending on the size of your plants.
- Cover the top of the starter pot with your hand, holding the plant stem between your fingers, and carefully turn it upside down, working the soil and roots out together.
- Place the roots and remaining soil into the hole in the new, larger pot, adjusting the new soil so that the roots are covered and the base of the stem meets the soil surface.
- Even out the soil and press down to remove air pockets.
- Water thoroughly until it drains out the bottom.
- At this point, the plants can be put outside, as lemon balm prefers 3-6 hours of light daily. **Since the plants are still young, don't put them in full sun yet; give them a little shade.** You can also place them inside near a sunny window.
- Check them regularly, and keep the soil evenly moist.
If you want to plant them in the ground:
- Choose a spot that gets at least 3-6 hours of sun a day
- Mix in some compost or enriched soil into the ground
- Dig holes about 4" x 4" (bigger or smaller depending on the size of your plants) and space the holes at least 18" if not 24" apart
- **Note: Lemon balm can be invasive if left unchecked. If you don't want it taking over your garden, don't plant too many, or put them in larger containers first (see above), and then put them in the ground, container and all
- Water thoroughly once you're done planting, and be sure to always keep the soil evenly moist, but not soaking wet
- Don't over-fertilize. Lemon balm is most fragrant when you don't use too much fertilizer. Stick to adding a little compost around the plants a few times a year.
Caring for and Harvesting a Mature Plant
- Once the plants are more mature, you can begin fertilizing them a bit or adding some compost to the soil a few times a year. Use an all-purpose or herb-and-veggie fertilizer, but don't over-fertilize! Lemon balm loses its fragrance and potency when you apply too much fertilizer.
- If your plants are in containers: after a couple months, when the plants have put up more shoots and seem more established, they can be allowed full sun for a few hours a day. Make sure to water them well on hot days, and move them if they start to wilt.
- You can harvest a few leaves at a time as needed. In fact, pruning them back encourages new growth.
- You can also take more extensive cuttings a few times a year; just leave about 4" of each stem intact, and they'll grow back.
- Good luck, and Happy Gardening!