How to Cultivate a Thriving Lemon Balm Herb Garden

Guest post by Katrina & Clayton

Lemon balm, with its vibrant lemon scent and multitude of uses, is a wonderful addition to any Scottish garden. Its hardy nature and adaptability make it well-suited to the Scottish climate, where it can thrive with proper care.

Growing Lemon Balm in Scotland

Lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis), is a perennial herb in the mint family. Known for its lemony fragrance and calming properties, lemon balm is a versatile and easy-to-grow plant that flourishes in Scotland’s temperate climate.

All parts of the lemon balm plant are edible and have culinary and medicinal uses. The leaves have a refreshing lemon flavour and can be used fresh or dried to make herbal teas, flavour culinary dishes or infuse hot or cold water, syrups and cocktails. The flowers are also edible and can be used as a garnish or infused into beverages.

Planting Lemon Balm

Lemon balm can be planted in spring after the last frost or in the early autumn before the first frost. It’s best to plant lemon balm when the soil is warm and workable. It is vigorous and easy to grow in sun or light shade.

Choose a sunny to partially shaded spot in your garden with well-drained soil. Lemon balm can tolerate a wide range of soil types but prefers moist, fertile soil. We are using Caledonian Topsoil to plant ours into old half wine barrels.

Dried Lemon Balm, Fresh In Water, Fresh Ready To Cut Up

Dried Lemon Balm, Fresh In Water, Fresh Ready To Cut Up

Planting Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, like mint, spreads rapidly and can become weedy and can take over whole areas. Growing them in containers helps control this problem. If planted in the soil, harvest the leaves regularly, remove the flowers before they set seed, and dig around the plant edges to reduce root spreading. You can also plant in a pot and dig it half way into the ground to help contain the roots.

Planting From Seed
Sow seeds indoors from March to May, scattering a few seeds into a small pot or tray of seed compost, then water gently, this should take around three weeks for seeds to show. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle

Planting Outside
Plant lemon balm plants at least 18 inches apart to allow for spreading. Seed-raised young plants or bought plants can be transplanted outdoors from spring onwards.

Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball
Place the plant in the hole, and backfill with soil
Water thoroughly after planting.

Lemon Balm With Flowers, In A Large Pot, Transplanted Outside

Lemon Balm With Flowers, In A Large Pot, Transplanted Outside

Pruning Lemon Balm

Pruning lemon balm is essential for maintaining its growth and preventing it from becoming overly leggy. Regular pruning also encourages bushier growth and enhances the plant’s aroma.

Trim back lemon balm stems throughout the growing season to prevent them from becoming too woody. Prune back one-third of the plant’s growth in late spring or early summer to encourage new growth.

Dividing Lemon Balm

Lemon balm can become crowded over time, leading to decreased productivity. Dividing lemon balm plants every few years helps rejuvenate them and maintain their health.

In early spring or autumn, carefully dig up the lemon balm plant and use a sharp knife or spade to divide the root ball into smaller sections. Replant the divisions in prepared soil, spacing them apart to allow for growth.

Care for Lemon Balm

Watering: Lemon balm prefers consistently moist soil but can tolerate short periods of drought once established. Water deeply when the soil feels dry to the touch, especially during hot, dry periods.

Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of lemon balm plants to conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and provide nutrients as it decomposes, such as leaf mulch or Caledonian Green Goodness which is ideal as a mulch and for enhanced water retention.

Our Lemon Balm Outside Surrounded by Chives & Oregano

Our Lemon Balm Outside Surrounded by Chives & Oregano

Companion Planting

Lemon balm is a beneficial companion plant in the garden, attracting pollinators and repelling pests. Consider planting lemon balm alongside:

Tomatoes: Lemon balm can help repel tomato hornworms and attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.

Brassicas: Plant lemon balm near cabbage, kale, and broccoli to deter cabbage moths and other pests.Herbs: Lemon balm pairs well with other herbs such as basil, mint, thyme, chives, oregano creating a fragrant and functional herb garden.

We are Growing Lemon Balm in Half Wine Barrels

We are Growing Lemon Balm in Half Wine Barrels

Optimum Soil for Lemon Balm

Lemon balm grows best in moist, well-drained soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. While it can tolerate a range of soil types, including sandy and clay soils, it prefers fertile soil with good organic matter content. Adding compost to the soil before planting can help improve soil structure and fertility. We added Caledonian Green Goodness as a final top layer on ours, we will repeat again at the beginning of next growing season.

Lemon balm is a versatile and aromatic herb that can thrive in the Scottish climate with minimal care. By providing the right growing conditions you can enjoy a wonderful harvest of lemon-scented leaves and flowers throughout the growing season. Whether you use it for culinary purposes, herbal remedies, or simply to enjoy its delightful fragrance, lemon balm is sure to brighten up your garden and your day.

Katrina & Clayton

Katrina & Clayton live with their family in East Ayrshire in Scotland and share their daily life in the garden on instagram @buildingfoodforest_scotland. They practice permaculture principles, reducing & repurposing waste whenever they can. Katrina shows how home educating in nature has helped Clayton thrive.

Clayton Completed The Grow and Learn Course with the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society in 2022. This year he will be completing Level 2 Nurture Course. Clayton is 16, Autistic, Non Verbal & has been Home Educated for the last 6yrs. Both Katrina and husband Peter have studied the Permaculture Design Course PDC and PDC Pro over the last 5yrs, developing their garden from grass to an ongoing food forest.

They have featured on BBC Beechgrove Gardens, Gardeners World Magazine and write for Scotland Grows Magazine.  Katrina has a series of children’s story books out following the life of Clayton in the garden. Available at Amazon.

See more and follow Katrina & Clayton at the links below:

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