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Lemon balm smells good, can sour a garden

Every gardener I’ve talked to gave up at some point during last year’s Heat Fest. It was too dry and too hot for too long.

There were some good things about the drought that would not end:

•The grass didn’t need mowing for weeks at a time, although sometimes a weed or two needed topping.

•Mosquitoes? Didn’t see any.

•Because almost everyone gave up, you didn’t have to feel so guilty about dumping dead whatevers into the compost pile.

Unfortunately, one bad girl did quite well last year and is taking off during our normal wet spring: lemon balm.

She has frilly leaves, cute little white flowers and smells a lot like lemon Pledge – when you mow it where it has escaped into the yard, dig up its roots that look like something from “Alien” movies and step on it where it is growing in every little crack and crevice.

Gardening buddy Julie noticed the “Alien” resemblance during eradication patrol, finding Balmy’s roots merrily growing under and past the railroad ties that were supposed to keep them in check.

Julie says there ought to be a warning label, or at least something on the tags at the store that let you know it’s a mint.

Despite being pretty and making bees deliriously happy, the plant – aka lemon mint, Melissa officinalis, heart’s delight, balm mint, blue balm, garden balm and sweet balm – is a garden thug.

If you want to use its leaves for tea, hang swags to make your house smell good, add a bit to salads or add sprigs to your bathwater to help keep the mosquitoes away, I’d suggest either planting them in a big pot or locating them where they are unlikely to escape.

I have a lemon balm plant in a bed next to the side door that has a 9-foot buffer of asphalt on three sides and a house on the fourth. And I only hope that is enough. Not only do the roots burrow quite deeply, the seeds also sprout everywhere they land. I pinch any little escapees and toss them on the driveway where they are unlikely to live.

Lemon balm has, however, been know to be the lone survivor of attacks with Roundup and machetes, so I’m not holding my breath.

Anne Gregory is a garden putterer, not a gardening expert, and writer and editor. Garden photos (JPEGs, please) and tips may be sent to (please put “The Dirt” in the subject line) or 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.