With the name Bee balm, this ornamental flower attracts not only bees, but hummingbirds and other beneficial pollinators. Bee balms are highly valued for their deep scarlet color, but also come in blue, violet, white and pink.
Sun Needs: Full Sun / Partial Shade
Soil Needs: Damp
Zones: 4 – 9
Height: 2 – 4 feet
Blooms in: Mid‑Summer – Late Summer
Features: Attracts bees, butterflies
A perennial favorite native to North America, bee balm (also called wild bergamot) is beloved in flower beds for its beautiful blooms of red, pink, purple or white not to mention the fragrant foliage.
Bee balm (Monarda), is also known as Oswego tea, horsemint, and bergamot. It’s a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and a versatile perennial plant.
The plant attracts pollinators, and is a good addition to homemade potpourris and lotions.
Bee balm flowers are so captivating that they add color and beauty to any garden.
Here’s how to plant and grow bee balm in your garden!
Planting Bee Balm Flowers
How to Plant Bee Balm
- Bee balm can be planted in the spring or in the fall.
- Bee balm thrives in full sunshine. It can be grown in partial sun, but it won’t bloom as happily as it does in full sun.
- Given its height (2-4 feet), bee balm makes for an excellent background plant in a pollinator garden.
- Space plants 18-24 inches apart in rich, well-draining soil.
- Bee balm needs good air circulation, otherwise it can develop powdery mildew on its leaves.
- Water thoroughly at the time of planting.
How to Grow Bee Balm
- Keep soil evenly moist through the growing season.
- Add mulch around the plants to preserve the moisture in the soil and control weeds.
- Deadhead faded blooms to encourage the plant to re-bloom in late summer.
- After the first frost in the fall, cut stems back to about 2 inches above the soil.
- Divide bee balm every 2 to 3 years to ensure its vigor. In the spring make small divisions of the newer roots of established plants and replant.
- Powdery mildew: Powdery mildew commonly occurs on the foliage of bee balm if humidity is too high. Reduce watering if this is the case.
- Monarda didyma is bright red and grows 3 to 4 feet tall.
- M. fistulosa produces lavender-pink blooms in late summer.
- M. pringlei grows 18 inches tall and is immune to powdery mildew. ‘Petite Wonder’ and ‘Petite Delight’ are pink varieties.
- Other powdery mildew resistant bee balm varieties include ‘Marshall’s Delight’ (bright pink), ‘Jacob Cline’ (deep red), and ‘Raspberry Wine’ (dark red).
Wit & Wisdom
- Native Americans and early colonists used bee balm leaves and flowers to make a variety of medicinal salves and drinks.
- Bee balm is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Its foliage has a strong aroma and is sometimes used in herbal teas, salads, and as garnishes. The flowers are also edible.
- Despite being called “wild bergamot,” bee balm is not used in “bergamot” tea (a.k.a. Earl Grey tea). The tea is made with oils extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit.
Read Also: Astilbe Flowers – All you need to know
Quick Guide to Growing Bee Balm
- Plant bee balm in spring or fall, once all chances of frost have passed.
- Space bee balm plants 18 to 24 inches apart in an area with full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
- Improve native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Bee balm can withstand a dry spell, but for best results, water whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry.
- Encourage big, beautiful blooms by feeding bee balm with a water-soluble plant food.
- Flowers can be enjoyed as decorations or as a gorgeous garnish in salads and desserts.
Soil, Planting, and Care
For prolific blooms, plant in full sun; in the South and Southwest, a little afternoon shade helps flowers last longer. Picking the flowers encourages a second round of blooms. For best results, start with strong, vigorous young bee balm plants from Bonnie Plants®, the company that has been helping home gardeners find success for over a century.
Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rich, well-drained soil with a pH from 6.0 to 6.7. Improve your native soil by mixing in a few inches of compost or aged compost-enriched before planting.
In addition to starting with great soil, you’ll want to feed your bee balm to produce excellent growth. Apply a liquid fertilizer every week throughout the growing season to feed the soil as well as your plants.
Although it will tolerate drought, bee balm will do much better if it gets adequate moisture; however, protect it from poor drainage, especially in winter. Water when leaves wilt in dry weather. Mulch in the spring.
In the late fall, cut plants back to within several inches of the ground. For a bushier shrub, pinch the tips of the stems when new growth appears each spring.
Bee balm spreads but not as aggressively as other members of the mint family. Every 3 or 4 years, dig up and divide the plants. Discard the old center section and replant the outer roots and shoots.
Bee balm can get powdery mildew. To avoid mildew, plant where there is good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. Also, cut back plants in the fall, remove old stems, and clean up old mulch.
Harvest and Storage
Pick bee balm flowers in summer as they appear. You can cut whole stems of bee balm to enjoy the flowers in a vase. Pick flowers for drying just before they open.
Use fresh flowers as a garnish for green salads, fruit salads, cakes, or preserves. The aromatic leaves serve as a substitute for mint and can be dried for tea. Dried leaves and flowers are also useful in sachets and potpourri.
Bee Balm Characteristics
Family and scientific name – Bee balm is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), with the botanical name Monarda didyma.
- Plant type – The bee balm is a perennial herb.
- Flowering season – Summertime, and gardeners must cut back the perennial before the winter arrives.
- USDA growing zones – Bee balm goers readily in USDA zones 4 through 10.
- Hardiness – The bee balm is tolerant of both cold and warm climates, and resists cold temperatures down to -20F.
- Plant size and form – The bee balm grows to between three to five feet tall. This bushy plant produces leafy branches growing from clumps, with a shallow root system that allows the plant to spread its roots.
- Flowers – The bee balm bursts into bloom, featuring dual-lipped flowers forming a spectacular display of tiered whorls at the tip of the stems. The color of the flowers ranges from scarlet, to purple, pink, and white. The flowers produce a rich citrus aroma that smells marvelous in the garden throughout the peak of summer.
- Blooming time – Bee balm blooms from the early to late summer in the United States. If the gardener deadheads the dying flowers, then they can expect a second blooming shortly afterward.
- Foliage – The bee balm produces dark-green leaves, with a toothed appearance. The leaves grow opposite to one another, and on square stalks, a characteristic of plants in the mint family. The surface of the leaf feels somewhat fuzzy to touch.
Here are Bee Balm Flower seeds to get started with:
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