Bee Balm

Bee Balm
Plant Type
Sunlight Amount
Bee Balm
Credit: Peter Krumhardt
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Bee Balm
Bee Balm

Whether you call it bee balm, monarda, bergamot, or Oswego tea, this plant is a sure bet for bringing pollinators to the garden. Blossoms reminiscent of fireworks in a variety of colors mean more than just pollinators enjoy the summertime display. Vigorous growth and a long bloom time also make this plant a standout in any garden setting. The many additional uses of different parts of the plant make them handy to have around.

genus name
  • Monarda
light
  • Sun
plant type
height
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • 3 to 8 feet
width
  • To 2 feet wide
flower color
foliage color
season features
problem solvers
special features
zones
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
propagation

Colorful Combinations

There are lots of different colors and forms available, so you really can't go wrong when choosing a bee balm variety. Because of the popularity of pollinator plants lately, there has been a surge of availability of even more varieties and many lesser-known bee balm species. Typically blooms fall between warm reds and cool lavenders. The blooms begin unfolding in early summer, and many varieties continue well into the fall. In order to encourage constant blooms, deadhead old blossoms.

Bee Balm Care Must-Knows

One of the most important things to know about bee balms is that they are vigorous plants. In small garden settings, some varieties of bee balm can out-compete less aggressive neighbors, so be careful where you plant them. Bee balm spreads by rhizomes, or underground stems, which makes it easy to split and divide. It's also one of the top rabbit-resistant plant choices for your garden.

Ideally, bee balm should be planted in full sun, which is no surprise considering it's native to the South. This allows them to put on the best floral display and create dense growth. Plants in part sun don't perform as well and tend to get more foliar diseases like powdery mildew, something that bee balm is notorious for.

While bee balm can be drought-tolerant, most varieties prefer to stay moist, especially during the summer. They do need to be in well-drained soils; standing water causes problems with rot. An exceptionally long period of drought can weaken them, making them susceptible to foliar diseases. To prevent this, supplemental watering applied at the plant base may be beneficial in the heat of the summer. (Be sure to avoid wetting the leaves to prevent the spread of fungus.)

The biggest problem with bee balms is that they are susceptible to powdery mildew. Characteristically, powdery mildew shows itself as a white, powdery-looking dust on lower and mid leaves. As this continues, it causes defoliation of the plant, making them look unsightly with naked stems. To prevent this, place plants in areas with good air circulation. Powdery mildew thrives in moist, warm conditions and is spread by wind and water droplets. Clean up any leaf debris because it can harbor dormant spores into the next growing season. While powdery mildew seems unhealthy for your plants, it will generally not kill them. The best way to control it is to look for varieties that are more resistant.

New Innovations

Because of the recent rise in popularity of bee balm, a slew of new cultivars has flooded the market lately. New work has focused on improving disease resistance, dwarfing plants down to a more manageable size and scale, and introducing new species into the genetic pool and new flower colors.

More Varieties of Bee Balm

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Blue Stocking bee balm
Credit: David Speer

Blue Stocking bee balm

Monarda 'Blaustrumpf' has striking lavender-blue flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies in midsummer. The plant is relatively compact, growing 2-3 feet tall. It is resistant to powdery mildew. Zones 4-9

Bradbury's bee balm
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Bradbury's bee balm

Monarda bradburiana is a late-spring bloomer that is also sometimes called eastern bee balm, white bergamot, or eastern horsemint. Fluffy lavender flowers top plants that grow 15-24 inches tall. In autumn, the foliage takes on a deep burgundy hue. It is rarely affected by powdery mildew. Zones 4-9

cambridge scarlet bee balm
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

'Cambridge Scarlet' bee balm

Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet' has leafy clumps of 3-foot stems clothed with aromatic oval leaves. The terminal whorls of bright red two-lipped flowers are surrounded by brownish-red bracts. Zones 3-9

Lambada bee balm
Credit: Dean Schoeppner

'Lambada' bee balm

Monarda citriodora 'Lambada' is a Great Plains native plant commonly called lemon bee balm, lemon mint, lemon balm, or purple horsemint. It grows 18-24 inches tall and bears whorls of pink bracts with white flowers dotted with purple. It usually grows as an annual but occasionally survives for a second year of bloom. Zones 3-9

Petite Delight bee balm
Credit: Denny Schrock

Petite Delight bee balm

Monarda 'Acpetdel' is a compact bee balm that grows only 12-15 inches tall. It has rosy pink blooms in midsummer. Its foliage is mildew-resistant. Zones 3-9

Prairie Gypsy bee balm
Credit: Denny Schrock

'Prairie Gypsy' bee balm

Monarda bradburiana 'Prairie Gypsy' has a long season of bloom, beginning in late spring and lasting through midsummer. It grows 18-24 inches tall. This selection is especially drought-tolerant. Zones 4-9

pink 'Raspberry Wine' Bee Balm Monarda
Credit: Laurie Black

'Raspberry Wine' bee balm

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' grows about 2-1/2 feet tall and is topped with rounded clusters of rose red two-lipped flowers surrounded by wine red bracts. Zones 3-9

close up of monarda punctata bloom
Credit: Aaron Carlson

Spotted bee balm

Monarda punctata is native to most of the eastern half of the United States, where it grows best in dry, sandy soils. The creamy-white flowers dotted in purple are relatively small, but the lavender-pink bracts are quite showy. The plant smells like oregano. Zones 4-10

purple monarda bee balm
Credit: Rob Cardillo

'Violet Queen' bee balm

Monarda 'Violet Queen' grows 3-4 feet tall and bears lavender to violet flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in midsummer. The fuzzy green foliage has excellent resistance to powdery mildew. Zones 4-9

Wild bergamot bee balm
Credit: Bryan E. McCay

Wild bergamot

Monarda fistulosa is native in much of North America and typically grows in sunny sites along roads or in open fields. Its lavender to purple flowers appear from mid- to late-summer on plants that grow 2-4 feet tall. This species has good powdery mildew resistance. Zones 3-9

Bee Balm Companion Plants

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