How to Plant and Grow Bee Balm

This native perennial works well with almost any garden color scheme.

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.

Bee Balm Overview

Genus Name Monarda
Common Name Bee Balm
Plant Type Perennial
Light Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width null to 2 feet
Flower Color Pink, Purple, Red, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Cut Flowers, Fragrance, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division, Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant

Colorful Combinations

Because of the popularity of pollinator plants, availability has surged, and many varieties of bee balm are readily available. Typically the bloom's colors fall between warm reds and cool lavenders. They begin unfolding in early summer, and many varieties continue to bloom well into the fall. 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. Unfortunately, plants in part sun don't perform as well. They tend to get more foliar diseases like powdery mildew, which bee balm is notorious for.

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

The biggest problem with bee balms is their susceptibility to powdery mildew. Characteristically, powdery mildew shows itself as a white, powdery-looking dust on lower and mid leaves. As powdery mildew 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 probably won't kill them. The best way to control it is to look for more resistant varieties.

New Innovations in Bee Balm Height and Scale

Because of the recent rise in popularity of bee balm, a slew of new cultivars has flooded the market. Work has focused on improving disease resistance, reducing bee balm height and scale, and introducing new species into the genetic pool and new flower colors.

More Varieties of Bee Balm

Blue Stocking Bee Balm

Blue Stocking bee balm
David Speer

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

Bradbury's bee balm
Marty Baldwin

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

cambridge scarlet bee balm
Peter Krumhardt

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

Lambada bee balm
Dean Schoeppner

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

Petite Delight bee balm
Denny Schrock

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

Prairie Gypsy bee balm
Denny Schrock

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

'Raspberry Wine' Bee Balm

pink 'Raspberry Wine' Bee Balm Monarda
Laurie Black

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

Spotted Bee Balm

close up of monarda punctata bloom
Aaron Carlson

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

'Violet Queen' Bee Balm

purple monarda bee balm
Rob Cardillo

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

Wild bergamot bee balm
Bryan E. McCay

Monarda fistulosa is native to much of North America and typically grows in sunny sites along roads or 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

Veronica

Purple Veronicas in garden
Marty Baldwin

Easy and undemanding, veronicas catch the eye in sunny gardens over many months. Some have mats with loose clusters of saucer-shaped flowers, while others group their star or tubular flowers into erect tight spikes. A few veronicas bring elusive blue to the garden, but more often the flowers are purplish or violet blue, rosy pink, or white. Provide full sun and average well-drained soil. Regular deadheading extends bloom time.

Aster

Blue Asters
Denny Schrock

Asters get their name from the Latin word for "star," and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, in rich purples and showy lavender. However, not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some Aster are naturally compact, but there are tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall. These benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July to keep the plant more compact.

Coneflower

Purple Coneflower
David Speer

Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and draws so many birds and butterflies that you must add it to your garden if you have the room. Valued for its large, sturdy daisylike flowers with dropping petals, this prairie native will spread quickly in good soil and full sun. It's bothered by few pests or diseases. Coneflower is a wonderful cut flower—bring in armloads of it indoors to brighten the house. Let the flowers go to seed; the goldfinches will love you and come to your yard to feast daily. Helpful bees also love purple coneflower. It used to be that rosy purple or white were the only choices in flower color, but hybrids have introduced yellow, orange, burgundy, cream, and shades in between.

Evening Primrose

Shimmer Evening Primrose
Denny Schrock

With brilliant yellow, pink, or white cups or goblets, beautiful evening primroses are so easy to grow that you'll see them thriving uncared for along roadsides. Their cup-shaped flowers of various sizes open during the day, and many are wonderfully fragrant. Take note, though: Some spread enthusiastically and need control.

Garden Plans for Bee Balm

Long-Blooming Rock Garden Plan

Long-Blooming Rock Garden Plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

This colorful rock garden is designed around a couple of very large boulders, but could easily be adapted to any rock garden setting.

Download this garden plan!

Butterfly Garden Plan

butterfly garden plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Create a lush island butterfly garden bed of flowers that will bring beautiful fluttering insects to your garden.

Click here to get this plan now.

Easy Streetside Garden Plan

Easy Streetside Garden Plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Turn your hell strip into a heavenly oasis of color and bloom with fuss-free native plants.

Get this garden plan!

No-Fuss Bird and Butterfly Garden Plan

No-Fuss Bird and Butterfly Garden Plan Illustration
Illustration by Gary Palmer

Plant this collection of beautiful, easy-growing flowers and your yard is sure to be filled with birds and butterflies.

Click here to download this garden plan!

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