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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Bee Balm Companion Plants
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.
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. Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July or so to keep the plant more compact.
Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and attractive and draws so many birds and butterflies that you simply must grow it, if you have the room. Valued for its large sturdy daisylike flowers with dropping petals, this prairie native will spread easily in good soil and full sun. It is bothered by few pests or diseases. It's a great cut flower—bring in armloads of it to brighten the house. And birds and butterflies love it. Allow it to spread so that you have at least a small stand of it. Let the flowers go to seed and the goldfinches will love you, coming to feast on the seeds daily. Butterflies and helpful bees also love purple coneflower. It used to be that rosy purple or white were the only choices in flower color. Recent hybrids have introduced yellow, orange, burgundy, cream, and shades in between.
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-shape 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
This colorful rock garden is designed around a couple of very large boulders, but could easily be adapted to any rock garden setting.
Create a lush island butterfly garden bed of flowers that will bring beautiful fluttering insects to your garden.
Turn your hell strip into a heavenly oasis of color and bloom with fuss-free native plants.