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.