How to Plant, Grow, and Care for 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 native plant a standout in any garden setting. The many additional uses of different parts of the plant make them handy to have around.

Because of the popularity of pollinator plants, availability has surged, and many varieties of bee balm are easy to find for sale. 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.

Bee Balm Overview

Genus Name Monarda
Common Name Bee Balm
Plant Type Perennial
Light Sun
Height 1 to 4 feet
Width 1 to 4 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

Where to Plant Bee Balm

Bee balm is an excellent rabbit-resistant plant that does best where it will get at least 6 hours of full sun. Choose a spot with good air circulation to reduce powdery mildew, a disease that commonly affects this plant. Because bee balm can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide, it makes a great background plant for flowerbeds and perennial border gardens.

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. Fortunately, since bee balm spreads by rhizomes or underground stems, it's easy to split and divide the plants when you want to limit their spread.

How and When to Plant Bee Balm

Plant container-grown bee balm in the spring or fall. Plant your starts about 18 to 24 inches apart and keep the soil evenly moist while the plant establishes itself during the growing season. If you want to start bee balm plants from seeds, sow indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost. To plant seeds directly in your garden, wait until the weather is reliably warm. Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil and don't cover them with topsoil. Once the seeds begin to root, add a layer of mulch to keep the soil moist. When the plants are established, you can thin out extra seedlings until the plants are about 18 to 24 inches apart.

Bee Balm Care

Bee balm is an easy plant to care for as long as the soil is kept moist and well-drained. or (if you want to encourage spreading) leave them to drop from the seed heads as winter food for passing birds.


Ideally, bee balm should be planted in full sun for the best floral display and dense growth. Unfortunately, plants in partial sun tend to get more diseases like powdery mildew, which bee balm is notorious for.

Soil and Water

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) with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7. An exceptionally long drought can weaken them, making them susceptible to foliar diseases. Supplemental watering applied at the base of the plant helps these plants cope better with the summer heat. Avoid wetting the leaves to prevent fungus spread.

Temperature and Humidity

Bee balm is winter hardy in USDA Zones 3-9 but prefers a dry atmosphere with good air circulation. Too much humidity can lead to mildew, rust, and other diseases. In very hot, dry regions, the plant may wilt during peak afternoon temperatures.


A soil rich in nutrients from organic matter should provide all that bee balm needs to thrive. If necessary, you can improve your soil with a few inches of compost before planting and use a little liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season, but don’t overdo it. Over-fertilizing bee balm plants can decrease flowering since the plant will respond by focusing its energy on growing foliage.


To encourage constant blooms, deadhead old blossoms. After the first hard frost that kills the plant back to the ground, cut back the stems to just a couple of inches above the soil. The plant will return next spring from the roots.

Potting and Repotting

Bee balm can be grown in very large containers—approximately 5 to 10 gallons—and kept in sunny outdoor spots to attract pollinators. Use a high-quality potting mix mixed with compost and place your bee balm plant in the center of the container. Water the potted bee balm any time the top inch of the soil feels dry. Because bee balm is such a vigorous grower, you will need to divide your potted bee balm plant every couple of years to keep it from becoming root bound in the container.

Potted bee balm plants will—like those grown in the ground—go dormant over the winter months, but they should not be brought indoors. Instead, place your bee balm in a sheltered area (like an unheated garage) and let it ride out the chilly weather.

Pests and Problems

The biggest problem with bee balms is their susceptibility to powdery mildew, which looks like white dust on leaves. Eventually this disease causes defoliation of the plant. Powdery mildew probably won't kill your bee balm your plant won't look its best.

Powdery mildew thrives in moist, warm conditions and is spread by wind and water droplets. To discourage the disease from taking hold, place plants in areas with good air circulation and clean up any leaf debris because it can harbor spores. Look for disease-resistant varieties to minimize this problem.

How to Propagate Bee Balm

Dividing bee balm in the spring is a good way to manage its spread. The center of bee balm plants can become woody and unproductive over time, so dividing them every 2 to 3 years will keep your plants healthy and vibrant—and also prevent them from taking over your yard. Just dig up the plant, remove and discard the woody center, divide the remaining roots into separate sections, and replant.

You can also grow bee balm from seeds. You can harvest the seeds in the fall after the flowers bloom, but be aware that if your seeds come from a hybrid bee balm plant, the new plant may not look or perform the same. To start seeds indoors (about 8 weeks before the last frost), place four or five seeds on the surface of a commercial potting mix in a small pot or seedling tray. Cover seeds with a sprinkling of more potting mix. Spritz the seeds with water and place your pot under lights or in a sunny window. Keep the soil moist as the roots begin to develop and plant your starts in the ground after the last frost has passed.

Types of Bee Balm

Bee balm is a member of the Lamiaceae family, along with other mints and balms like catnip, peppermint, lavender, and lemon balm. It's an herbaceous perennial that is often sold as a hybrid or cultivar based on three species: Monarda didyma, Monarda fistulosa, and Monarda punctata. New cultivars hit the market just about every year. They offer improved disease resistance, more compact plants, and new flower colors.

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


Purple Veronicas in garden
Marty Baldwin

Easy and undemanding, veronica catches the eye in sunny gardens over many months. Some types 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.


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.


Purple Coneflower
David Speer

Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and draws many birds and butterflies. Valued for its large, sturdy daisylike flowers, this prairie native will spread quickly in good soil and full sun. 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.

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.

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.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is bee balm edible?

    Bee balm is a member of the mint family with leaves and stems that emit a heady perfume that smells like a cross between oregano and mint (some varieties also smell of citrus). The leaves and flowers are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Bee balm is sometimes referred to by the common name “Oswego tea” because the Oswego native American tribes once taught colonists in the present-day region of upstate New York how to make tea with the leaves of the bee balm plant.

  • Are bee balm and bergamot the same?

    Wild bergamot is another common name for bee balm, but it is a little misleading. If you are familiar with Earl Grey tea, you likely are aware that the tea’s signature citrus aroma and flavor come from the bergamot plant, but bee balm is not used to make Earl Grey. Instead, the popular tea is made from the Citrus bergamia tree. Both plants emit an herbaceous citrus scent, but that is where the similarities end. Bee balm belongs to the mint family and bears no fruit. The bergamot tree bears round yellow and green fruits that resemble small oranges (which are too sour to be eaten fresh). The oils, flesh, and zest from the bergamot fruits are used to make perfumes, syrups, soaps, baked goods, marmalades, and—of course—tea.

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  1. Plant of the Week- Scarlet Beebalm (Monarda didyama L.). U.S. Forest Service. Forest Service Shield. (n.d.). 

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