A North American Native Plant-Loved By Pollinators
Bee balm has large daisy-like flowers with tubular petals, an appearance of raffish disarray, and many colors to choose from. A true North American native, it attracts and supports pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. If the bees sting the plant is used to make a “balm” to make it not hurt. It requires sun and moist, rich soil but is otherwise not fussy about location or care and has useful attributes. It makes an ideal perennial to plant in spring or fall.
Bee Balm, Monarda didyma-Its Daisy Like Flowers
Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, Oswego Tea Plant, Scarlet or Crimson Bee Balm Horsemint, or just another hairy Mint plant. It has lots of names, but what does it do for us? The red flower colors are popular but the plant is not exclusively in red. There are many shades available, see the list of varieties below.
Bee Balm Is A Perennial Plant That You Can Divide For New Plants
Bee Balm is a perennial plant that blooms from early July to the end of summer. Every 2-3 years, you can divide it and create more planting areas.
Its genus and species are Monarda didyma, and it is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. You will notice its spicy and mildly mint-like scent and the square stem common to the family. Bee Balm
Where We Got Bee Balm
Bee balm grows throughout the eastern part of North America, from eastern Canada to Minnesota and as far south as Georgia and Missouri. The genus name, Monarda, is in honor of the Spanish physician and botanist Nicolas Monardez who wrote about the plant in a book published in 1574.
He wrote about beneficial plants coming to Europe from the New World. He was not a plant hunter, however, but a busy physician who wrote extensively on health and about useful plants of the world. Apparently, he was always eager for new information and regularly went to the shipping docks to see the latest incoming flora!
There Is A Tea Recipe At The End
It is not Bergamot (bergamot tea is Earl Gray and flavored by the bergamot orange), but it makes a pleasurable tea with a bit of spice. Bee balm is quintessentially American. When the Boston colonists rashly dumped the British tea in the harbor, they were left with nothing to drink! Fortunately, some made friends with tribes located where Oswego NY is now, and they showed them how to make tea!
Given the lack of alternatives, the recipe spread and people still drink it today! The petals, dry or fresh are steeped in water to produce a bright red tea.
The plant has a long history with us and grows comfortably in our gardens. Two issues to be aware of are the propensity to damage by Powdery Mildew and bee balm’s tendency to spread with a certain abandon. Later in this article is information on both the disease and ways to control the plant’s spread.
Bee Balm’s Mint Like Attributes
Bee balm is one of the plants in the enormous mint family and shares some noticeable attributes with the mint in your herb garden. The stems of bee balm are square and hollow, the leaves are opposite, you will notice that the foliage and stems are hairy and there is a minty, herbal scent. Many people treat it as an edible plant, using the leaves in tea and flower petals as a garnish and in salads. Here is more information on the tasty mint plant and on culinary herbs in general.
Bee Balm’s Broad Appeal To Pollinators
Some plants will attract specific, and desirable pollinators to your garden. One of bee balm’s attractive benefits is that it is an all-purpose pollinator magnet. Bee balm, native to much of North America, attracts bees of various regions, butterflies (usually those of the larger varieties) as well as the elusive hummingbird. Added to bee balm’s long bloom season it can guarantee you a lively and interesting garden.
|Plant Name, Common||Salvia|
|Plant Name, Botanical||Various|
|Significant Attributes||Colorful spikes of densely packed tubular flowers|
|Color||Blue, purple, red, pink, white, yellow.|
|Bloom Period||Midsummer on. In warm zones all year.|
|Light Requirements||Full sun.|
|Soil Requirements||Well-drained, with compost, light, fertile, loamy, moist but with drainage. Never wet.|
|Soil pH||Neutral to slightly alkaline|
|Water Requirements||Water in AM. Regular water in summer, do not allow plants to stand in soggy soil in winter|
|Plant Type||Perennial, and annual versions. For zone 10 annuals last several years.|
|Garden Usage||Beds. borders, containers, cottage garden, cut flowers.|
|Size||18:-5′. Check varieties|
|Planting Distance||18-24″ apart.|
|Pollinators and Wildlife||Yes|
|Cautions||very few pests and diseases.|
Varieties To Choose From-All With Daisy Like Flowers
Bee balm as a plant native to our continent is prolific. There are 16 species of bee balm in North America. Here are some varieties that are successful for many gardeners. They all have the same daisy-like flowers but other features vary.
Below are popular varieties of bee balm, you can find these names in the listings of plant breeders. I have included important features;
For example, if your property can become wet in winter, consider the varieties that are bred to be resistant to powdery mildew.
If your property can become wet in winter consider the varieties resistant to powdery mildew.
A bright red variety and resistant to powdery mildew. The color is very vivid and hummingbirds are appreciative.
Bright pink and resistant to powdery mildew.
Monarda Balmy Lilac
Blooms late spring to late summer, sun and part shade, a very true lilac color.
Monarda Balmy Pink
Grows 10-12″ tall in full sun/part shade in moist but well-drained conditions.
Monarda Balmy Purple
Similar conditions for all of the Balmy series.
Monarda Beauty of Cobham
True purple, Royal Horticultural Society award of garden merit winner.
Soft pink/lavender flowers with dots. Flowers late spring through early summer.
Grows 3-4′ tall, bright red blossom.
Late summer blooms in lavender-pink.
Monarda Petite Delight
With purple flowers, it grows 3-4’tall and 2-3′ wide. Cut to the ground after blooming.
Resistant to powdery mildew, 18″tall. Pink varieties of this plant are Pink Wonder and Pink Delight.
Monarda Rasberry Wine
This is a dark red variety and resistant to powdery mildew
Also an award of garden merit winner. Can be used in smaller containers.
How To Grow Bee Balm
You can plant bee balm in early fall or spring in full sun. It can accept partial sun but becomes leggy with fewer blooms. In southern locations morning sun is sufficient. Space the plants 24″ apart in evenly moist soil This perennial will bloom for you in red, pink, purple, and white.
Sun And Soil
Bee Balm performs best in moist and rich soil. If your soil is of poor quality amend it with compost and add mulch around your new plants.
Plant bee balm in locations where it will receive 6-8 hours of sun. In partial shade the plant will have fewer flowers and will be more susceptible to powdery mildew.
Most bee balm will grow between two to four feet in height. You can find dwarf varieties of 10.” Water thoroughly at the time of planting and ensure that air space is between plants to prevent powdery mildew, which is no fun at all!
Maintaining Bee Balm
After planting, when your new plants reach 12″ tall, do one of two things. Cut them back to 6″ or steadily pinch them back as they grow. This will produce full flowering, bushy, healthy plants for years to come.
Keep the soil evenly moist and well-drained during the growing season and mulch the plants to ensure that moisture remains. Use a good multipurpose fertilizer worked into the soil around the plant. Divide the plants every 2-3 years.
Bee Balm’s Spreading nature
Bee balm plants are spread underground by stolons. Eventually, if left untended for several years the outer edges of the plant will be vigorous but the center point will die off. To prevent this and avoid excessive spreading simply divide the plant about every 2-3 years. This will also leave you with the bonus of new plants for your garden or to make a welcome gift.
Deadhead blossoms and pinch stems to ensure a plant with color and a bushy shape.
The key issues are to maintain even moisture and plenty of air space and clean maintenance to avoid powdery mildew.
Enjoy It And Increase It
Pick the large, daisy-like flowers for bouquets. Walk through the garden at your leisure and deadhead spent blossoms where you see them. Separate the plants every few years and make more plants. Expand your garden and give them to gardening friends. I live in a gardening neighborhood and we all have a little bit of our neighbors’ gardens. It’s fun.
Pests and Diseases of Bee Balm
These can be difficult to identify promptly because when the eggs hatch, the larva bore into the stem where they feed on the tender tissue. The problem tends not to be discovered until they are having lunch and the plant begins to wilt. Look for small holes with yellow debris around them.
Sadly, at this point, it is too late and the plant and any surrounding weeds must be dug up and destroyed. (And not allowed in the compost pile!) The stalk borer is also attracted to weeds, keeping the area weeded is good protection. Spotting the stalk borer; it is a small gray moth with darker gray front wings and light gray wings behind. Identifying the borer and removing the weeds and grasses which it favors are two important steps. This article is by the University of Nebraska which tends to take the pest seriously because it favors corn. You may find it helpful.
Spider mites are extremely tiny and often the damage is the first sign of trouble. They feed by sucking fluid from the leaves and petals leaving behind tiny spots on the leaves which become misshapen and discolored. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are effective controls, use them liberally. Spray at least twice at seven to ten-day intervals.
Thrips leave signs similar to that of spider mites except that spider mites may leave behind a web which thrips do not. If you think you see something, take a piece of white paper and shake the branch over it. You should see the tiny bodies. Insecticidal soaps may work to rid the plant of the pest.
Powdery mildew is the most-watched problem of bee balm. It is encouraged by an environment that we cannot control. humid or wet weather. The problem is caused by a fungus that overwinters on garden debris and grows over the foliage of affected plants, leaving behind the characteristic fuzzy gray coating.
In fall, when you are tired while cleaning up garden debris, remember this fact. Gardening is work and sometimes it is helpful to give yourself a little incentive to keep working.
Plant in places with the early morning sun to dry the evening moisture, ensure good airspace and remove any garden debris and only trim with sterilized tools.
Companion Plants For Bee Balm
The good news Is that bee balm can be planted near any plant that grows in a similar environment. If the plant is successful in full or nearly full sun, and moist, rich soil bee balm is a suitable companion. As a sizeable plant, bee balm does well in the center of a bed and can be surrounded by a grouping of lower growing plants. This can include garden herbs.
Bee balm is an excellent companion for any fruits or vegetables that require bees for pollination.
If you enjoy attracting hummingbirds, you can add other hummingbird attractors which grow well in your zone. For advice try your local garden center or your county extension office. These should be good sources of the best local information.
On moving into our south Florida house we were told that the area was not one in which anyone ever saw hummingbirds, We added our local pollinator plants such as the local powder puff plant to hibiscus and others and now we all have coffee and pollen together. Try it.
For a listing of more perennials see this article.
Some Uses For Bee Balm You May Not Have Thought Of
Bee balm is a great addition to any cottage style or casual garden space. It is loved by a wide range of pollinators and will result in a bright and active garden for small wildlife.
A member of the mint family with the familiar aromatic leaves, bee balm is edible. It makes a bright tea with a little spice and the petals can be used as a salad ingredient or garnish. Early Americans used it as a seasoning for roasted meat dishes.
Bee balm is not grown in my south Florida hardiness zone and I have not made the tea. It is simple to make; it consists of petals and boiling water. Here is a recipe from Food.com so you can have tea like the early Boston rabble!
Bee Balm’s Value As A Pest Deterrent
Because of its strong scent and taste, it is not appreciated by rabbits and deer. (All bets are off if they are really hungry.) It also tends to deter mosquitoes.
Use Bee Balm To Attract Butterflies And Other Pollinators
Bee balm is a core planting for your butterfly garden. Use it to fill sunny spaces in beds and borders where its height is appropriate. To fill out your garden this may be useful. “What The Butterflies Want” includes the key elements we have learned about butterfly gardening.