What You Need to Know About the Bee Balm Plant

What You Need to Know About the Bee Balm Plant

Bee balm (Monarda), is also known as Oswego tea, horsemint, and bergamot. It’s a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and a versatile perennial plant.

The plant attracts pollinators, and is a good addition to homemade potpourris and lotions.

Bee balm flowers are so captivating that they add color and beauty to any garden.

Native to the eastern portion of North America, these flowers bloom in mid to late summer. They have different uses, including:

  • The scarlet-colored flowers are edible.
  • The leaves can be used to make tea.

In fact, Oswego tea – from the Oswego Native Americans – was the beverage chosen by colonists. The U.S.’s forefathers replaced English teas with Oswego after the Boston Tea Party.

This un-British substitute allowed Americans to still enjoy tea without paying heavy taxes. Thus playing an important part in the increased popularity of the Sons of Liberty.

This bee balm plant can be found in different varieties throughout North America.

USA map bee balm plants
Map of where bee balms are found

Which Varieties Should You Grow?

There are more than 50 different cultivars to choose from when deciding which to plant. However, the most popular ones are wild bergamots (Monarda fistulosa) and jacob clines (Monarda didyma).

To decide which ones you want to plant, learn the characteristics of the most common bee balm varieties.

Jacob Clines

This cultivar can grow fast and in different types of soils. It’s especially appealing to hummingbirds. Jacob clines have a very vivid red color that’s impossible to miss.

Bee Balm Jacob Cline and Hummingbird
Jacob clines courtesy of ‘Bee Balm Jacob Cline and Hummingbirds’ on YouTube

Wild Bergamots

This variety has a strong fragrance and can grow up to 4 feet tall. It can be used for different purposes including nutritional and medicinal substances. The wild bergamot plant appeals to pollinators of all kinds and is purple in color.

Wild Bergamot
Wild bergamots courtesy of ‘Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)’ on YouTube

Leading Lady Plum

These flowers bloom before any other bee balm plant varieties and grow up to 14 inches high. Leading Lady Plums are mostly magenta in color with dark purple blots on them.

Garden pollinator
Leading lady plums courtesy of ‘Pollinator Garden Tour’ on YouTube

Lemon Bergamot

This variety is referred to as lemon mint and has a strong fragrance. It blooms between the second half of summer and the beginning of fall. Lemon bergamot is commonly used in teas and potpourri and reaches 30 inches.

Lemon bergamots courtesy of ‘Lemon Bergamot’ on YouTube

How Does Bee Balm Grow?

Bee balms (monarda) grow anywhere from two to four feet in height. These beautiful plants, with pink flowers, work well to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

The height of a bee balm plant
Height comparison between a bee balm and a human

Is Bee Balm Invasive?

The Bee balm flower – also referred to as monarda – is relatively easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, and root divisions.

In fact, the plant can become invasive and spread every year with the right growing season. This is because it quickly spreads via underground rhizomes. So much so that you might even be forced to find methods to eradicate it.

What do Bee Balms Require to Grow?

Bee balm plants grow well in a variety of soil types. Although the plants prefer full sun, the bee balm flower will tolerate partial shade in hot climates.

The plant, which does not grow well in drought conditions, can be planted in:

  • Spring two weeks before the last frost or
  • Late in summer at least two months before the first frost.

Bee balm flowers also need soil with a pH level of 6 to 7 and very rich in nutrients. You should also ensure that the area you grow them in has well-drained soil. You want to keep it damp but not overflowing with water.

How Should You Plant These Perennial Flowers?

From Seed

If planting from seed, seeds can be sown eight to ten weeks prior to the last frost. Seeds usually take a week to 10 days to emerge. They should be planted about a one-eighth inch deep and spaced one inch apart. Plants should be thinned to stand about one foot apart.

Plant bee balm from seed
Planting bee balms from seed

If you are especially taken by a bee balm plant’s particular color, you will have to divide the existing flower in order to propagate it. Although you can start new plants from seeds that you harvest yourself, the color of the flower blooms can change because bee balm has a tendency to revert back to its wild form.

From Cuttings

To start plants from cuttings:

  • Choose a stem with two sets of leaves.
  • Strip the lower set of leaves off and plant in potting soil
  • Cover the nodes from which the lower leaves were stripped.
  • Wait two to three weeks for the bee balm to root.

Be careful where you plant bee balm. It’s best to avoid high-traffic areas used by people and pets because of the fact that bees love the plants.

Source: raymondgobis

How do You Take Care of Bee Balm?

Bee balm will succumb to root rot in cold, wet soil during the winter months. It’s a good idea to add a couple of inches of mulch to the bed during the fall months.

In humid conditions, bee balm plants can suffer from powdery mildew. Although powdery mildew is not usually fatal to the flower, it is undesirable. Provide good air circulation and water the plants at ground level whenever possible.

Once you have established a bed of bee balm, sit back and enjoy. Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies pollinate them while you delight in the pleasant fragrance.

Does Bee Balm Attract Bees?

Honey bees take a significant role in the pollination of plant species all around the world. In fact, the British Bee Keepers Association estimated that honey bees contribute 165 million pounds every year to the UK economy.

Your gardening can be improved if you select bee balm for inclusion in your local landscape. It will aid in our efforts to save bees, if we all add more flowering plants when we can.

Which Pests do Monardas Attract?

Unfortunately, bees, birds, and butterflies aren’t the only creatures bee balms attract. There’s a number of pests you need to look out for, including:

Spider mites: They suck out a garden bee balm’s fluids through its foliage. This eventually leads to the loss of leaves.

Spider mite life cycle
Spider mite courtesy of ‘Life Cycle of Spider Mite’ on YouTube

If you notice them, applying insecticide soap should help protect your flowers.

Aphids: Not only do they suck on the leaves, but they also emit honeydew onto them. When the flower’s foliage is covered in honeydew, it can result in molding.

Aphids life cycle
Aphids courtesy of ‘Life Cycle of Aphids’ on YouTube

To deal with these insects, you can plant herbs such as basil. These plants attract aphids’ predators such as ladybugs.

Stalk borers: These pests are also known as stem borers. Their larvae dwell and nourish themselves on the plant’s tissue. You’ll know they’ve infested your flowers if you observe tiny cracks and yellow fragments. You’ll also find caterpillars in the fresh flower stems.

Stalk borer insect
Stalk Borer courtesy of ‘Stalk Borer’ on YouTube

Weeding on a regular basis minimizes the chances of a stalk borer invasion.

Should Bee Balm be Deadheaded?

At the end of each flowering season you should remove (deadhead) the flowers, just above and close to the next flower bud. Also, once the entire stem has completed flowering you ought to cut it right back to the ground with small, sharp secateurs.

This will encourage further growth in the years ahead and you’ll have a lovely collection once again.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bee Balms

Where to plant bee balm?

Bee balm plants thrive in sunny areas with moist soil, rich in nutrients. You should plant it in a secure area that needs brightening up with the wonderful colors of the bee balm. 

What does bee balm look like?

The bee balm flower is shaped like a daisy with tube-like petals in bright colors such as:

  • White
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Purple

When does bee balm bloom?

Bee balm is a perennial plant that blooms wonderfully in the summertime.

When to plant bee balm?

In locations with moderate humidity, you should plant in the fall. You can plant bee balm in spring or fall if your region benefits from Mediterranean temperatures.

How to deadhead bee balm?

To deadhead your plant, cut back its blooming stems up to ¼ inch of the foliage at the top of the stalk. You can use the deadheaded flowers as compost or get rid of them entirely.

What is bee balm used for?

Bee balm can be used for:

  • Medicinal reasons as an antimicrobial and a stress-relieving cure.
  • Warm and soothing herbal teas that help you digest.
  • Cooking purposes because of its pleasant aroma.

What do bee balm seeds look like?

Bee balm seeds are tiny, golden-colored dots that come in large numbers. It’s best to try and spread them evenly across your planting area and not get too many in the same place.

When to transplant bee balm?

If you want to transplant the flower, you can do so after it’s fully bloomed or in the following spring. To transplant, uproot the entire clump and divide it into two equal parts.

When to cut back bee balm?

It’s best to cut back your bee balm if you notice mildew forming on its foliage after flowering. Don’t use the infected debris as compost, dispose of it in the trash.

More Information & Articles About Bee Balms

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Photo from Flickr by Michael Martine


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