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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Information & Articles About Bee Balms
- Interested to see the medicinal properties of bee balm? Read this Gardens Ablaze article.
- Learn about the culinary properties of bee balm in this Mother Earth News page.
- Learn about the medicinal properties of the border plant.
- Get the Many Uses for Bee Balm in this Off The Grid article.
- Search for 33 Reasons to Use Bees Balm, Lavender, and Basil.
Photo from Flickr by Michael Martine
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