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Bee Balm Plant: How To Grow And Care For Monarda

Bee Balm a herbaceous perennial plant native to North America. Plants flower in late summer and commonly found in herb and flower gardens across the country. [1]

bird attracting flowers of Bee Balm - Monad

Commonly known as the Bee Balm plant as its fragrant flowers attract honey bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects. The bee balm plant has a long history of medicinal uses by American Eclectic physicians, Native American tribes, and herbalist.[2]

Bee Balm Plants A General Description

Bee Balm is also known as Oswego Tea and Monarda didyma its botanical name. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), with over 15 species and over 50 different varieties that grow in the wild and gardens. They include:

  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon bee balm
  • Bergamot orange
  • Bee balm bergamot
  • Scarlet bee balm
  • Wild bergamot

Monarda flowers come in shades of:

  • Red
  • Purple
  • Pink
  • White

Wild bee balm grows in dense clusters with striking flowers sitting atop three-foot high stems in mid to late summer.

How To Grow Monarda Bee Balm

Soil Requirements

Bee Balm grows easily in most soils. However, it does well in a garden bed with rich garden soil or well-drained soil on the alkaline side, that retains moisture. Select a spot that receives full sun or partial shade in the afternoon to encourage the best flowering.

Watering

Bee balm plants like an even supply of moisture throughout the growing season, though they will tolerate periods of drought. During dry periods, water plants twice a week. Apply mulch to conserve moisture and reduce watering, soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

Spacing Plants

Space bee balm plants 18 – 24 inches apart, this encourages proper air circulation minimizing powdery mildew disease. Trim any leaves affected by the powdery mildew and dispose of the debris by burning them to prevent the spread of the disease. [3]

Fertilizing Bee Balm

The plant does not require frequent feeding. Feed the plant in early spring with a slow release all-purpose garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or apply a liquid fertilizer every couple weeks. Take care not to over fertilize. This can cause rampant, succulent growth increasing the severity of Powdery mildew.

bee balm plant

Increase Growth And More Flowers

To increase lateral growth and more bee balm flowers, pinch back the stem tips in early spring when plants reach about three feet tall.

Using your fingers pinch out the first set of leaves on 1/3 of the stems. Staggering the pinching encourages longer display of flowers. Wait a week, and pinch another one-third and the last one-third of stems in the third week. Distributing the pinching evenly ensures that the bloom colors will appear uniformly.

Pruning Bee Balm

Using a pair of hand clippers, cut back the entire plant by half when it reaches 12 inches tall. This is a faster and easy alternative to pinching especially if you have lots of plants to pinch back. If plants still grow tall and lanky cut off one-third of the growth.

Deadheading Monarda Plants

To keep plants flowering, remove dead flowers. Pinch the stem back just above the next flower bud. When finished blooming, cut plants back to the ground. Use garden clippers to cut stems too rigid to pinch. This encourages vigorous spring growth. [5]

Propagating Bee Balm

Start bee balm from seed or division of clumps in spring

  • Sow seeds directly in the flower garden after all the danger of frost
  • When starting indoors, sow seeds in pots 5 to 8 weeks before the last frost
  • Cover seeds lightly with an eighth inch of moist soil and give them plenty of space
  • When transplanting to the garden, dig a good size hole, apply general-purpose fertilizer and firm the soil around the plant.
  • Water thoroughly

Although you can start Bee Balm from seeds, the easiest way to propagate is by the division of clumps. Every 3 or 4 years, dig and divide plants. Throw out old center section and replant the outer shoots and roots. [4]

Insect and Disease Problems

Common insects attack Bee balm such as black aphids and damaging red spider mites. Control pests by spraying insecticidal soaps once a month. Increase the spraying frequency if infestation intensifies.

The plant also functions in the garden as a deer repellant.

The main disease affecting Bee Balm is Powdery mildew. Severe symptoms show up in areas where plants are overcrowded. To curb the disease, use the recommended spacing and select a location where the plant receives lots of sunlight. Remove and destroy the disease-infested plants.

Selecting mildew resistant varieties will also help. Some of the varieties include:

  • Gardenview Scarlet – scarlet-red flowers
  • Marshalls Delight – bright pink flowers
  • Violet Queen – violet-blue flowers
  • Colrain Red – purplish red flowers
  • Raspberry Wine – wine-red flowers

Dwarf Varieties

Most bee balm cultivars reach a height of 2.5 to 4 feet tall. However, dwarf varieties make great potted specimens.  Look for:

  • Petite delight( rose pink flowers) which grows 15 inches tall
  • Petite Wonder (pink flowers) which reaches 10 inches

The both varieties resist Powdery mildew.

Harvest and Storage

  • Pick flowers as they appear in summer.
  • Cut whole stems to enjoy the flowers.
  • Pick flowers before they open for drying.

Uses For Bee Balm

Dry leaves for use as a tea to sooth cold symptoms, sore throat, headache, and congestion. Oswego tea or bee balm tea is used to treat stomach issues such as gas, vomiting, nausea, and reduce muscle spasm.

Dry leaves and flowers to use as an aromatic suitable for sachets and potpourri. As they attract butterflies and hummingbird, they serve as a good choice in a vast butterfly garden.

Monarda contains high concentrations of Thymol, a strong antiseptic, common in mouthwashes.

Bee Balm As A Mosquito Repellent

The strong scent proves an effective mosquito repellent plant. Generally, its ability to control mosquito works best when leaves are crushed to release the fragrant essential oils.

Monarda, Oswego Tea or Bee-Balm History As Described 65 Years Ago

It is always fun to read about plants from decades ago and WHAT we can learn. Below comes from a 1950 article (with minor edits) describing Bee Balm or Monarda.

Bee Balm (Monarda) is a very old plant in English gardens treasured as a valuable and striking feature for the herbaceous border and moist positions elsewhere. In the writer’s garden, the plant grows in light soil, in a border facing west, in company with Iris kaempferi, another moisture lover.

However, it is content with dryish conditions in our gardens. Monarda flowers from July to September.

It appears we owe this charming plant to an American, a Mr. J. Bartram of Philadelphia, who as far back as 1744, sent seeds to a friend in England where it flowered the following year.

Mr. Bartram found the plant growing at Oswego, hence one of its popular names, oswego tea. It is found wild by streams in eastern Canada and in the eastern states as far south as Georgia.

Another interesting feature of Monarda is the pleasant scent of its foliage which explains the other common name, Bee-Balm. The fine, rich red flowers, in clusters, are generally produced at the top of the stems which are about two ft. high.

As in all red flowers, discrimination is desirable in choosing its associates. In the writer’s opinion, it contrasts agreeably with the lovely blue-flowered plant, Ceratostigma willmottianum, which flowers from July until frost.

Monarda is easily propagated by division or by seeds which it freely produces. The fine form known as Cambridge Scarlet is a seedling raised years ago.