Monarda Fistulosa Care: All About Growing Wild Bergamot

Monarda fistulosa [mo-NAR-da, fist-yoo-LOW-suh] is commonly called wild bergamot, bee balm, horsemint, or wild oregano.

This herbaceous perennial plant is native to many parts of North America and belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae. 

It is named in honor of botanist and physician, Nicholas Monardes who was born in Seville in the late 15th century and died in 1588. 

The specific epithet, fistulosa, refers to the stem, which is hollow and pipe-like.

In the wild, you will find wild bergamot flowers growing happily on the prairies, on the edges of glades, in rocky, dry woodlands, abandoned fields, and even along the side of the road or the verge of the railroad tracks.

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Monarda Fistulosa Wild Bergamot Care

Size & Growth

Wild bergamot aka Monarda fistulosa has aromatic foliage and plants can grow from rhizomes to be 2′ – 4′ feet high with a spread of 2′ – 3′ feet.

The stems of the monarda are square and hollow. 

The leaves are grayish-green, oblong, and quite aromatic. 

Flowering & Fragrance

This attractive wildflower blooms from mid-summer until early autumn. 

Bloom color is pinkish lavender and present a carefree, tousled appearance. 

When the blooms first appear, they look like small, square, green packages. 

These green, leafy bracts open to reveal flower clusters of small, tubular, two-lipped flowers.

The bergamot flower is quite fragrant and showy and very attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators as a food source. 

When the flowers go to seed, they are very attractive to birds.

They make good dried flowers and perform well as cut flowers.

Light & Temperature

Wild bergamot Monarda does well in settings ranging from partial shade to full sun. 

It is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Watering & Feeding

Wild bergamot has medium moisture requirements and does best when watered deeply, occasionally. It will handle some drought conditions.

Use a slow-release liquid fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season. 

Alternately, till finished compost into the soil at time of planting and top dress with finished compost and/or worm castings at the beginning of the growing season.

Soil & Transplanting

Like most wildflowers, this plant does well in loose, well-draining soil. 

It can tolerate soil, which is low on nutrients. 

Bee Balm prefers soil, which is slightly acidic to neutral (pH 6 through 8). 

A layer of mulch over the soil will help retain soil moisture.

Grooming & Maintenance

Throughout the growing season, deadhead the blossoms on a regular basis to encourage more blooming. 

After the first frost in autumn, cut the plant back to approximately 2″ inches high.

How To Propagate Wild Bergamot

Plant Bee Balm from seed early in the springtime or late in the autumn. 

  • Water the seed thoroughly when you plant it. 
  • The soil should be kept evenly moist until the plants are established.
  • If you wish, save seeds from your plants to reseed your garden in the next growing season. 
  • Just cut off the seed heads when they ripen and allow them to air dry on a flat surface indoors for a few days. 
  • Put the dried seed heads inside a paper bag and shake it. 
  • This will release the seeds. 
  • Sow the seeds indoors in flats in the wintertime (typically in January). 
  • Alternately, fill zippered plastic bags with a mixture of two-thirds seed starting soil and one-third sand. 
  • Mix the seed in and put the bags in a cool place for a couple of weeks. 
  • When the seedlings start, transfer them to their own 3″ inch pots. 
  • Use a starter fertilizer solution at this time and on a regular basis until you transplant the seedlings outdoors.

As a member of the mint family, horsemint also grows quite nicely from cuttings. 

Root the cuttings in a mixture of perlite rooting medium and sand, or simply place them in a glass of water so new roots can form. 

This should happen fairly quickly, within a few days. 

Give the cuttings a week or so to develop full, strong roots, then transplant into a well-draining potting mix.

Fistulosa Monarda Pest or Diseases

If overcrowded, Monarda can have significant trouble with fungal infections, such as powdery mildew

Rust is also problematic if the plants are improperly cared for. 

Excessive watering, soggy soil, lack of sunshine, and poor air circulation will cause these problems.

Stressed plants may also be subject to predation by thrips, spider mites, and/or stalk borers.

Conversely, providing good conditions will prevent most pests and diseases. 

Remember to place your plants 18″ inches to 2′ feet apart to ensure plenty of space for air circulation. 

Don’t water excessively, and avoid overhead watering.

Is Monarda Fistulosa Toxic or Poisonous?

Wild oregano’s fragrant leaves are often used in natural teas, garnishes, and salads. 

All parts of the plant are safe to eat.

Is The Monarda Plant Invasive?

This plant is native to North America and, therefore, cannot be considered invasive in North America. Even so, it’s wise to keep in mind it is an enthusiastic grower and will happily spread in its native habitat. 

For this reason, you may wish to take steps to contain it in specific areas of your yard and garden.

Suggested Monarda Fistulosa Uses 

Wild oregano was named the 2013 Notable Native Herb by the Herb Society of America and is also recommended as an addition to butterfly gardens by the North American Butterfly Association.

This versatile wildflower and it’s many close cousins are perfect denizens of your pollinator garden, rain garden, herb garden, or simply naturalized throughout your yard. 

It’s also a good idea to plant this wild herb amongst your tomato plants and other garden vegetables because the roots repel underground pests.

This amiable plant is quite a drought-tolerant; does well in all sorts of soil; works planted under Black walnut trees without fear of harm, and is deer resistant.