Learn how to plant and grow bee balm in your garden.
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How to Grow: Bee Balm
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Mid summer to late summer in colors such as red, pink, and white
Mature Height x Spread
2 to 4 feet x 2 to 4 feet
attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds, edible, native, deer resistant
Bee balm is a native, spreading perennial that is a delight not only for us, but also for butterflies, beneficial insects and hummingbirds. The colorful, tubular flowers come in red, white, purple, or pink, and form in whorls around the bloom creating an almost hairy appearance. Bee balm provides mid to late summer color in the flower garden. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea, hence the common name Oswego tea. It’s an aggressive plant and can quickly take over an area if grown on fertile soil and you aren’t cutting it back each year. But its spreading nature also makes it a great choice to fill in perennial flower borders, wildflower areas and meadows.
Where, When and How to Plant
Bee balm is hardy throughout our region. Bee balm is easy to transplant from divisions so select a favorite variety from a friend or purchase a transplant from the local garden center. Plant from spring to early fall in a full or part sun location in well-drained, moist, slightly acidic soil. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart.
Keep plants well watered and mulched with bark mulch. Plants may wilt during mid summer hot spells if not properly watered. To fertilize, add a layer of compost around the roots in spring.
Regional Advice and Care
Deadhead spent flowers to increase the flowering time. Divide bee balm every 2 to 3 years once the center dies out and it begins to spread into unwanted territory. Dig up plants in spring when growth first emerges and move them to another location or share them with others. Bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew disease. It will cause the leaves to first look white, then yellow and die. Plant in areas with good air circulation, grow powdery mildew resistant varieties and spray plants with Serenade organic fungicide in early summer to thwart this disease. Cut back and clean up foliage in fall to prevent disease from overwintering near the plants.
Companion Planting and Design
Bee balm is a perfect cottage garden plant. I like to let it ramble though a perennial flower border next to tall garden phlox, rudbeckia, roses, and peonies. It looks best when allowed to grow in groups to create a vivid color statement. Grow shorter varieties in the flower of flower borders. These tend not to spread as aggressively as taller varieties.
Look for powdery mildew disease resistant varieties to avoid having to spray for this common disease in New England. Tall varieties such as “Jacob’s Cline” (red), and “Marshall’s Delight” (purple) don’t get this disease. For shorter, mildew resistant varieties that grow less than 2 feet tall, try “Petite Wonder” (pink) and “Petite Delight” (rose). “Snow White” is a 3-foot tall cream color flowered variety.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
This popular perennial flower is native to Eastern North America and, until recently, was more known as a tea and medicinal plant than an attractive ornamental. It was used to cure ailments such as upset stomachs to infections and called the Oswego tea by early colonists. We know it as Monarda or bee balm.
This mint-family perennial is one of the easiest flowers to grow. It likes full to part sunshine, although it will get a little wilty with hot, afternoon sun. It likes a moist soil and will spread so quickly that you’ll need to divide it every 2 to 3 years to keep it under control. It will take over a small bed, but is the perfect perennial for filling in large space since it looks great planted en mass. While Monarda didyma is the classic species used for tea-making, all Monardas make a tasty tea.
For the healthiest plants, look for bee balm varieties that are powdery mildew resistant. This disease causes bee balm to yellow and dieback in late summer. Some good mildew resistant varieties to try are the red flowered, ‘Jacob’s Cline’ and pink colored ‘Marshall’s Delight’. A new bee balm collection called Well Bee-Haved, grows only 1 to 2 feet tall, is mildew resistant, doesn’t spread, and is fragrant. ‘Petit Delight’ is a lavender colored selection I’m growing this year. Bee balm is also attracts bees and butterflies to your garden. It can grow 3 to 5 feet tall, especially when in part sun. To dwarf the growth and delay flowering, top some your bee balm when it’s 1 to 2 feet tall. It will regrow and flower a little later than the unpruned bee balm giving you an extended flower show.