Long used by Native Americans as a medicinal herb to soothe colds and fevers, bee balm is still commonly used today to treat a variety of physical maladies. Its antimicrobial and aromatic properties have a calming effect on the digestive tract, making it ideal for relieving colds, flus, and digestive ailments. All parts of the plant can be used, including leaves and flower heads, to make teas, tinctures, and salves.
Varieties of Bee Balm to Consider Growing
- Monarda ‘Leading Lady Plum’ features a dense cluster of magenta blossoms that are highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and honeybees. Ideal for small spaces, this early-blooming variety is known for good resistance to powdery mildew and is also deer-resistant.
- Monarda ‘Vintage Wine’ features deep, wine-red flowers and is a striking addition to perennial borders or native and prairie gardens.
- Monarda ‘Eastern Bee Balm’ has unusual pink to lilac flowers speckled with purple. It is a compact variety that is less aggressive and is considered relatively resistant to powdery mildew.
- Monarda ‘Violet Queen’ produces abundant whorls of flowers in a rich lavender shade. The foliage is tinged with silvery hairs that emits a spicy fragrance when crushed.
Conditions for Growing Bee Balm
Bee balm is a perennial plant in the mint family that is planted in spring or fall, once the danger of frost has passed. Like other mints, it can encroach onto unwanted areas of the garden if left unsupervised. Container gardening or raised bed gardening is recommended to contain its growth. It should also be dug up and divided every couple of years to restore its vitality. Bee balm can reach up to 4 ft in height, but there are dwarf varieties that only grow to 15 inches.
When: Bee balm is usually planted during the spring of fall, after the last frost date, typically transplanted from container-grown nursery plants. Spring is the best time to divide from existing plants and transplant.
Where: Bee balm can be grown in most garden settings such as ground-level flower beds, raised garden beds or containers. Raised garden beds are recommended because they can limit its spread and prevent it from overtaking your vegetable beds. They also allow you to control the soil quality and maintain an even temperature during temperature fluctuations.
Bee balm prefers rich, well-drained soil, with a soil pH of 6.5 – 7, but some cultivars can tolerate dry soil conditions. If your soil has subpar composition, consider amending it with aged compost or growing bee balm in metal raised garden beds. Select a planting site that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. When grown in partial shade, flowers may become more susceptible to powdery mildew or become sparse in appearance, though it can benefit from partial shade if grown in hot climates. Space bee balm plants 18 – 34 inches apart for best results.
How to Plant Bee Balm
From Seed: Though gardeners often choose to transplant bee balm, it can also be grown from seed. It can be sown indoors, typically 8 weeks before the last frost date, using small pots or seed trays filled with potting mix. Sprinkle 4 – 5 seeds in a pot, or two seeds each seedling tray. Cover with a thin layer of dirt. When roots begin forming within a few weeks, they can be transplanted outside once all danger of frost has passed. Space seeds 12 – 18 inches apart from each other. Water well after planting and keep soil evenly moist throughout the growing season.
Through Propagation: As bee balm can spread rapidly through its rhizomes, it is recommended that you dig it up and divide it for replanting every two to three years to retain its vigor and prevent it from becoming weedy.
- Dig up the clump by marking the perimeter with a garden shovel. Once you have loosened the soil, gently slide the shovel underneath the roots and pry it up.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the clumps into sections. Watch out for any root rot, which can render the roots discolored and make them appear mushy.
- Replant the new divisions immediately, as bee balm does not fare well in either too dry or too wet conditions. Carefully choose another planting site, keeping in mind that they tend to spread quickly. Water well and continue to monitor for diseases or pests.
Care: Bee balm is a low-maintenance plant that typically does not require any fertilizer applications. Excess amounts of fertilizer can cause them to become more susceptible to powdery mildew. It benefits from even watering throughout the growing season. For best results, water bee balm weekly and keep the soil moist. You can optionally apply a layer of mulch each spring season to conserve moisture and deter weeds.
Bee balm is a summer flower that is most prolific from July to late summer, and will continue to bloom if pruned regularly. To encourage more plentiful blooms, deadhead wilted blooms by cutting faded flower heads along the main stem, just above the next flower bud.
During the winter season, bee balm can die down completely, but will come back again in the spring. If you want to maintain a tidy appearance, cut back on the stalks prior to fall to prevent it from spreading. Winterize bee balm by cutting back any remaining stems to about 2 inches above the soil after the first hard frost in mid-autumn, after the plant has died back. Apply a layer of mulch in mid-autumn to protect the plants from the cold.
Pests: Though bee balm is a hardy plant, it can become affected by powdery mildew, a common fungal disease caused from spores that overwinter in garden debris. If you discover a grayish white coating on your plants, then it is likely due to powdery mildew. Common culprits of powdery mildew include moist, humid environments and partial shade. Fortunately, powdery mildew is not fatal – it appears unsightly, but does not cause significant damage.
To alleviate powdery mildew, it is recommended that you use a baking soda solution. Fungicides are rarely necessary, as it will not remove existing infections, and should only be applied in severe cases. To prevent it from taking hold, choose a cultivation site that receives full sun and keep plants spaced at least 2 ft apart to promote air circulation. There are also varieties of bee balm that are disease resistant. While bee balm does occasionally experience problems with pests, they tend to inflict only minor damage. Natural remedies for pest control will often suffice. Avoid using pesticides or fungicides or plants, which can harm beneficial insects along with pests.