Bee balm is, undoubtedly, one of the favorite plants of those who love gardening. Also called horsemint, Oswego tea, or bergamot, bee balm is a native of North America and belongs to the mint family. It has a unique and distinctive look, making your flower and herb garden more enticing.
Quick Facts About the Bee Balm Plant
- Common name: Wild bergamot, bee balm
- Botanical name: Monarda
- Type of plant: Herb, perennial plants
- Size upon maturity: 10 to 15 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide (dwarf); 2 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide (standard)
- Sunlight requirement: Full sun to partial shade
- Type of soil and pH level: Well-draining moist soil, loamy; neutral and acidic
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 3 to 9
- Bloom time: Fall and summer season
- Color of flowers: Red, white, purple, and pink
Bee Balm Plants Described
Based on its name, it is safe to assume and say that the bee balm is one of those plants that can attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Even when this plant does not bloom flowers yet, it will have seed heads capable of attracting birds throughout the entire winter.
They have bright and vibrant flowers. You will notice that the bee balm plants holds flower heads filled with tubular flowers and petals in pink, red, white, and purple. The flowers are sage-like and may remind you of fireworks.
These flowers form arching tubular petals. Also, the petals come in terminal whorls and frequently have colored bracts.
It is also crucial to note that the bee balm plant belongs to the mint family. It is a quick-spreading underground rhizome featuring a square stem. The bee balm also spreads and grows quickly and is ideal to plant during the fall or spring.
Another great thing about the bee balm is its aromatic flowers and foliage. This makes it a great addition to herbal teas and medicines, like mint tea and earl grey tea. It is also ideal for use in various culinary applications.
You can brew its pungent leaves or add them to salads and other recipes. As for the flowers, you will love using them in your dishes to give them a more colorful garnish.
Bee Balm Types and Varieties
Bee balm comes in various types and varieties, each with unique and individual characteristics. Depending on the variety you have chosen to grow, it will bloom white, red, and pink flowers during the early to late summer.
It is also possible to find miniature and compact versions of this plant. There are also bold, rangy, and big varieties. To give you an idea, here are some of the most common bee balm types and varieties you can see in a lot of gardens:
Monarda Didyma is capable of growing at around three to four feet tall. This one is also famous for producing bright red bee balm blooms.
You can frequently find this variety in the wild. It can produce lovely purple, white, and pink blooms that are somewhat similar to those produced by the Monarda didyma.
This one is a smaller variety capable of reaching up to around 18 inches tall. It often has pink or red vibrant and showy blooms.
Eastern Bee Balm
This is a great-looking purple variation of the plant capable of producing plenty of nectar. This makes it even more attractive to bees and butterflies. There are even those who attract hummingbirds. You can often see it in the Southeast and Central US.
Lemon Bee Balm
This plant is a native wildflower and an annual. It has a compact growth and grass-like and thin leaves. It is distinctive in the sense that it has a kind of fragrant foliage that, when crushed, can fill your entire garden with a nice lemon aroma; hence, its name.
Crimson Bee Balm
The crimson bee balm is a perennial ornamental capable of producing pink, white, purple, or red flowers. It boasts of its nice orange scent and is a native in Eastern US.
Spotted Bee Balm
This one can either be a perennial or an annual, depending on its planting site or location. You will fall in love with this plant because of its nice thyme aroma and ability to attract beneficial insects that can drive unwanted pests away.
Choosing the Right Bee Balm Flowers to Grow in Your Garden
With the numerous sizes and types of bee balm, you may find the whole process of selecting which one you should grow in your garden confusing. To help you, here are a few tips you have to consider during the selection process:
Beds and Borders
Do you want to plant bee balm in garden beds and borders? Then go for larger varieties if you intend to plant them in the middle of a mixed border. You can then combine it with other trees, shrubs, and perennials. You can also choose smaller forms and varieties but put them toward the front part of the border or garden bed.
Cutting and Edible Gardens
Do you have a cutting garden? You must cultivate them in raised garden flower beds and other cut flowers that naturally bloom during summer. Then you can also plant bee balm flowers in them.
If you intend to grow your bee balm in your edible garden, it would be best to put it close to your kitchen garden. That way, you can increase the production of foods as the bee balm effectively attracts insect pollinators.
How about container gardening? Can the bee balm grow in containers? The answer is yes. It would be best to choose smaller varieties and plant them in the containers on their own. You may also combine them with other plants that have the same needs and only require the least maintenance.
Do you know that you can also cultivate a wildlife garden with bee balm in it? All you have to do is to naturalize native varieties to your region in dedicated areas or meadows. You can do so together with other natives capable of supporting local wildlife.
When Should You Plant Bee Balm?
The best time for you to plant bee balm is during the spring, specifically after the passing of the last frost. Ideally, you should begin indoors five to eight weeks before the last expected frost date.
To grow indoors, you must keep the seeds in your refrigerator for around two weeks before the actual date of planting. Make sure to plant the seeds in a high-quality seed-raising mix.
Wait for the seeds to germinate. Once they are already around two inches tall, you can plant them outdoors. Make sure it meets the required soil temperature of around 60 degrees F. Harden for around a week before finally putting the bee balm plants in the ground.
Direct sowing the seeds is also possible and you have to do it during the fall before the actual hitting of the frost in your area but after the passing of the summer heat. To direct sow during the fall and spring, ensure that you use soil loosened down to around twelve inches.
Allow well-rotted manure to work in around four inches of the soil. Plant the seeds at around one-eight-inch deep once the soil temperature is already around 60 degrees F. Once done, you can water them thoroughly, though, you have to avoid soaking them.
Wait for the germination, which usually happens in around 3 weeks or 21 days. When that happens, you must thin out the seedlings to around 12 inches.
Growing Bee Balm from Seeds
In relation to the previous section of this article, here are the steps you should take to grow bee balm from seeds. This may require a lot of patience but your efforts will be rewarded. The steps are as follows:
- Let the seeds undergo cold stratification so they will germinate properly – You can do that by sowing the seeds outdoors during the fall or putting the seeds in moist soil then in your fridge for around two to four weeks.
- During the spring, make some soil amendments – You can use compost to amend the soil once it is workable.
- Take the seeds out – You should then directly sow them in your garden.
- Sow gently on the topmost part of the soil. Avoid covering the seeds.
How to Propagate Bee Balm?
There are two ways for you to propagate the bee balm plants – through cuttings and division. Because of the prolific nature of bee balm, division is the easiest method of propagation for it. It helps maintain the fullness and good health of the plant.
You also have to do the propagation every few years. You can do that with the help of a shovel, fertilizer or compost, and a pair of gloves and garden snips.
Propagate bee balm through division using the following steps:
- Dig up the whole root system with the aid of your shovel. Lift the plant gently from the soil or ground.
- After removing, divide plants into several sections using the snips and shovel. Remove and discard the scraggly and woody center, if there is any.
- Use a well-balanced fertilizer or compost to amend the soil. This is where you should be replanting the divisions.
Propagating bee balm through cuttings requires you to gather a few items, including a small pot, rich soil, rubber band, plastic bag, rooting hormone, and snips. Start the propagation through these steps:
- During the spring, find a new growth from which you can trim a cutting. The cutting should be around six inches. It is also crucial to do the trimming beneath a node.
- Get rid of the lower leaves. After that, prepare the rooting hormone and dip the end where the cut is made into it. Plant it gently into the rich soil you have already prepared.
- The next thing to do is to water the plant cuttings. Get the plastic bag then put it over the plant cutting as it helps to retain moisture. Use the rubber band in securing the bag into the pot.
Once done, make it part of your routine to check the soil regularly, ensuring that it stays moist. Expect the roots to come out in around two to three weeks. Once that happens, you can take off the plastic bag.
How to Pot and Repot the Bee Balm?
Generally, bee balm works well if you grow it in containers, especially the dwarf varieties or types. Choose and use the best pot for this plant. In that case, go for one with good drainage holes.
Since this plant does not provide access to sources of water underground, you need to water it more frequently. Also, take note that this is a fast-growing plant, so repotting or dividing it frequently is necessary. It is even highly recommended to do it every year.
To do the repotting, just work on gently loosening the root system. Do so until the root system slides away from the pot. You should then amend a larger and newer pot by adding rich soil. Plant it there and water thoroughly.
Caring for your Bee Balm Plant
Bee balm is a fast-growing plant. Gardeners are also fond of it since it will become relatively low-maintenance once it gets established. Caring for the bee balm plant is straightforward as it only requires focus on the following areas:
Bee balm needs full sun to partial shade to thrive and survive. It would be best to give it full sun but partial shade is also okay, specifically in places that have intense summer heat. Be extra careful when growing the plant in partial shade, though.
The reason is that some of those who only receive partial shade risk developing a stretched and leggy look. You can’t also expect them to have vigorous flowering.
The bee balm plant needs to be grown and cultivated in well-draining soil. The soil has to be fertile and moist, too. The plant is also highly likely to grow well when cultivated in rich and organic matter, like compost.
Avoid dry or soggy soils as your plant can’t survive in them. In case you have dry garden conditions, it would be helpful to add one layer or so of mulch to retain the soil’s sufficient moisture.
Humidity and Temperature
The fact that bee balms are among those hardy plants means they can handle extremely hot and cold temperatures, specifically in USDA zones 3 to 9. However, they have a low chance of surviving in conditions with a high humidity level. The reason is that this can make them prone to developing powdery mildew.
Of course, your bee balm needs water for healthy growth. You need to set a regular watering schedule for them, especially when they are still in their first year of growth.
One crucial fact about the bee balm is it requires the soil evenly moist. This means they will not be able to survive neglect or overwatering.
What you should do, therefore, is to water them once you notice the soil starting to feel dry. It is also advisable to do the watering at ground level to prevent powdery mildew problems. Ensure that its dark green foliage does not get wet, too.
Your bee balm will also receive the right amount of nourishment if you provide it with fertile and rich soil. You can make that possible by doing annual soil amendments using organic materials, like compost.
This can help a lot in providing your bee balm plants with the specific nutrients they need. As an alternative, you may also want to use a well-balanced fertilizer. Apply it once every year to nourish your bee balm.
Part of caring for your bee balm is regularly pruning it. You need to do light pruning every year to ensure that the bee balm plants stay bushy.
All that you have to do is to pinch off the stem’s tips during the spring. It is also advisable to cut down the bee balm to several inches during the early fall. This is good as it can encourage new growth once the early spring season comes.
When and How to Harvest?
You can harvest bee balm flowers once they are already in full bloom. This will greatly depend on what region you are in. It could be from the early to late summer.
It is advisable to pick its fresh flowers on a dry day, specifically in the middle of the morning. It should be once the dew evaporated.
You can do the harvest by cutting the stems to around six inches beneath the bee balm flower. Alternatively, you can also harvest by gathering individual blooms once they begin flowering.
You can also harvest the leaves and you can do it anytime throughout the growing season. Do not harvest foliage during the first year of the plant’s growth. This is to give it time to become even more established.
Common Problems, Pests, and Issues When Growing Bee Balm
While it is generally easy to grow bee balm plants, it is still not exempt from problems. You have to monitor this plant, especially when it is still young, and find out if the following problems exist, so you can fix them immediately:
Lack of Blooms
There are instances when the bee balm plant will flower less than you expected. It may bloom very little amounts of flowers or nothing at all. Several factors may cause this problem, such as excessive humidity, old age, overfertilizing, and insufficient sunlight.
You have to identify what specifically causes the lack of healthy and beautiful blooms, so you can address the problem correctly. For instance, if the cause is excessive humidity, the best solution would be to provide it with optimum airflow.
If the problem is insufficient sunlight because you are growing the plant in a shady spot, move it into an area with plenty of sunlight. Remember that this specific plant in your flower garden needs full sun to partial shade.
In case the problem is old age, which results in the plant fading out, dividing the plant can help. This technique helps in lengthening the life of the plant and stimulating new and thick growth.
Your bee balm is also prone to a fungal disease called powdery mildew. If your bee balm plants have this problem, you will likely see its foliage browning and wilting. You may also notice a gray powder covering the foliage.
In most cases, powdery mildew occurs due to poor air circulation and high humidity. It is possible to prevent powdery mildew from occurring by ensuring that the plants receive proper ventilation and air circulation. This is possible through dividing, weeding, and pruning it that can promote good air circulation.
In case there is already powdery mildew, use a fungicide or any other safe home remedy you can think of to treat it. Get rid of fallen foliage. During the early fall, prune all stems affected by the fungal disease and discard all of them.
Root rot can also happen if the soil does not drain well or you overwater it. The rotting usually happens during the fall or spring, the time when the soil becomes sodden.
The problem with root rot is that once it appears, the rate of your plant dying is extremely high. This means you should prevent it from happening in the first place by keeping track of the water level of your plant.
Another problem that may hamper the growth of your bee balm is the presence of spider mites. One sign that this pest is already around would be the presence of small yellow holes. These holes appear because the spider mite has already sucked the plant’s fluid.
You may also notice some fine webbings appearing on the flowers and leaves. You can blast them off and remove them from the plant by spraying them with water. You can also regularly apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to the plant to eliminate the spider mites.
Thrips also tend to cause damage to plants that are almost the same as the ones caused by spider mites. Note, though, that the ones from thrips do not have any webbing, making them quite different. You can get rid of thrips with the help of insecticides, neem oil, and insecticidal soap.
Stalk borer has a larva that tends to drill into your bee balm’s stalk. This may result in the plant starting to wilt. If you notice a tiny hole appearing on the stalk with some yellowish edges, break it off and find out whether you can see larvae inside.
If there are, the best thing you can do is throw away your plant. The problem with stalk borer is that it tends to kill your plant if you cannot detect them on time.
With that said, you have to remain vigilant, so you can catch these pests early on. It is also advisable to spray your plant with neem oil frequently. This should help in dissuading the stalk borers from coming near your plant.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where does bee balm grow best?
Most varieties of bee balm are perennials, and you can expect them to grow and thrive well in average to well-drained soil. You have to expose them to full sun and partial shade, so ensure that your flower garden is set in an area with sufficient sunlight.
Does bee balm spread?
Yes. You can expect them to spread quickly or rapidly with the help of their stolons or underground stems.
Does bee balm grow back every year?
Yes. Bee balm is a fast-growing plant, so expect them to grow back every year. It grows so fast that you will have to repot or divide it often, too.
How quickly does bee balm grow?
If you are growing the bee balm from seeds, it is highly likely for the germination to be completed in around fourteen to twenty-eight days after you sow them. You can, therefore, expect them to grow by that time.
Growing bee balm flower is one of the most rewarding things a plant lover can do. It is easy and quick to grow plus it has plenty of uses. The dark green foliage of bee balm can even be used as an antiseptic or a light herbal tea.
It also has several other medicinal and culinary uses. With that, your efforts will be rewarded upon deciding to grow bee balm in your garden since there are so many things that you can do with it.