I’ve been to several garden tours over the past couple of weeks and one plant that looks fantastic in every garden is bee balm (Monarda).
If you are not familiar with bee balm, it is a mid-summer bloomer that stands 2 to 4 feet tall. The blossoms come in shades of pink, red and white, and they look like, as one garden tour participant in Rochester said, “someone having a bad hair day.” Monarda is often planted in herb gardens or around vegetable gardens because it is a favorite with butterflies, hummingbirds and (as the common name would suggest) bees.
Bee balm can handle wet conditions, and I suspect it’s the wet spring and summer we have had this year that is one reason the plants look so darn healthy. While I’ve often thought of bee balm as a flower for sunny conditions, it can definitely handle some light shade. I saw beautiful stands of bee balm in gardens with sun, part sun and dappled shade over the past week — and they all looked wonderful. Bee balm likes a fairly rich, well-drained soil and most guides recommend adding compost or other organic matter when you plant bee balm. Dead-heading the flowers will extend the bloom season.
Bee balm will spread a bit, and it’s recommended that you divide the plant every few years. In really wet conditions or when the plants are crowded, powdery mildew can be a problem. The red bee balm that I spotted in so many gardens is likely the cultivar ‘Jacob Cline’, a widely available variety that performs well in Minnesota gardens. Bee balm is native to Minnesota and much of the eastern half of the United States so it’s a great choice for meadows and naturalized areas.