Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 22 — Bee Balm

beebalm and bee

Bee extracts nectar from bee balm.

With the rise of mono-cropping (think acres and acres of corn, soybeans or turfgrass), many insects struggle to find what they need to thrive. Gardeners can help with this by planting pollinator-friendly gardens, and bee balm (Monarda) is a great choice.

Monarda¬† is a member of the mint family and there are dozens of cultivars and species that grow well in northern gardens. Scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is a native plant with deep red flowers, which have the perfect horn-shape that hummingbirds and bees love for extracting nectar. Another native species is Monarda fistulosa, also called wild bergamot, a pink-flowered plant that is an absolute insect magnet — in the good way.¬†If you are a tea drinker, it’s the lemony foliage of wild bergamot that adds the distinctive flavor to Earl Grey tea.

bee balm two headerBecause it is such a great garden plant, plant developers have produced many varieties and cultivars with different flower colors and characteristics. Breeders have also worked to reduce one of bee balm’s flaws — its susceptibility to mildews. ‘Jacob Cline’ is a very popular variety because it resists powdery mildew better than other bee balms. ‘Coral Reef’ monarda has a hot pink color as well as mildew resistance. Another popular cultivar is ‘Marshall’s Delight’, a pink variety developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Bee balm generally grows to about 3 feet in height (some varieties taller, some shorter) and does best in full sun to light shade with evenly moist soils. (Dry soils promote powdery mildew.) Don’t crowd plants or water from above to minimize potential mildew infestations. You may want to divide bee balm clumps occasionally to promote air circulation. Bee balm is fairly easy to grow from seed, so plant several. The bees will thank you!

What are your favorite plants to attract pollinators?