Plant Profile: Bee Balm

We’ve written about bee balm (Monarda) on this blog before because, frankly, it’s such a star in the summer garden. It seems that every year during garden tour season, I spot stands of bee balm that just stop me in my tracks. This year has been no different. Check out this beautiful stand of bee balm spotted on the Hennepin County Master Gardeners Tour a week ago.

These bee balm plants were about 5 feet tall and stunning.

These bee balm plants were about 5 feet tall and stunning.

Bee balm is plant that’s native to a good portion of the United States and Canada and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. There are two dominant species of Monarda in the garden trade.

Monarda didyma is a red-flowered variety that’s native to Minnesota. This species can grow up to 6 feet tall, and because of the red flowers, it is very popular with hummingbirds. It’s 2 to 4-inch flowers have many tubular shaped petals. The cultivar ‘Jacob Cline’, which is resistant to powdery mildew, is widely planted.

Monarda fistula

Monarda fistulosa

The other common species of bee balm is Monarda fistulosa, another Minnesota native, which grows wild in dry, open fields and marshes. Its pink flowers make it a popular garden choice. One of its common names is wild bergamont, and its leaves have a minty scent. Sometimes they are used to make tea. The blooms on M. fistulosa look more fluffy than those on M. didyma and the plants grow 2 to 5 feet tall.

Both types of bee balm handle a variety of soil conditions, from dry to moist. The one complaint about bee balm is a tendency to develop powdery mildew in late summer. Some gardeners will plant a shorter plant in front of bee balm in their garden beds in order to hide the scraggly looking legs of bee balm. However, adequate drainage and good air circulation around plants will go a long way toward preventing powdery mildew.

If you are looking for a midsummer star that you and the pollinators will love, bee balm is a great option.