Unleashing the Magic of Bee Balm: A Comprehensive Handbook for Cultivating and Caring for Your Garden’s Jewel

red bee balm plants

North America’s beloved wildflower, bee balm, is famous for its vibrant and long-lasting blooms. It belongs to the Monarda genus, which has approximately 15 species. However, most garden centers sell hybrid varieties based on three species: M. didyma, M. fistulosa, and M. puntata. Bee balm can grow up to four feet tall, and its oval leaves are not that attractive. But, it’s spiky hairdo of scarlet, pink, white, lavender, or purple tubular petals is a significant selling point. It is also a favored plant for bees, butterflies, songbirds, and hummingbirds. This fast-growing perennial can reach full height and flowering maturity in its first season and is usually planted in spring or fall from container-grown nursery plants. Although it’s not an invasive plant, bee balm spreads quickly and requires supervision. It can be utilized to make tea, potpourri, and also works as a mosquito repellent. Bee balm prefers moist soil but can tolerate various conditions. M. fistula cultivars flourish better in dry soil. To prevent the plant from taking over, it is recommended to divide the plants every two to three years in early spring and trim the foliage after flowering to avoid powdery mildew.

red bee balm plants

This written piece was crafted by Adrienne Legault, a member of The Spruce team who provided her expertise.

closeup of red bee balm

Monarda plant with bright pink flowers in bog garden

A female broad-tailed hummingbird feeding on some Monarda flowers.

Monarda Fistulosa

Bee balm plants require a lot of sunlight, at least six hours daily, and thrive in soil that is moist, rich, and has a pH level of between 6.0 to 7.0. It is important to keep the soil consistently damp by regular watering, especially in the first year to help establish a strong root system. Different species of bee balm have varying degrees of tolerance to dry and humid conditions, so fertilizing with balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring can provide added nutrition. Pruning the plants by deadheading after blooming and dividing the clumps every two to three years can help maintain their health.

If you want to propagate bee balm plants, you can collect seeds from dried flower heads or use commercially-bred seeds. Container culture is also possible for smaller varieties. Powdery mildew is common for bee balm plants, but it can be controlled by keeping them spaced apart for good air circulation, watering at ground level, and applying fungicides when necessary. Adequate sunlight, water, and minimal fertilizing are key to ensuring good blooming. Late-season issues with sparse foliage can also be mitigated through proper positioning and pruning.

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