Bee balm is a striking North American native that attracts more than just bees to your garden.
Bees and other pollinators are what help your garden plants produce the fruits and vegetables we love. Adding plants that they love can increase your bounty many times over. Bee balm also provides pollen and nectar to other beneficial insects.
Antiseptic bee balm
Bee balm is a perennial. It is also a member of the mint family. Like other mints, bee balm has antiseptic properties. In fact, it is still used as a primary ingredient in popular mouthwashes. Native Americans used bee balm leaves and flowers to treat headaches, wounds, flatulence, and respiratory problems. They also used it to season wild game. While somewhat bitter, it tastes like a combination of peppermint and oregano.
The bee balm plant
Bee balm (Monarda), also known as wild bergamot, horsemint, and Oswego tea, loves sunshine. If it is grown in partial shade, it will stay low to the ground and produce very few flowers. Grown in full sun, it can reach four feet in height, though most are only half that. The flowers, which tend to appear in early to late summer, are striking, with white, pink, and purple tubular daisy-like blooms. You can also find dwarf varieties that look lovely in containers.
How to grow bee balm
Bee balm, like other mints, prefers rich, moist soil. If enough moisture is present, bee balm can overtake an area. Some varieties can tolerate more dryness than others, so do your homework. It is easiest to buy bee balm plants from a reputable seller, or, if you know someone with an established plant, you can ask them to share some with you the next time they are dividing their plants. Bee balm can be planted in spring or fall. Plants should be spaced two feet apart, and the planting hole should have some compost worked into it, to a depth of 12 to 15 inches.
In most regions, bee balm prefers full sun, but scorching California summers can sometimes be a bit much, so you may want to place your bee balm in where it will be protected from direct sunlight in the hottest part of the day. On the flip side of the calendar, your bee balm plant may die back to ground level in the winter, but don’t panic. Simply cover the area with mulch and it will be back when temperatures warm.
Bee balm pests and diseases
Powdery mildew is really the only problem that occurs with bee balm. You can protect your bee balm from powdery mildew by avoiding overhead watering and by pruning for good air flow. Fungicides can be used with marginal success.
Caring for bee balm
Bee balm is a low maintenance plant. You will want to provide it with a layer of compost each spring, covered with mulch, for good soil health. It may need to be watered during the peak of summer and be sure to remove spent blooms (deadhead) to encourage fresh flowers throughout the growing season.
So, sooth your senses and savor the site of butterflies and bees in your garden with bee balm!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!