When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Bee Balm: Comprehensive Guide to Planting, Care, and Benefits

If you’ve ever wished for a plant that brings both star power to your garden and invites all the buzzy little pollinators, then you’re in for a treat with bee balm.

Having dug, planted, and chatted up a storm with many a green friend (plants AND peeps!), I can confidently say that bee balm is the real MVP in the botanical world.

From its diva-esque blooms to its aromatic leaves that make tea drinkers swoon, it’s like the Beyoncé of the garden world.

Ready to dive into the juicy world of bee balm?

Whether you’re an OG gardener or just dabbling in the dirt, join me on this floral journey as we unlock the magic and mystery of this garden superstar. 

Bee Balm Basics

bright pink bee balm

Bee balm, a perennial herb with the botanical name Monarda, is a beautiful addition to your garden.

This plant, also commonly known by other names such as bergamot, horsemint, and Oswego tea, has a reputation for attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making it an excellent choice for promoting pollination in your garden.

In terms of growing conditions, bee balm prefers full sun or part shade and thrives in USDA zones 4-9.

While it can tolerate a range of soil types, it does best in slightly acidic soil.

As for size, bee balm plants typically reach a height of 24-48 inches (61-122 cm) and spread about 24-36 inches (61-91 cm) wide.

When planting your bee balm, you can either start it from seed or buy a young plant from a nursery.

The best time to plant it is in the spring or fall, which allows the roots to establish themselves before the hot summer months or cold winter arrives.

bee balm 3

If you’re considering growing bee balm in a container, opt for one that’s about 5 to 10 gallons in size, filled with a high-quality potting mix and compost.

Remember to water your potted bee balm when the top inch of soil feels dry.

Once your bee balm plant is established, you’ll want to take care of it by pruning and deadheading regularly.

This will encourage new growth and keep your plant looking its best.

Additionally, it’s essential to watch out for issues such as powdery mildew, which can affect the plant’s health and appearance.

Types of Bee Balm

bee balm 13

Bee balm, also known as bergamot or Monarda, is a beautiful, fragrant plant that comes in various varieties.

In this section, you will discover some of the most popular types of bee balm that you can add to your garden.

Monarda didyma is a classic bee balm variety with bright red flowers.

It’s loved for its ability to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Monarda didyma is also known as Oswego tea because Native Americans used it for medicinal purposes.

Monarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot, is another well-known variety of bee balm.

This species produces lavender-colored flowers from mid to late summer, providing a lovely scent and a valuable nectar source for pollinators.

The Raspberry Wine variety of bee balm is famous for its wine-red flowers and mildew-resistant qualities.

This cultivar is a favorite among gardeners for its striking color, long bloom period, and easy maintenance.

Jacob Cline is a noteworthy variety with vibrant red blooms and resistance to powdery mildew, making it an ideal choice for gardeners who want vibrant colors without extensive maintenance.

The Petite Delight bee balm is perfect for small gardens or limited spaces.

As the name suggests, this compact cultivar grows only 10 to 12 inches tall, with rose-pink flowers that are still highly attractive to bees and butterflies.

In addition to the varieties mentioned above, there are many other bee balm cultivars to consider for your garden.

red bee balm in garden

Some popular hybrids include:

  • Balmy Lilac: Known for its beautiful lilac flowers and ability to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Marshall’s Delight: A cultivar with bright pink blooms, mildew resistance, and a long flowering period.

When selecting bee balm varieties for your garden, consider factors like size, bloom color, disease resistance, and attraction to pollinators.

Choosing the right bee balm can result in a stunning, fragrant, and pollinator-friendly garden that you can enjoy for years to come.

Planting Bee Balm

To ensure the successful growth of your bee balm, plant it in either spring or fall.

If you opt for a fall planting, trim the plant down to a couple of inches to encourage root development, enabling it to survive the winter.

Now, let’s break down the ideal conditions for planting:

bee balm seedling
  • Soil: Bee balm prefers slightly acidic soil, with a pH between 6-7. A well-draining soil is essential, as the plant doesn’t tolerate soggy conditions. If you have poor drainage in your garden, consider planting the bee balm in raised beds or containers.
  • Sunlight: Bee balm will thrive in full sun to partial shade. In hotter climates, a bit of afternoon shade can prevent the plant from wilting. Aim for at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Hardiness Zones: Bee balm is best suited for USDA Zones 4-9. It is a hardy perennial and can adapt well to different temperature ranges.
  • Spacing: Ensure you leave adequate space when planting bee balm starts. Place them about 18 to 24 inches apart, allowing sufficient room for the plant to spread and air to circulate. Proper spacing helps to prevent diseases, such as powdery mildew.
  • Water and Humidity: Bee balm prefers consistent and even soil moisture to grow. It is crucial to keep the soil moist, especially during the establishment period. Although bee balm can handle humidity, excessively damp conditions coupled with poor air circulation may lead to fungal infections.

Once you’ve set up the ideal conditions for your bee balm, plant container-grown or seed-grown specimens.

If planting seeds, start them indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost.

As they establish themselves, keep an eye on the soil moisture to ensure a strong growth.

In no time, your bee balm will be attracting hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to your garden, contributing to a beautiful and vibrant ecosystem.

Bee Balm Care and Maintenance

hummingbird in red bee balm

Bee balm is a beautiful plant that attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Taking care of your bee balm is relatively simple, provided you follow a few essential guidelines.

Watering: Bee balm plants require consistently moist soil throughout the growing season.

Make sure to provide supplemental water in gardens where temperatures are especially high.

It’s best to water your bee balm plant whenever the top inch of the soil feels dry.

Fertilizer and Compost: Using a high-quality potting mix combined with compost ensures that your bee balm plant receives the nutrients it needs.

Adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil before planting will ensure a rich environment that fosters growth.

Mulching: Mulch around your bee balm plants will not only help conserve moisture but also suppress weeds and help regulate soil temperatures.

Aim for a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, taking care not to pile it too close to the plant’s stem, as this may cause rot at the base.

Pruning and Deadheading: Regular pruning and deadheading are essential to keep your bee balm plant looking its best.

Prune back any damaged or unhealthy branches, and deadhead spent blooms to encourage new growth and prevent seed formation.

This will help the plant maintain a bushy, attractive appearance.

Propagating: You can propagate bee balm from cuttings, seeds, or division.

Taking cuttings is the easiest method; simply remove a healthy stem with a few leaves attached, trim off the lower leaves, and place it in a jar of water until roots develop.

Once roots have formed, transplant the cutting into a pot with well-draining soil.

Air Circulation: Good air circulation is crucial for preventing diseases, such as powdery mildew, in bee balm plants.

Be sure to space your plants appropriately (about 18-24 inches apart) to allow for adequate air movement around each plant.

You can also thin out the center of the plant or divide it in early spring to further improve air circulation.

By following these care and maintenance tips, you’ll be well on your way to nurturing a thriving bee balm garden that’s both beautiful and beneficial to local pollinators.

Bee Balm Bloom

bee balm 12

Bee balm (Monarda) is a versatile flowering perennial that can add a spectacular display of color to your garden.

Blooming in the summertime, these charming flowers come in a variety of shades, including white, red, purple, lavender, and pink.

With their open, daisy-like shape and tubular petals, they effortlessly attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your outdoor space.

To ensure a long-lasting, vibrant bloom, it’s essential to provide your bee balm plants with the proper care and growing conditions.

These beauties thrive in full sun and require about six to eight hours of sunlight per day.

If your bee balm isn’t blooming as anticipated or appears leggy, consider relocating it to a sunnier spot in your garden.

Taking the extra step to deadhead your bee balm can significantly encourage more blooms and enhance the overall appearance of your plant.

garden bee balm

As soon as the flowers begin to wilt and die, cut back the flowering stem to within ¼ of a leaf or leaf bud near the top of the stem.

This simple maintenance not only promotes new growth but also helps you keep your garden tidy and well-groomed.

With the right care, your bee balm plants can bring a stunning array of red, pink, purple, lavender, and white flowers to your garden, creating an inviting environment for pollinators and a mesmerizing display for you to admire.

So go ahead, incorporate these eye-catching blooms into your landscape, and enjoy the magnificent sight that only bee balm can provide.

Bee Balm Pests and Diseases

bee balm blooming purple

As a gardener, it’s important to be aware of the common pests and diseases that can affect your bee balm plants.

Protecting your plants from these issues will help ensure a healthy and thriving garden.

One common fungal disease affecting bee balm is powdery mildew.

This appears as a white, powdery substance on the leaves of the plant.

To prevent powdery mildew, avoid overcrowding your bee balm and ensure good air circulation around the plants.

If your bee balm is already affected, you can treat it with a fungicide specifically designed for powdery mildew.

In addition to fungal diseases, bee balm plants can also be plagued by various pests.

Spider mites are small, sap-sucking insects that can cause yellowing and wilting of the leaves.

They can be hard to spot, but you can usually see their webs on the plant.

To control spider mites, try using an insecticide specifically labeled for mites or release beneficial predators, like ladybugs, in your garden.

Another pest that can affect bee balm is the stalk borer.

These insect larvae tunnel into the stems of the plant, causing wilting and potentially killing the plant.

Unfortunately, they are difficult to control once inside the stem.

Therefore, it’s crucial to catch any issues early by monitoring your plants and looking for signs of wilting or damage.

It’s worth noting, though, that bee balm plants are known to attract many beneficial insects, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

So, it’s essential to strike a balance between protecting your plants from pests and diseases while also avoiding the use of harsh chemicals that can harm these pollinators.

Attracting Wildlife with Bee Balm

butterfly on red bee balm

Bee balm, a beautiful and easy-to-grow plant, is a favorite among various pollinators, including hummingbirds, bees, birds, and butterflies.

By planting bee balm in your garden, you can create a vibrant, wildlife-friendly space that supports the health of these essential creatures.

When you plant bee balm, you’ll notice its vibrant flower heads, full of tubular petals that come in pink, purple, red, and white varieties.

The nectar from these flowers attracts pollinators, making it an excellent addition to your pollinator garden.

To encourage the growth of bee balm and create an inviting habitat for wildlife, it’s essential to provide suitable conditions for your plants.

Nutrient-rich soil is ideal for supporting the growth of bee balm, so consider adding compost or coffee grounds to the soil in the weeks leading up to planting.

Additionally, ensure your bee balm plants have plenty of space, preferably 18-24 inches apart, as they can grow between 2½ and 4 feet tall.

Introducing more than one color of bee balm to your garden can make it even more irresistible to a variety of pollinator species.

Butterflies, especially, are attracted to the purple variety of bee balm, making it an excellent choice for your garden.

As your bee balm plants mature, their seed heads will continue to attract birds throughout the winter, even when the flowers are no longer in bloom.

This ensures that your garden remains a vital habitat for important pollinators year-round.

Growing Bee Balm from Seed

bee balm 2

Growing bee balm from seed is an easy and rewarding process.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a perennial flowering herb in the mint family that grows well in zones 3-9.

It’s known for its tall stalks and colorful flowers that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

To start, sow your bee balm seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost.

This will give your seedlings enough time to germinate and grow strong before transplanting them outdoors.

Place the seeds in seed trays or small pots with a well-draining soil mix, and lightly press them into the surface.

Keep the soil moist, but not wet, as too much moisture can cause the seeds to rot.

You’ll notice the seeds beginning to germinate in 10 to 14 days, depending on the conditions.

Once your seedlings have developed a few sets of true leaves, it’s time to transplant them outdoors.

wild bergamot monarda fistulosa blooming with green leaves

Bee balm prefers full sun or part shade and well-drained soil.

Plant your seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart, as they will grow and spread over time.

As the plant matures, you’ll notice an abundance of seed heads, which can attract birds throughout the winter when the plant is not flowering.

Bee balm is a spreading plant due to its underground rhizomes.

To keep your bee balm plants controlled, consider dividing them every 2 to 3 years.

Division not only helps control growth, but it also promotes plant health and vigor.

Simply dig up your bee balm clumps in the early spring or fall, gently separate them into smaller divisions, and replant them in desired locations.

This method is a great way to expand your bee balm collection or share these beautiful plants with friends and family.

Bee Balm’s Edible and Medicinal Uses

river with red bee balm

Bee balm, also known as Monarda, horsemint, bergamot, and Oswego tea, is a flowering perennial plant in the mint family.

It is native to North America, hardy in zones 3-9, and known for its colorful leaves that add beauty to any garden.

Blooming from July to late summer, bee balm has a variety of edible and medicinal uses that you may find interesting and beneficial.

You can enjoy bee balm as a tasty and refreshing herbal tea. Known as Oswego tea, this beverage was originally used by Native Americans, who recognized the plant’s medicinal properties.

To create your own Oswego tea at home, simply steep the leaves of the bee balm plant in hot water for a few minutes.

The resulting drink is not only delicious but also packed with health benefits.

Bee balm’s edible uses extend to the kitchen as well.

Its leaves can be cooked as a potherb, or you can use a pinch of the leaves as an herb for flavoring soups, stews, and meat dishes.

In addition to this, the flowers of the bee balm plant are also edible, adding a pop of color and a slight minty flavor to salads and other culinary creations.

In terms of medicinal uses, bee balm is prized for its antimicrobial properties.

It has been used as a treatment for colds and congestion, thanks to its efficacy in combating various bacteria and viruses.

One way to harness bee balm’s medicinal power is by creating an oxymel—a mixture of the plant, honey, and vinegar—that can help fend off colds and the flu.

Moreover, bee balm is known to be astringent, which means it can help tighten and constrict body tissues.

Native Americans used bee balm as a remedy to draw out bee stingers and alleviate pain and inflammation.

This versatile plant can also be made into a salve for topical application, providing relief for minor skin irritations and promoting the healing process.

Incorporating bee balm into your life, whether as a flavorful addition to meals or as a home remedy for common ailments, is a great way to make use of this beautiful and versatile plant.

By exploring bee balm’s edible and medicinal uses, you’ll be tapping into a rich history of herbal knowledge that has been passed down through the generations.

Physical Characteristics of Bee Balm

purple bee balm closeups

Bee balm, a member of the mint family, is a perennial plant known for its vibrant flower heads full of tubular petals.

This plant presents itself in various colors, such as pink, purple, red, and white.

You’ll notice that bee balm has square stems and quick-spreading underground rhizomes.

Keep in mind that both the flower and foliage are aromatic and often used in herbal medicine, teas, and culinary applications.

When it comes to leaves, bee balm has opposite leaves with a somewhat grayish tint.

You’ll also find its stems are erect and square.

Typically, most varieties of this plant grow to be 2-4 feet tall, spreading in clumps that can cover a decent area in your garden.

Growing bee balm requires moist soil to thrive, so it’s essential to maintain adequate moisture levels for the plant to develop healthily.

You can expect bee balm to bloom from late spring through the end of summer, boasting beautiful flower heads that attract not only hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies but also provide stunning visual appeal.

In particular, the red-flowered varieties of bee balm are eye-catching, making a bold statement in any garden.

As the plant matures, the woody base will become more prominent, creating a robust and enduring presence.

The Bee Balm in Different Climates

bee balm blooms

Bee balm flourishes in various climates, making it a versatile addition to your garden.

In order to grow successfully, consider the following factors based on your local climate:

Planting season: It’s best to plant bee balm in spring or fall.

If you opt for spring planting, make sure to wait until after the last frost has passed.

When planting in fall, choose a time when the soil is still workable before winter sets in.

Sun exposure: Bee balm thrives in full sun or partial shade.

Providing your bee balm plants with plenty of sunlight will result in healthier plants and more abundant blooms.

Aim for at least 6 hours of sun exposure daily.

Frost and hardiness: Bee balm is a hardy perennial that can withstand frost and grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.

For those in colder climates, winter mulching can help protect the roots from freezing temperatures.

Soil requirements: Your bee balm plants will thrive in slightly acidic, rich, and well-drained soil.

Adding organic matter such as compost or aged manure can boost soil fertility and improve drainage.

Avoid planting in heavy clay soil or areas prone to waterlogging.

Watering: Proper hydration is essential for bee balm growth, especially in hotter climates.

Ensure your plants receive consistent moisture by watering regularly but avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

By taking these factors into account, you’ll be able to successfully grow bee balm in various climates.

Remember to monitor your local weather conditions and adapt your gardening practices accordingly to keep your bee balm plants healthy and vibrant.