Bee Balm Care: How to Grow Bee Balm Outdoors

Bee balm care


The Bee Balm plant is an endemic North American Native. This flowering perennial not only returns year after year, but also spreads because it self-seeds. A member of the mint family, bee balm goes by many names, including Oswego tea, horsemint, and bergamot.

Loved by gardeners for being one of the best hummingbird plants and also for attracting butterflies, bee balm is also popular for its fragrant foliage and whorled flowers in red, pink, purple or white. An easy care plant that can grow up to 4 feet tall with a spread of 3 to 4 feet.

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Growing bee balm at a glance

common names: Bee Balm
Scientific name: Monarda didyma
hardening zone: Zones 3 to 9
floor: Rich, organic, well-drained soil; pH 6.0 to 6.7
light: Full sun, but tolerates partial shade
water: Likes it evenly moist but not too wet; drought tolerant
meal: Balanced fertilizer or from soil enriched with compost, manure or other organic material
propagation: seeds, cuttings or division
security: Non-toxic to humans and animals

Bee Balm Properties

bee balm or Monarda, displays loose, mop-like flower heads with tubular petals of red, pink, purple, or white. A member of the mint family, it has a minty or lemony scent that repels mosquitoes but attracts the pollinators it feeds, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Although this North American native perennial attracts more butterflies and hummingbirds than bees, it gets its name from historical use as an antidote for bee stings.

Preferring full sun, the fast-growing bee balm tolerates partial shade, especially in hot regions, although it is not one of the best shade bloomers. He likes moist soil but not “wet feet”.

There Monarda propagates by self-seeding and underground rhizomes, it needs to be divided every few years to keep it looking its best. Deadhead Bee Balm for lasting blooms.

Bee balm care


Bee balm is a standout plant among plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Crossbreeding of species led to the development of at least 50 commercial cultivars of lemon balm. Here are a few popular strains:

  • lemon balm (Monarda citriodora) native to the rocky prairies and dry pastures of northern Mexico and southern United States. Tall, tubular buds sit atop whorled stalks.
  • Eastern Bee Balm (Monarda bradburiana) is a cultivar that produces light pink to white spotted flowers and aromatic, oblong leaves all summer long.
  • Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), meaning twins, takes its name from its paired stamens and has a bright red bloom to attract pollinators. The most common variety found in the wild, it is used in teas and essential oils.
  • Wild Bergamot Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) has flowers that are reddish purple and open from the center. This plant, native to eastern Canada and the US, grows to 3 feet tall with hairless upper stems and lance-shaped leaves that have a distinct oregano aroma when crushed.
  • Violet Queen Bee Balm (Monarda ‘Violet Queen’) is a hybrid that produces lavender pink flowers in midsummer and is well suited for growing in pots and borders.

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Plant bee balm

Bee balm can make a great addition to a pollinator garden, flower bed, or container garden. Since it needs to be divided regularly, there is a lot to plant. Here are some suggestions on how and when to plant Bee Balm.

When is the best time to plant bee balm?

The best time to plant Bee Balm is in the spring, when all danger of frost has passed, or in the fall before your first frost date. When planting this fast-growing perennial in the fall, trim the foliage to encourage the plant to focus its energy on taking root in its new location.

Where can bee balm grow?

Bee Balm can grow in sunny locations with moist, rich soil that drains well. It tolerates partial shade, especially in hot climates. It works well in the back of borders behind low-growing annuals or perennials that can hide its sparsely covered “legs,” but it shouldn’t be crowded.

Good choices for bee balm companion plants include variegated phlox, daylilies, peonies, roses, echinacea, black-eyed susan, and in the vegetable garden, squash and tomatoes.

How do you plant bee balm?

Planting bee balm is fairly easy. Here are some tips:

  1. Choose a sunny spot with rich, moist (but not soggy) soil.
  2. Dig holes 18 to 24 inches apart.
  3. Cover with soil and mulch before watering.

Can you grow Bee Balm in containers?

Bee Balm can be successfully grown in containers under the right conditions. Plant them individually in a properly sized container, or plant them as a centerpiece in a larger container or container filled with companion plants in rich, organic soil. Because bee balm spreads and can reach a height of 2 to 4 feet, it should be planted in a 5 to 10 gallon pot that is crack and weather resistant.

Provide good drainage and place bee balm in a sunny spot where it gets good air circulation. Be sure to water when the top inch of soil feels dry, as bee balm prefers not to be dry for too long. Water less frequently in the fall as the plant prepares for hibernation.

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Pour bee balm

Bee balm care


Lemon balm plants like evenly moist soil that drains well. They don’t like wet feet. Although Bee Balm tolerates drought, dry conditions can cause problems such as powdery mildew, fewer flowers, smaller leaves and an overall weaker plant, especially once established. Too little water will result in leaf curling, drooping leaves, or brown or burned leaves. Drought causes stress, resulting in slower root growth, smaller leaves, and fewer flowers.

Regular watering will help new plants develop a strong root system. In general, bee balm needs about an inch of water per week. Overwatering can cause root rot and diseases like powdery mildew.

Fertilizing bee balm

If your soil is high in organic nutrients, you most likely don’t need to fertilize bee balm; The plants do not require frequent or heavy fertilization. However, a small amount of a balanced 10-10-10 granular fertilizer in spring shouldn’t hurt. However, be careful not to over-fertilize as this reduces flowering and can contribute to powdery mildew.

Adding compost or manure in the spring can benefit both the soil and the lemon balm plant.

Cut bee balm

When the plant has reached a height of about 30 cm, you can cut back the top leaves if you want to encourage lateral growth. For wide bee balm swaths, use scissors to cut about half the height of the plants. This will help them get lanky — a common problem with bee balm. If you’re not pruning bee balm, you may want to stake plants to keep them upright.

When does bee balm bloom? Flowering usually begins in July and continues through late summer. Therefore, early pruning can encourage lateral growth, which should produce more buds.

After the late fall or winter frosts have killed the foliage, you should prune the dead foliage back to just above the ground line.

Multiply bee balm

Bee balm care


You can propagate with lemon balm seed, but since hybrids are not seed faithful, the best method for predictable results is by division.

In early spring, dig the rhizomes around the edge of the clump after new shoots have started to break through the soil. Remove debris and pull or cut clumps apart, leaving two or three shoots per clump divided. Division can reduce overcrowding and revitalize older plants and should be done every 2 to 3 years.

Take cuttings from new growth in late spring. Dip a 6-inch section in rooting hormone and place in a pot with perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss. Pour and cover with plastic.

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safety aspects

No part of the lemon balm flower or foliage is poisonous to humans or animals. In fact, bee balm is used for teas and also for its antiseptic properties. All parts above ground are edible. The leaves and flowers, which can be eaten raw or cooked, have a minty flavor.

Although attracted to its scent, dogs, horses, and most farm animals typically dislike the bitter taste of this herb. Cats are sometimes drawn to the strong citrus scent and oregano-like taste.

Possible pests and diseases

Powdery mildew is the most common fungal disease affecting bee balm, leaving a telltale powdery white or gray residue on the leaves; Moisture is usually the cause. The plant can be pruned back to rid it of the problem. Alternatively, you can apply a fungicide or neem oil, but the best treatment is prevention through proper air circulation and avoiding overhead watering.

Rust fungus sometimes occurs and is treatable with a fungicide. Root rot can occur when soil does not drain well.

Bee balm is not bothered by many pests because their scent repels them. However, stem borers, spider mites and thrips can pose a problem. Borers tunnel into the stem; Destroying or removing the affected stem can stop the problem, but missing it will cause the plant to wilt and die.

Spider mites suck the plant’s juices and turn the leaves yellow. They can also be recognized by the fine webbing they make. Insecticidal soaps and garden oils like neem can kill them. Thrips damage looks similar without the web.

Prepare bee balm for the winter

Bee balm care


Once frost has killed the foliage in late fall or winter, cut the stems back to within 2 inches above the ground line. Remove debris to prevent fungal spores. If you don’t want bee balm to self-seed to propagate, prune the plant back before it sheds seeds. If you want to encourage propagation — and if you want to provide winter food for the birds — leave the seed heads on the plants.

No protection is required except in a hardiness zone with extremely cold winter temperatures. In cold climates, mulch the crown to protect the roots from freeze-thaw cycles. Remove the mulch in spring.

Looking for plants that attract more pollinators? Check out our installation guides spurge, Lantanaand zinnias.

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