Monarda didyma Full Sun ~ Partial Shade pH: 6.0 - 6.7
Bee Balm is an attractive perennial flowering plant. It is attractive in the sense that it is appealing to the eye, and serves well as aesthetic eye candy.
It is also attractive to bees, butterflies, and humming birds. For this reason it is frequently suggested as a companion plant with many garden plants.
The biggest drawback from a companion planting scenario is that bee balm is also highly susceptible to powdery mildew, which is easily transmitted to other plants, so we do not suggest it as a companion plant, as the cons outweigh the pros.
It does serve well in many landscape scenarios, and is edible and tasty. The flowers are white, pink, red, or purple. The plant blooms from early to late summer and grows 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on the variety. A few only reach 8-10 inches in height.
Planting and Care of Bee Balm
Bee balm can be planted in the spring or early fall. When planting Bee Balm in the autumn, it's best to prune the foliage a tad in order to encourage the plant to direct its energy towards the root system.
Bee Balm can be grown by direct seeding in the early spring or by transplants from seedlings you purchased or started yourself. Start indoors a few weeks before the last anticipated frost date and be sure to harden them off / acclimate them before planting into the soil.
Plants should be spaced about about a foot apart for a wild cluster effect, 18-24 inches for a more manicured effect.
Full sun is best unless you reside in a very hot sunny place such as the American Southwest where partial shade is advisable. They are perennial so as winter approaches, late fall, it's a good idea to cut the plants back roughly 2 inches off the ground.
Bee balm is a mint plant and like all mint it spreads vigorously so needs to be kept in check. Every 3rd years the plants should be dug up and divided. Get rid of the oldest center segments and replant the new outer roots.
Soil - Fertilizer
The best soil is well drained with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7. As with mint family plants some rich compost added to the soil when planting is a good idea, although not absolutely necessary. Some liquid fertilizer every so often during the growing season is also a good idea, and once again not absolutely necessary. Once the plants are established they should be mulched every spring.
You can generally force a second bloom from the plants by picking the initial round of flowers, which encourages a second round.
Bee Balm is drought tolerant, but naturally will fare much better with sufficient moisture. It must have well drained soil, as most varieties will fare well under excessive moisture. There are exceptions to every rule - there are some varieties that will fare well in wet lands or along a waterway.
Bee Balm is susceptible to powdery mildew so should most definitely be planted in a location that receives good air circulation. Also, if feasible, try to avoid overhead watering as this encourages the growth of powdery mildew.
If deer or rabbits are a problem in your area - that's a plus for Bee Balm as they are rabbit and deer resistant plants.
Like other mint family plants Bee Balm is self regenerating and sometimes needs to be dug up and divided.
Pruning - Pinching Back
At the culmination of the growing season, in the autumn, cut the Bee Balm plants back to about 3 inches above the soil surface. Come spring you will have a bushier shrub.
In the early spring, in order to enhance the bushy effect, pinch back some of the new tips as they emerge.
Uses for Bee Balm
It is in the mint family and the leaves are used to make a minty tea. It is also known as Oswego Tea, as the Oswego Indians used it to make tea. The plant although it has many of the same qualities and characteristics is not closely related to true bergamot which is used to make earl gray tea. See - Tea Gardens. But it [Bee Balm] works well for this purpose.
The flower blooms have a very strong taste and a smidgen goes a long way. Fresh flower blooms serve as a garnish for salads, fruit salads and preserves, but remember, a little goes a long way. The leaves are highly aromatic and they serve as a substitute for mint in some recipes.
Bee Balm leaves, flowers and stems are used in alternative medicine. It is an antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic and stimulant.