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Bee Balm: A Beautiful Perennial Plant for Hummingbirds

Bee balm is an easy to grow perennial flower that attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to the garden with its bright red or purple blooms from June through August.

Bee Balm plant is a typical North American herb, growing wild primarily in Eastern and Central North America with cultivated varieties growing worldwide. Its Latin name is Monarda Didyma, and it is sometimes called “Oswego Tea” or “Bergamot”. This herb grows to about three feet in height and has lance-shaped leaves and showy, bright red, tubular flowers.

BEE BALM PLANT PROFILE

The name of the plant, Bee Balm, turns some would-be planters off; the name conjures up thoughts of swarms of bees coming to the plant for a balm to soothe their wounds after an attack. That’s not the case at all, though bees will come to the fragrant flowers just as they do to any other aromatic flowering plant. The primary attraction of Bee Balm is for hummingbirds and butterflies.

It’s brightly colored flowers are delicate and attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. The flowers bloom in many different colors and have a raggedy bushy look. You can find bee balm plants with flowers in orange, pink, purple, red, and white.

Is Bee Balm a perennial?

Bee Balm plant is one of approximately sixteen known varieties of this perennial plant, though it is sometimes grown as an annual.

Is Bee Balm and Bergamot the same thing?

The name bergamot comes from its fragrance, which is considered comparable to that of the bergamot orange grown in southern Italy and used to flavor Earl Grey Tea.

Bee Balm is a member of the mint herb family. The plant is edible from flower tip to root tip and gives off an orange fragrance when touched. Bloom colors range from deep scarlet red, purples, pinks, and even white. Bee Balm plants are rapid growers, reaching 3-4 feet in height during a single growing season, making them perfect for planting as a backdrop in a flower garden.

GROWING BEE BALM

Bee-Balm-Plant
PHOTO BY BGWALKER ON ISTOCK

Bee balm is a reliable perennial in USDA hardiness zones four through nine though it dies down to the ground in winter, meaning it can survive winters down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The clumps tend to spread but become invasive pests only occasionally. Bee balm clumps should be divided about every three years to keep them blooming vigorously. You can make new plants in the spring by cutting out some side shoots with roots and planting them to create new clumps.

In addition to trimming out dead foliage in the spring, the plant may need occasional light pruning and benefits from removing old, spent blossoms. Fertilize once a month with a light feeding of liquid fertilizer or manure tea.

How tall does bee balm grow?

It clumps grow three or four feet tall. The small, trumpet-shaped blooms grow in three-inch wide clumps at the end of stems 36 inches long. When fully open the distinctive, colorful flowers look almost like they are exploding upward into small starbursts.

Bee balm is available from garden centers in six-inch pots or more extensive. More varieties are available from mail-order nurseries. Plant them in the back or middle of the beds in half shade. Spacing should be two-three feet apart. Good air circulation reduces the chances of disease. Bee balm can also be started from seeds planted in the fall or early in the spring.

The flower is a relative of spearmint with square stems and needs a fair amount of moisture. Like mint, the foliage has a pleasant smell. The plant tolerates occasional wetness but prefers rich, well-drained soil with a neutral pH.

Read Next: Best Moisture Meter For Plants

BEE BALM CARE

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GARDEN MANAGE

Bee Balm is a native wildflower in woodlands close to a water source. When planting Bee Balm in your garden, bear in mind it’s a natural habitat and grows the fragrant flower in a location that will receive plenty of moisture and full sun.

When planting a bee balm plant for the first time, be careful when choosing a location. The plant must be located away from heavy traffic location. Bee biologists state that bees only sting if they are threatened, so it is best to reduce humans’ threat. It is excellent next to streams or ponds in the yard. If there are no available water bodies in your garden, do not worry. Just remember to water daily, and the bee balm plant will flourish.

It is a fast-spreading plant! Plant the Bee Balm at least 18 inches apart in your garden and try to divide every few years to ensure the plants do not take over the garden. The plant reproduces rapidly through underground stems, so it won’t take long for any gaps to be filled in, and the individual Bee Balm plants will look like one colossal flowering plant when in full bloom, from June through August.

Water Regularly

Bee balm likes moist soil. Thus it is essential to water this plant regularly. Keep the ground regularly well soaked with water during the summer heat, and bee balm will reward you with lush flowers.

When Does Bee Balm Bloom

The bee balm will start to flower in early summer and provide a whole summer’s worth of colorful flowers. While the plant is blooming, deadhead it regularly, and new blooms often appear during the growing season.

Bee Balm Spreads Rapidly

This flower will make a strong impact in a garden. It spreads rapidly, so plants it in an area with room to take over a bit of extra space. Some bee balm plant varieties have a kind of mint or funky odor, so don’t plant it too close to windows if you don’t like the smell the plant produces.

An Exotic Flower

The red bee balm flower is exotic looking and makes a stunning impact in any garden. Its height adds a bit of grandeur to the garden. This flower looks like it could be growing wild in the tropics. It is one of the most dramatic flowers in any garden.

Cut Back at End of Season

At the end of the summer, cut the bee balm stalks to just a few inches high. This prepares the bee balm for the winter months.

Divide Plants in Spring

When needed, divide plants in the spring. Since this plant spreads quickly, it is fun to dig up a plant’s clump to give as a gift to other people who like to garden. You will always have plenty of bee balm to share with friends.

Birds & Bee Balm

Hummingbirds will flock to any source of bee balm, mostly plants with red flowers. The hummingbirds will flit among the bee balm for quite some time. They are easy to observe while feeding at this flower. It is always fun to see the hummingbird hover at a tall stalk of bee balm.

PESTS/DISEASES

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OBSESSIVE NEUROTIC GARDENER

The most common pests for bee balm are aphids, which can be controlled with insecticidal soap or a chemical spray containing Malathion. Snails and slugs are sometimes a problem. Diseases include powdery mildew and rust. Any part of the plant showing disease should be immediately removed and discarded.

The plant is easy to care for and reproduces on its own. Bee Balm will reproduce rapidly, needing to be thinned out every few years to prevent overcrowding and leaf mold issues. Leaf mold is the only concern with growing Bee Balm, which is caused by the moist soil the plant requires and the rapid reproduction habits of the plant that limits air circulation. Every few years, thinning out the Bee Balm plants is usually the only preventative measure needed to stay ahead of the leaf mold on this fragrant garden plant.

BEE BALM USES

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PRACTICALSELFRELIANCE

Bee Balm was used by the Native Americans as a healing herb and still has many uses to us today.

In 1569, Nicolas Monardes put together a book of North American herbs, including their common medicinal uses. Oswego tea, which was called horsemint by many, was one of the listed herbs. Some of the uses listed for Oswego tea included treating nausea and colds and using it as a poultice on bruises and sprains. They commonly made tea from this herb. When many colonists stopped drinking tea after the Boston Tea Party, they started following the Indians’ example using the Indians’ herb in place of their usual tea calling it Oswego tea after the Indians.

Although the medicinal uses of Bee Balm have not been proven by research, Oswego tea is still brewed as a tea by some to treat sore throats and colds. Be careful! It is especially dangerous in pregnant women and women with menstrual disorders, as it has been known to cause uterine contractions.

Those who want to experience Oswego tea as a beverage steep about a teaspoon of leaves in a cup of boiling water for five minutes, then strain. It produces a robust fruity beverage that is pleasant to drink, reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. If you like it sweeter, add a little honey. It is also a very good iced. When the leaves are dried and crushed, they make a fragrant herb that is a beautiful addition to tomato dishes and as an addition to stuffing.

BEE BALM: EXTRA INFO

Bee Palm is considered the right plant for vegetable gardens to grow with tomatoes, allegedly improving both the red fruit’s health and flavor. It is also a right companion plant in general, attracting various predatory and parasitic insects that hunt and kill other garden insect pests, along with pollinating insects such as the honey or bumblebee.

While the proper Oswego Tea has red flowers, other varieties have pink or lilac flowers. Today, different hybrid crosses also produce lavender, white, and purple colors and more common ones. The crushed leaves give off a heavy fragrance that may be both citrusy and minty, and the fragrant oil derived from that plant is known as oil of thyme. Monarda didyma contains the highest amount of this essential oil.

In English Tea, many colonists used the red variety of Monarda didyma after the Boston Tea Party. It became a suitable substitute when the colonists threw the English tea in the harbor in Boston to protest the “Tea Tax” (otherwise known as the Townshend Acts) imposed on it by the British Parliament in 1767. The name Oswego comes from the Oswego Indian tribe who initially taught the colonists how to make tea from the plant

While some varieties are imbued with more of a mint spice taste similar to a mixture of spearmint and peppermint, other plants extrude a lemony flavor, along with the bergamot fragrance. All varieties are suitable to make either hot or cold tea. To make Oswego Tea or any of the other types, use two teaspoons of flowers and leaves (fresh or dried) to 10 – 12 ounces of water. Steep for 3 – 5 minutes (depending on strength preferred), strain, and add sugar or honey to taste. Add ice if desired.

Oswego Tea does have a more subtle secondary flavor that is reminiscent of oregano. It is closely related and has been used as a seasoning for wild game, including venison and fowl. It is also considered a good substitute for sage in pork dishes, especially sausage, and the leaves and flowers may be used as a spicy edible garnish in salads. The Monarda didyma fragrant leaves and flowers are used to make a flavorful mint tea and an essential ingredient for potpourri and sachets.

Theresa Lien
A professional writer who has specialized in houseplants and indoor gardening. She's had experience with outdoor landscaping too, having written about plants that grow well on balconies and patios as one of her previous articles for Wohomen.

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