All About Growing & Caring For Bee Balm (Monarda)

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Firework-like blooms from bee balm are sure to light up your garden!

Bee balm (Monarda) is a resilient native perennial that basks happily in full sun. These fragrant charmers erupt in a dazzling display of colorful blooms throughout the summer, with sturdy stems ensuring the blooms stay upright and vibrant, even during heavy rain showers. Beyond their visual appeal, bee balm boasts a delightful fragrance that attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to your garden, ensuring a constant buzz of activity. A bonus: the mint-like foliage deters deer and other pesky critters, keeping your bee balm looking its best all season long! Whether you envision them nestled amidst other perennials in your flower beds or massed together for a sea of color, bee balm offers endless design possibilities for your garden.

Here, we’ll show you how to grow and care for bee balm and answer frequently asked questions about this vibrant perennial.

Bee feeding on pink bee balm flowers

How to grow & care for bee balm (Monarda):

  • Soil: Bee balm is easily grown in any soil and readily tolerates wet soils. Soil pH not crucial.
  • Light: Full sun (6+ hours sun) to partial sun (4-6 hours sun) is required to grow bee balm. Full sun is recommended for best flowering.
  • Water: Bee balm has average to abundant water needs, depending on the weather. Established bee balm plants can tolerate dry conditions.
  • Spacing:  When planting, space at least 24-28″ from other plants; good air circulation encourages healthy, vigorous growth.
  • Fertilizing: Bee balm needs little fertilizing. If desired, apply a granular garden fertilizer in early spring, just as the soil begins to thaw.
  • Winterizing: No special care needed. Any old stems that persist after winter can be cut back in spring.
  • Maintenance & pruning: Remove any spent blooms for better performance and looks. While not imperative, it results in a neater, showier plant.
Bright purple blooms in a sunny garden

Why gardeners love bee balm (and the pollinators too!)

Easy To Grow

Not only does bee balm boast beautiful fireworks-like blooms, but it’s also effortless to care for. This perennial acclimates well to nearly any soil it’s planted in, provided it’s well-drained and deer—and disease-resistant. Just sit back and watch your garden buzz with pollinators all summer! Because this perennial prefers moist soil, it has become an easy-care staple for boggy areas or rain gardens, though it can thrive anywhere with plenty of sunlight. Bee balm also doesn’t require special winterizing to protect the plant for the following growing season, as any old stems that persist after winter can be cut back in spring. 

Versatile, Fragrant

Bee balm is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), and the foliage emits a lovely citrusy spiced-mint fragrance. This same fragrance helps keep the deer, rabbits, and other pests at bay! Many gardeners love growing bee balm to harvest the flowers and foliage for teas or to dry and lock in the fragrance to enjoy for many months. Native Americans would harvest and use bee balm as a medicinal plant to heal bee stings, which is how the plant earned its common name. You can learn more about the history of bee balm and how the Oneida Nation and Oswego people utilized the plant HERE.

A Pollinator Magnet

Bee balm is native to eastern North America and is commonly found alongside streams and meadows. Over time, it developed a mutually beneficial relationship with pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Researchers in mid-Atlantic states have recently observed sand wasps (Bicyrtes) and the small black sweat bee (Dufourea monardae) using bee balm extensively for nectar.

Vibrant red and purple bee balm flowers let pollinators know it’s a high-value energy source, while the long tubular flowers full of nectar make them stay.

Hummingbird feeding on nectar from red bee balm (Monarda) flowers
Pictured above: ‘Jacob Cline’ Bee Balm
Photo credit: @a_man_with_a_nikon

Frequently asked questions about bee balm:

Why isn't my bee balm blooming?

There are a few potential reasons why your bee balm plants may not bloom this year. Long periods of high temperatures or drought may dry out the soil, so checking soil moisture and adjusting your watering schedule to ensure it stays moist is essential. Water stress (too much or too little) may present with yellowing leaves. Bee balm is also a sun-loving perennial; less than 4-6 hours of sun a day may prevent the plant from flowering. If you feel your bee balm plant isn’t getting enough sun, it might be time to transplant!

Powdery mildew, a fungal disease that presents white or gray powder-like spots on the flowers and foliage, is another common reason your bee balm may not bloom. This fungal disease is caused by too much moisture and poor air circulation, typically due to over-fertilizing or over-watering. If your bee balm has spots with powdery mildew, remove infected parts from the plant. Proven Winners bee balm varieties like ‘Pardon My Cerise’ or ‘Pardon My Lavender II’ had better mildew resistance than other varieties.

Can bee balm be grown in containers?

Yes, bee balm can thrive on a porch or patio in containers! The key is to find a container that allows room for the plant to spread and has plenty of drainage holes at the bottom. Remember: bee balm prefers moist soil, so be sure to establish a regular watering schedule during periods of drought. 

Does bee balm spread through the garden?

Yes, bee balm will spread via underground rhizomes that produce new growth. While it isn’t overly aggressive, you can take a few steps to prevent your bee balm from spreading. The first is isolating your bee balm plants within a border, like a perennial garden hedge or along a privacy fence. Or you can remove any new shoots from the ground before they take root.

Is bee balm toxic to dogs or cats?

No, bee balm is not toxic to cats or dogs. However, Great Garden Plants advises that pets, children, or adults do not consume any flowers, weeds, trees or bushes. Ornamental plants are intended to be just that – ornamental. They should not be consumed by people or pets.

Shop bee balm plants for sale:

Pink bee balm flowers

Upscale™ 'Lavender Taffeta' Bee Balm

Red bee balm flowers

'Jacob Cline' Bee Balm

Pink bee balm flowers

'Leading Lady Razzberry' Bee Balm

Dark pink bee balm flowers

Upscale™ 'Red Velvet' Bee Balm

Bright pink bee balm flowers

'Leading Lady Orchid' Bee Balm

Red bee balm flowers

'Pardon My Cerise' Bee Balm

Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

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