Growing Guide
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Bee balm

Herbaceous Perennial Flower, Herb

Also known as Bergamot, Oswego tea, Scarlet monarda
Monardra didyma
Lamiaceae Family

Valued in ornamental plantings for its scarlet blooms (varieties also come in white and shades of pink, purple and blue) that attract bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects, the Oswego indians introduced this native New York herb to the colonists.

Site Characteristics
  • full sun
  • part shade
Prefers full sun but very adaptable to part shade.

Soil conditions:

  • requires damp soil
  • tolerates low fertility
Needs continuous moisture in summer, but protection from excessive moisture in winter. Will grow in heavy clay soils.

Hardiness zones:

  • 4 to 9

Special locations:

  • outdoor containers
Plant Traits

Lifecycle: perennial

Ease-of-care: easy

Height: 2 to 4 feet

Spread: 1.5 to 3 feet

Bloom time:

  • mid-summer
  • late summer

Flower color:

  • red
  • blue
  • violet
  • white
  • pink

In the species, purple-green rosette buds show color early in the spring and grow into large red tubular flowers in whorls at ends of the foliage. Other varieties come in white and shades of pink, purple and blue

Foliage color: dark green

Foliage texture: medium

Shape: upright

Shape in flower: same as above

Special Considerations
Special characteristics:
  • aggressive - Can spread by underground rhizomes.
  • non-invasive
  • native to North America - Native to rich, moist woodlands from Ontario to Georgia and west to Illinois.
  • fragrant - Flowers are lightly scented. Leaves, stems, and roots carry a delicious aromatic orange-like perfume when crushed.

  • beneficial insects - Bees.
  • hummingbirds - Rich nectar source for ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Special uses:
  • cut flowers - The lemon variety of bee balm is a long-lasting cut flower.
Growing Information
How to plant:

Propagate by seed, cuttings, division or separation - Plant seeds in containers in cold frame. Seeds germinate in 10 to 40 days.

Take basal softwood cuttings with plenty of underground stem in spring. Pot individually and keep in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until well rooted, then plant out.

Divide clumps of the spreading root system every 2 or 3 years in early spring before growth begins. Plant the large clumps directly into a sunny moist location. Pot small divisions and grow in light shade in a cold frame until well established before planting out.

Maintenance and care:
Deadhead to prolong flowering.

If foliage develops mildew after flowering, cut back to uninfected leaves at the base of the plant. Thinning stems early in the season can also reduce mildew.

Cut back by half when about a foot tall to delay flowering, reduce height and delay mildew.

Divide every 2 to 3 years as clumps die out in the center.

More growing information: How to Grow Perennials

Stalk borer.
Mildew is common after flowering. Look for resistant varieties, thin plants, provide good air circulation.

Crown rot

'Cambridge Scarlet' forms 3-foot tall clumps with bright scarlet flowers.

'Croftway Pink' forms 3-foot tall clumps with rose-pink flowers.

'Granite Pink' is a dwarf form that grows just 10 to 12 inches with dark green leaves.

'Snow White' forms 3-foot tall clumps with creamy white flowers.

Red-flowered forms are reputed to make the most flavorable teas and be more resistant to deer damage.

Mildew-resistant varieties include: 'Blaustrumpf' ('Blue Stocking'), 'Colrain Red', 'Gardenview Scarlet', 'Marshall's Delight', 'Sunset', and 'Violet Queen'.