One of the showiest summer-blooming perennials, Monarda (Bee Balm) has very distinctive, brightly colored flower-heads that create captivating border displays and provide a great impact when used in mass plantings. The blooms consist of asymmetrical, two-lipped tubular flowers borne in dense, globular terminal heads, which rest upon a whorl of decorative bracts. Exuberant, they spice up summer borders and it is difficult to resist their floral charm, despite the susceptibility of some varieties to powdery mildew.
- Members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), Monarda didyma (Bee Balm) and Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) are the most commonly cultivated of the 16 species native to North America. Monarda didyma produces scarlet-red flowers collared by red-tinged bracts, whereas Monarda fistulosa enjoys light lavender to pinkish-white flowers surrounded by bracts that are often tinted with pink. Both species have tall, sturdy square stems and a spreading habit. They gave way to many cultivars and hybrids, which come in a wide array of colors including brilliant shades of red, violet, purple, pink and white.
- Blooming for up to 6 weeks, usually from mid summer to early fall, these showy perennials are a striking addition to informal borders, wildflower meadows and prairies. The boldness of Monarda blooms makes it terrific for massing or as an accent plant. They combine very well with other summer perennials such as phlox, irises, daylilies and yarrows. Useful in the late summer garden, they also bridge the gap before the first asters. They also make excellent cut flowers!
- Stiff-stemmed, they provide showy silhouettes in fall and winter, extending their season of interest, while all around them is collapsing to mush. Just as they make good cut flowers, their seedheads are worth including in dried flower arrangements.
- Monardas grow in clumps of upright stems, 1-4 ft tall (30-120 cm). Their foliage of aromatic, ovate-lanceolate leaves can be enjoyed in salads or simply by passing by.
- They perform best in full sun or partial shade and are adaptable to a variety of soils. Monarda didyma requires rich, moist soils for best growth, while Monarda fistulosa is more tolerant of dry conditions.
- Monardas can be prone to powdery mildew. To prevent this problem, make sure you provide good air circulation, do not let the soil dry out, remove diseased leaves and stems and select mildew-resistant cultivars.
- Monarda flowers attract streams of butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial pollinators but they are deer and rabbit resistant.
- Deadhead spent flowers to encourage new blooms. Fast growing, Monarda spreads vigorously and will need to be divided every 2-3 years.
- Monardas should be cut to the ground after flowering to promote the growth of new healthy shoots and leaves.