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You Should Plant Bee Balm

By Ania Wiatr

Summer is upon us.

Many summer-blooming perennial flowers in our gardens have started their color show. Out of the many varieties of flowers that are blooming now, one that is worth highlighting is Monarda, commonly called bee balm, or wild bergamot.

According to USDA data, 17 Monarda species are native to North America. Over the millennia, all those species have played an important part in our local ecosystems. Native Americans have used bee balm to treat upper respiratory problems, and as a strong antiseptic. Today, it is still highly valued in modern natural medicine. In ornamental horticulture, Monarda didyma and Monarda fistulosa are the most popular of the bee balms, and many of their cultivars and hybrids are available at nurseries with a wide range of colors in red, violet, purple, pink, and white.

Bee balm are a part of the mint family, which means they have a spreading growth habit (its rhizomes spread approximately one foot each year). That may be a deterrent for some gardeners, but with regular annual maintenance of removing some new growth, you can easily control the amount of space bee balm takes in your garden. Its spreading growth habit can even be an asset if you have a part of your backyard with moist or clay soil that you don’t want to maintain; just let Monarda take over. Beyond its spreading growth habit, it’s a good idea to dedicate some bigger pockets of your garden to Monarda because it presents itself the best in mass. With its vibrant colors, a large swath of bee balm can be a real showstopper.

Monarda didyma in the Pollinator Garden at Philbrook Museum of Art

One of the best things about Monarda is that it is a pollinator superstar. As its common name, bee balm, suggests, bees love to feed on its flowers. However, not only bees love feeding on bee balm. Many butterflies, moths, beneficial wasps, and hummingbirds love it too! Monarda is truly a plant that should have a place in any pollinator garden.

Ania Wiatr is a Senior Horticulturist at Philbrook Museum of Art.

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