How to Grow and Care Bee Balm: Easy Tips

Bee balm, a collection of native North American wildflowers from the Monarda genus, is highly valued for its vibrant, colorful flowers and extended blooming period. How to grow and care Bee Balm; It encompasses several species, but the ones commonly found in garden centers are typically hybrids and cultivars derived from three main species: M. didyma, M. fistulosa, and M. puntata. Although most cultivated “Monarda” varieties are primarily hybrids with M. didyma as the main parent, other species often contribute to their genetic makeup. How to grow and care Bee Balm; Growing between 10 inches and 4 feet tall, bee balm is a somewhat weedy plant with oval leaves that have a downy texture on the undersides. Despite the foliage not being particularly attractive, bee balms produce abundant hairy clusters of scarlet, pink, white, lavender, or purple tubular petals arranged in terminal whorls. How to grow and care Bee Balm; These blooms, characterized by their distinctive “spiky hairdo,” are a major selling point of bee balm, along with their ability to attract bees, butterflies, songbirds, and hummingbirds to the garden throughout a significant portion of the summer.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Typically, bee balm is planted in spring or fall using container-grown nursery plants. How to grow and care Bee Balm; It is a fast-growing perennial that often reaches its full height and flowering maturity in its first season. While it is not considered invasive, being part of the mint family means it can spread quite aggressively. Therefore, it requires monitoring and supervision if you wish to control its spread. In addition to being loved by pollinators for its nectar and serving as a snack for songbirds through its seed heads, bee balm also offers other benefits. How to grow and care Bee Balm; It can be used to make delicious tea or garnish, adds a lovely fragrance to potpourri, and repels mosquitoes when its leaves are crushed.

Common Name:  Bee balm, monarda, wild bergamot

Botanical Name:  Monarda spp.

Family:  Lamiaceae

Plant Type:  Herbaceous, perennial

Mature Size:  10–48 in. tall, 10–36 in. wide

Sun Exposure:  Full, partial

Soil Type:  Rich, moist

Soil pH:  Acidic, neutral

Bloom Time:  Summer

Flower Color:  Red, purple, pink, white, lavender

Hardiness Zones:  3–9 (USDA)

Native Area:  North America

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Bee Balm Care

If you desire a charming cottage garden ambiance, the bee balm plant is the perfect choice. This American native offers gardeners a wealth of beauty, fragrance, and wildlife, requiring minimal effort. It thrives in areas with full sun to partial shade and prefers moist soil, although it can tolerate various conditions. The cultivars of the M. fistula species are relatively more resilient in dry soil.

Although bee balm plants cannot be classified as invasive (as they are native to North America), they do possess a proclivity for aggressive spreading if left unchecked. They propagate through spreading rhizomes and self-seeding. Over time, the central area of the plant becomes woody and unproductive. To prevent the plants from overrunning the garden and to revitalize their growth, it is recommended to divide them every two to three years during early spring. Additionally, it is common for the plant foliage to deteriorate after flowering, particularly if it falls victim to powdery mildew, a common ailment.


While bee balm is capable of tolerating partial shade, it flourishes when exposed to a minimum of six hours of full sun each day. Excessive shade has a tendency to cause the plant to become elongated and can diminish the quantity and brilliance of its flowers. However, in hotter and drier climates, it is advisable to provide some protection from the intense afternoon sun for bee balm plants to thrive.


For optimal growth of your bee balm, it is recommended to select soil that is fertile, moist, and maintains a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. Fortunately, most garden soils are typically suitable for bee balm cultivation. However, if the soil is deficient, it can be enhanced by incorporating compost or manure to improve its nutrient content, enhance its texture, and create a more favorable environment for bee balm growth. Applying a layer of mulch on top of the soil will also help retain moisture, which is particularly beneficial for this shallow-rooted plant.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm


Bee balm thrives when the soil remains consistently moist as it is a plant that prefers ample moisture. Depending on your specific climate and location, it is advisable to water the plant on a weekly basis, ensuring that the soil never dries out completely. This is particularly crucial during the plant’s initial year, as it aids in the establishment of a robust root system. Following the common garden practice of providing approximately 1 inch of water per week is generally suitable for bee balm.

The M. fistula species and its cultivated varieties demonstrate a greater tolerance for dry conditions compared to M. didyma and its cultivated counterparts.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Climate and Moisture Level

Bee balm does not exhibit high demands regarding temperature or humidity, as long as it is planted within its appropriate USDA zone range, which spans from zones 3 to 9. It generally prefers a drier atmosphere, and in humid conditions, issues such as mildew and rust can arise. To mitigate the risk of disease, it is advisable to ensure adequate air circulation and water the plant at ground level.


While not essential for the plant’s overall health, you have the option to provide your bee balm plants with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer during the spring season to supplement their nutritional needs. However, it is important to exercise caution and avoid over-fertilization, as excessive amounts can hinder flowering. To determine the appropriate quantity, it is recommended to refer to the instructions provided on the product label.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Types of Bee Balm

While certain bee balm varieties available in garden centers are either pure species or direct cultivars, many possess intricate hybrid parentage, incorporating genetic contributions from two or more parent species. These hybrid types are typically sold under the general name of Monarda, without specific species designations. The varieties featuring red or reddish-pink flowers commonly derive from M. didyma, whereas those with lavender or purple flowers predominantly inherit genetic traits from M. fistula as the primary parent.

Some of the popular bee balm cultivars include:

‘Jacob Cline’ is a Monarda didyma variety with exceptionally vibrant scarlet flowers, which attract hummingbirds.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Pardon My Lavender’ is a compact Monarda didyma cultivar, reaching a height of 14 to 18 inches, featuring lovely lavender-pink flowers. Notably, it displays resistance to powdery mildew.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Claire Grace’ is a Monarda fistula selection with darker purple flowers compared to the pure M. fistula species. It is recognized for its high resistance to powdery mildew.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Scorpion’ is a hybrid variety of Monarda, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and showcasing purple flower bracts. It exhibits excellent cold hardiness, capable of thriving in zone 3.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Marshall’s Delight’ is a hybrid Monarda variety, standing 2 to 3 feet tall, with beautiful clear pink flowers. It possesses good resistance to powdery mildew.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Vintage Wine’ is a hybrid Monarda variety, reaching a height of 2 to 3 feet, and boasting captivating wine-red flowers.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

‘Purple Lace’ is a miniature hybrid Monarda, growing 1 to 2 feet in height, characterized by striking purple-red flowers.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

How to Prune

Bee balm enthusiasts often appreciate the natural, rustic ambiance of the plant, but it still benefits from periodic pruning. To prolong the blooming period and prevent self-seeding (unless desired), it is advisable to deadhead the flowers immediately after they have finished blooming. Deadheading also stimulates the plant to produce additional flowers.

If the plants suffer from severe powdery mildew towards the end of the season, reaching an unsightly state, you can prune the stems back to ground level. This action will not harm the plant’s overall health, and it will rejuvenate and thrive once again in the following spring.

To attract songbirds to your garden, it is recommended to leave the seed heads on the plant throughout the winter. The birds will enjoy feasting on the seeds. Then, in late winter or early spring, you can cut back the stems to prepare for the upcoming season.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

How to Propagate

Bee balm has a rapid spreading tendency through its underground stems, known as stolons. To propagate new plants, the recommended method is to carefully dig up the clumps and divide them for replanting. The ideal time to carry out this division is in early spring. By dividing the bee balm every two to three years, you can promote the overall health of the plants and ensure their continued vitality.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Once you notice fresh stems emerging from the soil, use a shovel to carefully excavate the entire clump.
  • With a sharp knife, divide the clump into sections, ensuring that each section possesses at least two or three shoots along with a healthy root system.
  • Immediately replant the divided pieces in the desired location and ensure thorough watering. It is crucial to keep the newly planted sections well-hydrated during their first year of growth.

How to Grow From Seed

Bee balm readily produces sprouts from seeds collected from dried flower heads during the fall. However, it’s important to note that most bee balm varieties found in nurseries are hybrids, and their seeds often do not result in offspring that resemble the parent plant. Nevertheless, pure species plants can be successfully propagated this way, and you also have the option to purchase commercially bred seeds that have been meticulously controlled. These commercial seeds are often available in mixtures featuring various colors.

To initiate seed germination, start by sowing the seeds indoors approximately eight weeks before the last frost date. Use small pots or seedling trays filled with commercial potting mix. Place four or five seeds in each pot or two seeds in each seedling cell, ensuring they are positioned on the surface and lightly covered with a sprinkling of potting mix. The seeds require exposure to light for successful germination. Position the pots or trays under lights and water them gently using a spray bottle. Ensure the temperature remains above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and prevent the soil from drying out. Within a few weeks, the seedlings will develop root systems. Once they have grown two sets of true leaves, transfer the plants to larger pots. Before planting them in the garden, it is essential to harden off the plants by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over the course of a week. Wait until the weather has warmed and all risk of frost has passed before transplanting the bee balm seedlings into the garden.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Potting and Repotting Bee Balm

Although it is not a common practice, some urban gardeners who wish to attract butterflies or hummingbirds to their courtyard or patio gardens may choose to grow bee balm in large containers. To effectively entice pollinators, a sizable container of at least 5 to 10 gallons is recommended. Resin plastic containers are suitable, although any well-draining container will suffice. Fill the container with a standard potting mix enriched with additional compost, and plant the bee balm in the center. Miniature varieties are often well-suited for container cultivation. Place the pot in a sunny location and water it whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry.

During winter, potted bee balm plants should be left outdoors but moved to a sheltered area such as a cold frame, unheated porch, or garage. While it is possible to bring a potted bee balm indoors for winter, it should be noted that it will not bloom under these conditions. Bee balm is not an ideal long-term houseplant as it undergoes dormancy during winter.

To prevent the plant from becoming root-bound in the container, it should be divided every couple of years. This ensures the plant remains healthy and does not outgrow its pot.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm


Once frost has caused the bee balm plants to wither in the fall or winter, trim back all the stems to approximately 2 inches in height. It is important to discard the debris rather than adding it to compost piles to avoid the persistence of fungal spores. In most regions, there is no need for winter protection. However, gardeners residing in areas with exceptionally cold winters may opt to mulch the crown to shield the roots from the detrimental effects of freeze-thaw cycles.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Bee balm may encounter various minor pests, although infestations are typically not severe, possibly due to its natural insect-repelling scent as a member of the mint family.

The most significant issue faced by bee balm is powdery mildew, a fungal disease that results in a powdery white or gray residue on the leaves. While many plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, bee balm tends to be more seriously affected. This fungus thrives in environments with humid nights and cooler days. If your plants succumb to powdery mildew after enjoying their flowers for some time, it is advisable to trim them back to the ground and properly dispose of the cuttings. Alternatively, if cutting down the plants is not feasible due to the timing of the mildew outbreak, you can attempt to control it by applying a commercial or homemade fungicide. It will require repeated applications, starting early, to effectively manage the mildew.

To prevent powdery mildew from occurring in the first place, it is recommended to maintain adequate spacing between the perennial plants, with at least 2 feet of distance to promote proper air circulation. Additionally, watering at the base of the plant instead of overhead spraying can help minimize the humidity level around the plant’s crown, reducing the likelihood of mildew development.

Bee balm is also susceptible to rust fungus, which can cause leaf disfigurement. If the rust disease is severe, it can be controlled by applying spray fungicides.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

How to Get Bloom

Most varieties of bee balm exhibit a blooming period of at least eight weeks during the summer, typically starting in midsummer and extending into fall. While problems with blooming are uncommon, if the flower display falls short of your expectations, consider the following solutions:

Increase sunlight: Bee balm requires a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day to bloom effectively. Relocating the plant to a sunnier location may encourage better blooming.

Lift and divide in spring: Older bee balm plants can become overgrown, with a woody center that produces fewer stems and flowers. Dividing the plant every two to three years helps rectify this issue.

Ensure adequate watering: Bee balms thrive in moist soil, and regular watering on a weekly basis is generally sufficient to promote good flowering.

Check for diseases: Bee balm plants heavily affected by powdery mildew will not only have their leaves affected but also their flowers. Regular inspections can help identify and address any disease issues promptly.

Reduce fertilizer: If you have a habit of regularly fertilizing all your garden plants, it may pose a problem for bee balms, which are light feeders. In early spring, a single light feeding is typically adequate. Excessive fertilization can result in vigorous foliage growth but hinder flower bud development.

How to Grow and Care Bee Balm

Common Problems with Bee Balm

Bee balms generally do not encounter significant issues, but it is not uncommon for gardeners to feel disappointed by the ragged and sparse appearance of the plants towards the end of the season, once the flowering period has concluded. This natural decline in appearance can be further pronounced if the plant is affected by powdery mildew.

To address this, it is advisable to position bee balm plants in a way that conceals their sparse foliage behind other plants, ensuring that there is still adequate air circulation. Additionally, late in the season, you have the option to trim the stems to just above ground level. Rest assured, this practice will not harm the plants or impede their growth when they return in the following spring.