BY LYN DES MARAIS
BRANDON — Coming in a panoply of bright jewel colors, bee balm is the perfect midsummer flower. Seasoned and new gardeners appreciate the beauty and ease of growing these flowers.
They are so satisfying. They set off the cooler greens of gardens and lawns. They are tall, strong, and well-behaved members of the mint family. They have square stems and grow so thickly that they crowd out most weeds and are great for mass planting. They make excellent cut flowers to add to a bouquet.
What are they?
Bee balm (Monardia), also called wild bergamot, horse mint, or Oswego tea is a member of the mint family. Like mint, it grows vigorously. The leaves are fragrant, and the flowers are reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss illustration. Bees love them.
Despite the name of wild bergamot, bee balm is NOT used in Earl Gray Tea. Deer and rabbits avoid bee balm. It is native to the Eastern United States but was introduced into New England. It is a vigorous grower that can be interpreted as invasive but can be controlled currently in a garden setting.
It’s great as a backdrop in garden borders to fill a difficult-shaped garden space or in front of your garden shrubs, trees, or walls. It is a great nectar source for pollinators and butterflies, as well.
Bee balm requires almost no care. However, if planted on a garden border, more care is needed, as they can muscle other plants out of the way.
If you want a true, almost no care experience beyond the original planting, clear a spot in your lawn, plant, mark, and mow around them. Over time you can create any shape you like: circles, squares, crescents—use your imagination!
As long as you have sun, they will grow. Simply weed them, especially in the first year, until they are established.
Where to plant:
Bee balm does well in sun or light shade in average soil. These plants aren’t fussy. Beyond initial watering, they take care of themselves when planted in the autumn. Plant them in the lawn or a place in your garden where they can take over and be the star of the show come next July, and enjoy the hummingbirds.
Varieties: In bee balm, it’s all about the color.
Red: Jacob Klein is a well-known variety. The blooms are big and red, and the plant is tall. Wild Scarlett is another true red, a bit shorter than Jacob Klein, and wants a bit more moisture. Raspberry: raspberry wine is a pure raspberry red color. True Pink: Balmy rose is a clear true pink. Purple: sugar grape gumball or violet queen are good varieties to get a lovely dark violet.
Bee balm also comes in light purple, light pink, and white.
Borage and lavender Shasta daisies pair well with bee balm.
Powdery mildew: What to do?
If you don’t like that bee balm can be covered with powdery mildew in the summer, I know of three solutions: Buy mildew-resistant varieties, plant them in full sun, and separate/thin your plants to keep the air circulating amongst them.