Bee Balm

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Perennial – comes back year after year.

Bee Balm attracts Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. The summer flowers of this spreading herb are usually red, but you can also find cultivars with pink, purple or white blooms. 'Marshall's Delight' is a good pink variety that resists powdery mildew, a fungal disease that causes gray patches on the leaves.

In mid to late spring, pinch out up to half of the stems at ground level to thin out crowded clumps. Zones 4 to 9. Most varieties of the bee balm plant are between 2 to 4 feet tall, but there are also dwarf varieties less than 10 inches high. Dwarf varieties are excellent for container gardens or your garden border where you can appreciate the shaggy, tubular blooms of the bee balm flower.

Planting and Care Plant in full sun; but a bit of afternoon shade helps flowers last longer in really hot weather. Space plants 14 to 21 inches apart in rich, well-drained soil with a pH from 6.0 to 6.7. Loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the plant's container.

Remove the plant from its pot and place it in the hole so the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the rootball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly. Add organic compost or a slow-release orgainic fertilizer to the soil every 2 or 3 weeks thereafter. Although it will tolerate drought, bee balm will do much better if it gets adequate moisture; Pick the flowers to encourage a second round of blooms. Protect it from poor drainage, especially in winter. Water the plant when the leaves wilt in dry weather. Mulch well in the spring.

In the late fall, cut the Bee Balm plant back to within a few inches of the ground. For a bushier shrub, pinch the tips of the stems when new growth appears each spring. Bee balm will spread but not too aggressively. Every 3 or 4 years dig up and divide the plant. Discard the old center section and replant the outer roots and shoots.

Troubleshooting Bee balm can get powdery mildew. To avoid powdery mildew, plant where there is good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. Always water at the base of the plant and try not to water the leaves.

Harvest and Storage Pick bee balm flowers in summer as they appear and you can cut whole stems of bee balm to put in a vase. Pick flowers for drying just before they open.

Uses The fresh flowers of the bee balm can be used as a garnish for green salads, fruit salads, or preserves. The leaves serve as a substitute for mint and can be dried for tea. Dried leaves and flowers are also used in sachets and potpourri.