Celebrating the Beauty and Function of Beebalm

Author:
Publish date:

The National Garden Bureau is encouraging American gardeners to plant more beebalm this year, as they've declared 2021 the Year of the Monarda. 

Monarda, or beebalm, is an essential for the hummingbird garden.

Monarda, or beebalm, is an essential for the hummingbird garden.

Monarda is a genus native to North America. There are three species most often seen in gardens: wild bergamot (M. fistulosa); scarlet beebalm (M. didyma); and spotted mint (M. punctata). Breeders have worked extensively with these species to overcome their natural pitfalls—including susceptibility to powdery mildew and a somewhat awkward growth habit—while retaining or even improving upon the bright, profuse summer flowers that endear them to gardeners, pollinators and hummingbirds. 

Grape Gumball is a cultivar in the Sugar Buzz series, whose members reach just 20 to 24 inches tall, about half the size of older monarda offerings.

Grape Gumball is a cultivar in the Sugar Buzz series, whose members reach just 20 to 24 inches tall, about half the size of older monarda offerings.

Today, we can choose among many monarda cultivars with compact growth, disease-resistant foliage and saturated flower colors. Plant size ranges from the 12-inch-tall 'Petite Delight' and Balmy series to the midsize 20-inch Sugar Buzz series to the 36-inch 'Gardenview Scarlet'. The flowers come in all shades of pink, red and purple and occur from midsummer to fall.

To get the most from your beebalm, follow these tips:

Beebalm is an herbaceous perennial that will come back each year. Hardiness varies by cultivar but typically ranges from USDA Zone 3 through 9.

For the best flowering and growth habit, provide full sun.

Beebalms grow best with rich soil, good drainage and consistent moisture.

A spot with good air circulation will help guard against powdery mildew, as will keeping the plants watered.

When choosing a site or companions, bear in mind that this mint relative can spread by its roots (but not as aggressively as true mint).

The Balmy series (shown here, Balmy Pink) contains plants that top out at just 12 inches.

The Balmy series (shown here, Balmy Pink) contains plants that top out at just 12 inches.

Deadhead spent blooms to encourage more flowering.

Dividing will rejuvenate the plant if flowering becomes sparse over time or if it begins to spread beyond where you want it. Dig and divide after growth begins in spring. Replant only the outer sections, discarding the center.

Pinch the stems back in spring to spur branching for a bushier plant.

Cut beebalm back after it begins to decline in the fall. If powdery mildew has been a problem, be sure to throw away the cut stems and foliage rather than composting them or leaving them to decay on site.

In the colder reaches of their hardiness zones, apply a winter mulch to beebalms after the ground freezes. These are shallow-rooted plants that can benefit from protection from potential frost heaves.

Breeding has pushed the color options of monarda past red and purple into all shades of pink, as evidenced by this cultivar, 'Electric Neon Pink'.

Breeding has pushed the color options of monarda past red and purple into all shades of pink, as evidenced by this cultivar, 'Electric Neon Pink'.

For more about beebalm, visit the National Garden Bureau's Year of the Monarda page. 

All images except hummingbird courtesy of the NGB.