Bee Balm

Also known as oswego tea, this perennial is a member of the mint family.

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Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 9

Has distinctive, tubular flowers that spike out of the cone. Flower color is scarlet red, although there are several hybrid selections that come in white, pink, purple and blue. Native to eastern North America. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), bee balm has square stems and a minty fragrance. Plant size ranges from two to four feet tall and two to three feet wide. Bee balm typically blooms from mid to late summer.

How to use it: In masses or as a specimen plant. Use in the middle to the back of a mixed perennial border or herb garden. Good in a butterfly or bird garden. Naturalize.

Culture: Prefers a well-drained site and a rich soil; will not perform well if planted in wet soils. Plant in full sun to partial shade (in warm climates). In partial shade beebalm tends to spread more readily. Propagated through seed, cuttings or division. Spreading clumps benefit by division every three to five years in spring. A key indicator that bee balm needs division is when the center of the clump has died out or becomes hollow. May have powdery mildew on foliage in late summer when plants don't have good air circulation, are crowded or soils are too dry. Powdery mildew also seems to be a bigger problem in the South or areas with high humidity.

Special notes: Tends to be aggressive in its spreading habit so it should be planted in a location where it is allowed to spread and naturalize. Was used by Native Americans for its herbal properties. Its fragrance attracts bees (hence, its name. Attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Selected species and cultivars

  • M. didyma. Most well-known species. Can be used as a cutflower. Doesn't like to dry out.

  • 'Blue Stocking'. Has shown mildew resistance. Features violet-blue flowers.

  • 'Croftway Pink'. Has light pink blooms. May have problems with powdery mildew.

  • 'Marshall's Delight'. Has pink flowers. Mildew resistant.

  • 'Snow White' and 'Snow Queen'. Has white flowers.

  • Wild bergamot, Rocky Mountain beebalm (M. fistulosa). Used as an herb. Native plant that is comes in pink or pale lavender bloom colors. Flowers are less showy than M. didyma. Prefers a dry, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant. USDA Zones 3 to 9.

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