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Bee Balm

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Picture of red bee balm.

Picture of red bee balm.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Red Bee Balm:

Plant taxonomy classifies the bee balm plants (or "beebalm") with which I deal here (namely, scarlet or "red" bee balm) as Monarda didyma. "Oswego tea" is another common name. 'Cambridge Scarlet' is a popular cultivar with red flowers. Meanwhile, Monarda didyma plants with lavender flowers are also popular; classified as Monarda fistulosa, they go by the common name "wild bergamot."

Plant Type:

Monarda didyma plants are herbaceous perennials. They are also considered "herbs" in the sense that they have been put to culinary and medicinal uses. They are, indeed, in the mint family; their aromatic leaves have a minty fragrance.

Characteristics of Red Bee Balm:

Red bee balm plants produce clusters of scarlet, tubular flowers in mid to late summer. These long-blooming perennials reach 3 feet or more in height.

Planting Zones for Red Bee Balm:

Red bee balm plants can be grown in planting zones 4-9. These flowers are indigenous to eastern North America.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Plant Monarda didyma flowers in full sun to partial shade and in a moist but well-drained soil. Use soil amendments such as compost to enrich the soil for your Monarda didyma plants.

Outstanding Characteristic:

This will depend on your gardening interests. If you simply enjoy beautiful flowers, then the "spiky hairdo" of the unusual flower clusters will be a chief selling point. If you seek plants that attract wildlife, then you, too have a reason to grow this perennial (see below). Herb aficionados, meanwhile, have their own reasons for growing Monarda didyma flowers (see below).

Wildlife Attracted to Monarda Didyma:

Looking for plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies? Red bee balm is commonly grown for just this purpose. It also attracts bees to help pollinate your other plants.

Uses:

These flowers are also a useful option in moist spots where other perennials might struggle, as they are fine plants for wet ground. In addition to their employment for aesthetic purposes in the landscape, these plants have culinary and medicinal uses. "Culinary herb growers will love the refreshing, unique taste of bee balm in tea," says Amy Jeanroy. About's Guide to Herb Gardens adds that, medicinally, Monarda didyma "is used as a skin wash for rashes and other irritations." Indeed, the pulverized leaves truly can be used as a "balm" to treat bee stings (thus the primary common name).

Care for Red Bee Balm:

Divide plants every few years in early spring to counteract their tendency to spread aggressively. They are susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in late summer; if your Monarda didyma plants succumb to powdery mildew at this time, it's best to trim them back to the ground and properly dispose of the cut growth. Deadhead bee balm flowers to promote re-blooming.
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