Also known as Wild Bergamot, this whimsical wildflower can quickly fill in a space in just a few seasons! That can be a solution to a problem or a problem in itself depending on your gardening objectives! Tube-shaped purple petals are the crowning glory of this native. Adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, it is a pollinator magnet that is always buzzing with life. As an added bonus, the fragrant leaves offer a variety of herbal/medicinal uses.
Other Common Names: Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm, Oswego Tea, Fragrant Balm, Horsemint
USDA Zones: 3 – 9
Life Cycle: Perennial
Height: 2.00′ – 4.00′
Spread: 2.00′ – 3.00′
Sun: Full Sun – Part Sun
Soil: Widely Adaptable- Clay, Loam, Sand, Acidic, Lime, Rich in Organic Matter
Moisture: Medium-Dry, Medium, Medium-Wet (Well Draining)
Bloom Time: June – September
Bloom Color: Pale Pink – Lavender
Uses: Perennial Border, Cottage/Herb Garden, Rain Garden, Meadow, Pollinator Garden, Naturalize
Native Range: BONAP Map
Natural habitat includes sunny clearings, dry thickets, and woodland edges.
- Spreads enthusiastically by shallow rhizomes (easily divided in spring)
- Seeds mature 1-3 weeks after flowering and self-seeds readily
- Pollinator powerhouse
- Leaves have a mint/thyme fragrance; can be used in tea
- Fast growing with long bloom time
- Deer resistant
- Black Walnut juglone tolerant
- Can grow in shallow, rocky soil
- Host plant for: Gray Marvel and Hermit Sphinx Moths
- Attracts: Long-Tongued Bees, Hummingbirds, Butterflies, Hummingbird Moths
- Seeds for over-wintering Goldfinches, Sparrows, Juncos, and other small birds
- Check in the late evening or early morning hours for sleeping bees that nestle in for the night among the blossoms (see video below).
Monarda can be prone to powdery mildew, especially if stressed during extremely hot/dry summers. Avoid watering overhead, divide plants as needed to ensure adequate air flow, and keep soil moist. Plants in the shade may be more severely affected. Though the leaves become unsightly, it is rarely fatal and the plant will still bloom!
Consider adding low-growing perennials in front of Monarda like some of the Companion Plants suggested below. You will still see the beautiful Bee Balm blossoms, but any unsightly foliage affected by powdery mildew can be partially hidden! Ideally, your front-of-the-border selection should be resistant to this foliar disease.
Straight natives are almost always preferred to cultivars for maximum genetic diversity and ecological benefits. However, there are many Bee Balm cultivars to choose from that have been bred for disease resistance. Not all cultivars are created equal. Mt. Cuba did a three year trial of the most popular ones and you can read about their top-performers here.
PLEASE NOTE: Like all native plants, Bee Balm is an important food source for many creatures. Some years they may be more affected by insects/disease than others. However, insects provide essential food for birds and other wildlife as part of a balanced, intricate food web. Instead of reaching for pesticides/fungicides at the first sign of leaf damage, consider grabbing your magnifying glass or binoculars and observe what visitors are frequenting your amazing native plant! Keep in mind, many sprays will not only kill “pests”, but also harm pollinators like bees and butterflies that may visit treated plants.
A CLOSER LOOK
In order to provide the maximum benefit to pollinators, it is best to plan for a succession of blooms. This ensures that as one species fades, another begins to blossom. In this way, a constant source of nectar and pollen is provided from spring through fall. The following natives enjoy similar growing conditions to Monarda fistulosa:
- Tall Meadow Rue – Thalictrum pubescens
- Black-Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta
- Daisy Fleabane – Erigeron annuus
- Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
- Great Blue Lobelia – Lobelia siphilitica
- Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa
- Golden Groundsel – Packera aurea
- Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum
- Common Evening Primrose – Oenothera biennis
- Garden Phlox – Phlox paniculata
- Blue Vervain – Verbena hastata
- Blue Mistflower – Conoclinium coelestinum