Monarda, or bee balm as we call it, is a member of the mint family, and a popular plant for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. These growing tips will help beginner gardeners establish these well-loved plants in a cottage-style garden. Bee balm does tend to grow freely, so it may need some taming after a few years, although it tends not be truly invasive like other members of the mint family.
For more, see all my plant suggestions for a cottage-style garden, and have a look around my garden here.
My practical reason for growing bee balm is probably the very reason why some don’t like it: it’s a reliable, tall filler plant that hummingbirds love. Because it spreads by runners (in the root system), one plant can become many in just a year or two. And, on the emotional side, it’s lovely.
I have a never-ending infatuation with the purple varieties and—don’t tell the others—hope to one day have them exclusively without any of the reds. But, for now, I keep what I have because they are so popular with the butterflies and hummingbirds, and that alone makes it worth growing.
|Species||Approximately 50 cultivars|
|Common name(s)||Bee balm, horsemint, oswego, bergamot|
|Hardiness||Annual and perennial varieties|
|Height||Up to 5 feet tall (1.5m), some shorter varieties max out at 1-foot tall|
|Spacing||Not an issue: crowding is natural because they spread by runners (roots)|
|Light||Sun to part sun|
|USDA Zones||2 – 9|
|Flower times||Summer | can deadhead or cutback after flowering|
|Colours||Red, purple, pink, lavender, white, mahogany|
|Soil||Moist, well-drained soil; does not like to dry out|
|Attracts||Hummingbirds and butterflies|
|Propagation||Spreads by underground by runners: can be hard to control (I don’t mind); dig up extras and replant where you want them; sow from seed in spring; take root cuttings for more plants|
|Problems||Prone to powdery mildew|
|Trivia||Crushed leaves produce a spicy, fragrant oil.
Monarda fistulosa and M. didyma historically used for medicinal purposes as antiseptic skin poultices.
Monarda in My Garden (Ontario, Canada – zone 6b)
- Monarda Balmy Purple
- Blue Stocking Beebalm
- Red (name unknown)
Bee Balm / Monarda seeds
Monarda Essential Oil
Monarda: A Native American Medicine
Wait! Before You Plant…
Always check first that plants are:
- Recommended for your growing zone.
- Not invasive in your area.
- Suit your growing conditions (sun, soil, water).
- Can cope with your specific location and weather conditions (e.g. high winds).
1 Is bee balm invasive?
I’ll answer personally but please always check with local authorities or your university extension office for advice/opinions on invasive plants. Invasiveness is regional and what works in one area can be detrimental in another.
For me, bee balm / monarda spreads readily but I personally would not give it the invasive classification. To me, invasive means you will regret having the plant in your garden forevermore because it is impossible or nearly impossible to eradicate. Bee balm is not like this. It spreads by underground runners but they are not terribly sneaky. In my garden, it is possible to remove the roots and bid it farewell.
2 Can I grow bee balm in containers?
Yes, although I have not tried this because I like how it spreads in the garden but I have seen others do so with dwarf varieties. I do not know if taller varieities would grow in containers but I assume they would. If you try it, let me know.
3 Which colour of bee balm do hummingbirds like?
I have pink, purple, and red bee balm. The hummers spend most of their time with the red, though they do check out the others as well. One afternoon I will have to spend a few hours observing to confirm if they truly are favouring the red or it’s just because it is more abundant.
4 Do I need to prune bee balm?
When flowering is done, the current growth will gradually die back. You can cut the stalks down to 4-inches in late fall or early spring. The reason I don’t cut them right to the ground is, I use the old growth to tell me where the plant roots are so I do not accidentally pull it up during my spring garden clean-up, mistaking it for a weed.
Happy gardening! And be sure to sign up for the free newsletter.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛