How to Care for Bee Balm

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Bee balms (Monarda spp.) are critter-friendly, summer-blooming plants that invite hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to the garden with their tubular blooms, available in shades of scarlet, purple, white and pink. Hardiness varies depending on species. Bergamont tea (Monardra didyma) is a sun-loving plant hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. These perennials require minimal maintenance and care and may run wild in gardens with ideal conditions.

Water When Dry

During dry periods, water every seven to 10 days until the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil are soaked. You can mulch with a 2-inch layer of organic matter to help retain moisture in the soil and suppress competitive weeds. Bee balm will tolerate wet, boggy conditions.

Tip

  • Fertilize annually in early spring by diluting 6 tablespoons of a 10-10-10 fertilizer into 1 gallon of water and applying the solution directly to the soil.

Prune to Improve Habit

In mid-spring, once plants are around 12 inches tall, cut bee balm down to about 6 inches to encourage a bushier habit and keep foliage looking better for longer. Deadhead spent flowers as they appear to encourage further flowering.

After the first frosts of fall, cut bee balm back to 1 or 2 inches above the soil line. So you don't transfer disease to the bee balm with infected pruning tools, sterilize the blades before using. Wipe the pruning tool blades off with alcohol and then allow them to dry before pruning the plant.

Watch for Powdery Mildew

Bee balm is highly susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that causes powdery white or grayish growth of foliage and flowers. If mildew has already infected the bee balm, use pruning shears to cut down the plant to its remaining healthy leaves. Destroy all infected plant debris. To avoid spreading the infection to other plants, disinfect equipment afterward by soaking it for five minutes in a solution that is equal parts rubbing alcohol and water. Rinse with water and air dry.

To prevent powdery mildew:

  • Keep foliage dry; avoid overhead watering. 
  • Cut 1/4 of stems down to the ground in spring. This will increase air circulation within the plant.
  • Avoid excessive fertilization, which encourages fast growth susceptible to mildew
  • Spray plant with 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 2 1/2 teaspoons of horticultural oil per 1 gallon of water. Apply weekly during the growing season or after rain. Follow label instructions exactly and store unused oil in a secure location away from children and pets.
  • Plant in full sunlight; shady conditions invite mildew.
  • Select powdery mildew-resistant cultivars.

Tip

  • Within a few years, the center of bee palm plants often dies, becoming unsightly. Rejuvenate plants every two or three years by digging up them up in the spring, as soon as new growth appears, and dividing clumps with a knife. Each division should have its own root system and multiple shoots. Quickly replant sections directly in the garden and water well.

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