Bee Balm, monarda, wild bergamot, Oswego Tea—these plants have many common names. No matter what you call it, these native flowers are so easy to grow and so easy to love. The crazy shape of Bee Balm’s flowers makes them perfect for pollinators—especially hummingbirds. Heights vary (depending on the species) from 2-5 feet. Bee Balm thrives in sun to part sun, making them great choices for beginner gardeners. Explore planting tips and varieties below.
Full Sun – Part Sun
2-5′ tall, depending on species
Flowers in the summer
All species of Bee Balm are pollinator favorites
Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Bee Balm
Table of Contents
Why plant Bee Balm?
Native plants—like Bee Balm—are excellent for our gardens for three reasons:
Now that we know the benefits of planting Bee Balm, let’s dig into its background alongside tips for planting.
The many names of Bee Balm
While The Plant Native is calling these plants by one of their common names (Bee Balm) all types of Bee Balm have a Latin name that starts with Monarda. (Learn more about Latin vs. common names in this quick Latin name overview.)
The Latin name Monarda comes from a 16th-century Spanish doctor and botanist called Nicolas Monardes. Many North American native flowers have Latin names that refer to 16th and 17th-century European scholars and aristocrats (Magnolia and Rudbeckia—aka Black-Eyed Susans—are others.)
Besides Monarda and Bee Balm, these plants have lots of other common names, too, including Oswego Tea or Bergamot. All these names for a single plant can make it confusing if you’re looking for a specific species—and this naming confusion is why singular Latin names were invented.
If you want to be super clear about what plant you’re looking for, it is always best to look for the Latin name. If you see Monarda on the plant tag, you know you’re looking at this plant.
Bee Balm is related to mint!
All species of Bee Balm are in the mint family (Lamiaceae). This is also why all Monardas smell lovely—a little minty, a little herby. You’ll smell their fresh minty-ness as the breeze passes by, and especially when you cut their flowers for a bouquet or arrangement.
Types of native Bee Balm
There are a few native plants within Monarda that come from different parts of North America and bring different characteristics, including:
Scarlet Bee Balm
This classic red-flowered Bee Balm is native to the Northeast. It can be tall—up to 4 feet at its happiest. This is a hummingbird magnet! June to early August bloom-time.
Bee Balm / Wild Bergamot
This gorgeous light purple Bee Balm is native to the prairies of the Midwest. It has a lovely smell that is similar to oregano. This is a very resilient, easy-to-grow plant—the Michigan Department of Transportation often plants it along the highways. 3-5 feet tall, June and July bloom-time.
Lemon Bee Balm
This annual Bee Balm (it will reseed itself, or need to be reseeded every year after a frost) has a wonderful lemony scent. Its flowers have multiple tiered levels of amazingness. 2-3 feet tall.
Spotted Bee Balm / Horsemint
This is our favorite Bee Balm: its flowers are tiger-like in their spotted beauty. They smell heavenly in the garden, like a cross between mint and oregano. Depending on where Spotted Bee Balm is planted, it will be an annual (meaning it will only last one season) or a short-lived perennial (coming back for a year or two.) It does not like water-logged soils. 2-3 feet tall.
Added bonus: Bee Balm is deer-proof
Deer do NOT eat Bee Balm! If you’re worried about deer nibbling your garden, planting species of Bee Balm is good native gardening choice.
Cultivar Bee Balms
There are also dozens of cultivar varieties of Bee Balm. Cultivars are plants that have been created by humans to look or behave a certain way. Cultivars offer a wide range of drought tolerance, colors, and heights, but they can confuse pollinators (who might not recognize them!) or even have fewer nutrients than their true native cousins.
Cultivars offer fun shapes and colors, but whenever possible—plant true natives.
Some cultivar Bee Balms you may find include:
Where should I plant Bee Balm?
Bee Balm is perfect for sunny or part-sunny pollinator gardens. Many Bee Balm species get tall—2-4 feet! Be sure to put shorter native flowers (like Coreopsis) in front of it. Pairing it with other tall flowers—like Rattlesnake Master and Hummingbird Mint—gives lots of look at during the summer.
Does Bee Balm like sun or shade?
Bee Balm thrives in full sun to part sun. Full shade is the only sun option that won’t work well for Bee Balm. Bee Balm is a great native plant for beginning native gardens since it is happy in many types of light and soil.
What type of soil does Bee Balm like?
Bee Balm grows well in soil that’s somewhat moist to average. (Basically, as long as it’s not super dry or water-logged, it will thrive.)
How to grow Bee Balm
Bee Balm is a very easy plant to grow from either seed or plant.
Grow Bee Balm from seeds
It is SO EASY to plant Bee Balm from seeds. (Remember—native plants plant themselves.) To plant Bee Balm, mimic the way they plant themselves:
- Sprinkle Bee Balm seeds in pots or directly into the garden in the fall or early spring
- Cover them very lightly with dirt—just a light cover is enough!
- Water during any dry spells, otherwise the rain should be enough
- Wait for the seedlings to emerge as springtime temperatures get in the average 60s
- Thin out seedlings (by directly pulling them up) if they are too close to one another
- That’s it! Enjoy!
Grow Bee Balm from plants
Good news: you can often find Bee Balm for free. Check local Facebook gardening groups—oftentimes, gardeners give away Bee Balm (yes, for free!) in the spring, to help them have space to thrive. Once you’ve got some Bee Balm plants:
- Choose a location with well-draining soil that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. (Bee Balm prefers full sun to partial shade, and soil that is too wet can cause root rot.)
- Select the appropriate species of Bee Balm for your region (see above!)
- Prepare the soil by removing weeds and adding organic matter like compost. This will help to improve soil health and drainage.
- Plant the Bee Balm by digging a hole twice the width of the container it came in, placing the plant in the hole, and filling it in with soil.
- Water the plant deeply and regularly, especially during the first growing season.
No pesticides or herbicides
Avoid using pesticides or herbicides near Bee Balm plants, as they can harm the butterflies, hummingbirds, and pollinators that visit the flowers.
Why does my Bee Balm have white spots?
Sometimes, especially at the end of the summer, Bee Balm can get white splotches or a white covering over its leaves. This is actually mold, and it tells you that the plant needs more air circulation (basically, it’s crowded.) Dig up the plants near it to give it more air, and voila, the mold issue will be solved.
What to plant with Bee Balm
Pair Bee Balm with other flowering native plants that flower throughout the seasons to create a pollinator party.
Native flowers for the spring
other native flowers for the summer
Native flowers for the fall
Planting native Bee Balm is an easy way to have a gorgeous garden with way less work than a lawn. Bee Balms attract movie star pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies and are happy in a variety of sun and soil situations. While planting native Bee Balm varieties is always best for wildlife, cultivar Bee Balms offer a wide range of heights and colors. Why not start a Bee Balm collection, and plant a few varieties? Happy planting!
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wild Bergamot
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lemon Bee Balm
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Scarlet Bee Balm
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Spotted Bee Balm
- Johnson, Lorraine. 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for American Gardens in Temperate Zones. (1999), 20, 124.
- Lorimer, Uli. The Northeast Native Plant Primer. (2022), 161-162.
- Taylor, Patricia A. Easy Care Native Plants. (1996), 263-264.