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Bee Balm

These colorful flowers add fireworks to your summer bouquets

Bright magenta-pink flower whose petals arch up and outward from the flower
‘Electric Neon Pink’ bee balm

Monarda didyma, also, M. fistulosa (Bergamot, Oswego Tea)

When you get the right bee balm varieties, you get flowers that pop with intense color and look like exploding fireworks. Colors like red, raspberry, and bubblegum pink add not only color but an herbal, resiny fragrance to your bouquet as well. Flowers last well in the vase.

And they’re excellent for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Fragrant leaves can be harvested and used for teas, fresh or dried, and for potpourris.

The plants are very easy to grow and spread out by runners to keep giving more flowers each year.  Their spread is polite and manageable, never overwhelming or pesky.

It’s fairly fast growing. If you plant a 4 inch pot in spring you’ll get some flowers the first year and a LOT of flowers the second year.

And speaking of fireworks, in my area my favorite red bee balm blooms just in time for the fourth of July! Every year. So fun—I used to sell a lot of bouquets with them at 4th of July markets.

Bee balm is from North America.

It’s called Oswego tea because the Oswego American Indians used the plant as a beverage and it was then used by the colonists during the boycott of British tea. The leaves can be used to flavor lemonade and other drinks.

The flowers are edible and add an attractive garnish to many dishes. See Edible Flowers for more. They also can be dried. Though they aren’t spectacular, they can add some color and fragrance to a dried floral wreath.

And the name bergamot is because the plant has been called wild bergamot because of the citrus-mint fragrance reminiscent of the bergamot orange used in flavoring.

Bee balm flowers and plants

‘Marshall’s Delight’ bee balm, a nice bubble gum pink.

The flowers are 2-3 in. wide atop 2- 4 ft. tall stems.  They bloom starting in early July, and through the month. Timing is dependent on the variety. If you cut the flower stems low but just above a leaf node you may get a second bloom with shorter stems.

The plants are very easy to grow and spread out by runners to keep giving more flowers each year.  Their spread is polite and manageable, never overwhelming or pesky.

Bee balm is a deciduous perennial, meaning its foliage will die back and the stems will die. You can cut them back or leave them standing to provide nesting habitat for little native bees—the most powerful pollinators there are. Read all about how to trim stems so they provide habitat here.

Once the foliage is died down, you’ll be able to notice the spread of the runners just at the soil surface.

Purple bee balm flower in the garden
‘Purple Rooster’ bee balm

How to grow bee balm

Bee balm likes full sun to half shade. Good garden soil is best, with compost applied annually around the plants.

Watering needs are flexible. I get away with watering deeply every week or two through the summer, with the help of mulch. But they also tolerate moist conditions.

I plant mine with a 2 ft. square spacing and they gradually fill in.

I’ve grown these by seed but never really liked any of the results, they just weren’t outstanding for cut flower use. So I suggest buying named varieties in 4 in. pots. See my strong recommendations for the best (outstanding) varieties below.

Once you have a plant growing you can easily divide them every two or three years to spread them around your landscape, or give to friends. They spread their rooting stems out from the main plant. To divide, simply cut a chunk of the rooting stems, with roots, away from the mother plant and pot up or replant.

Brilliant red 'Jacob Cline' bee balm flower
‘Jacob Cline’ bee balm, one of the clearest red flowers I know of.

Harvesting the flowers

Cut flowers when the top buds of the cluster have opened. The flowers have a thick, square stem, and they each have side branches. You can get a second round of flowers from the side shoots if you cut the first flowers just above a node with young side stems forming.

If you make your cuts lower on the stem, which I recommend, you’ll get another flush of blooms later in with longer stems.

Post-harvest handling is as usual. See the Harvesting Page.

Raspberry wine bee balm flowers hanging upside down to dry.
Bee balm flowers dry well to add color for culinary use and to add to dried florals.

Favorite varieties

I like the tall ones, but there are many varieties that are shorter, are beautiful, and have fabulous flowers.

Jacob Cline: a fabulous red one, 3-4 ft. tall-this is the one that blooms for 4th of July where I am.

Raspberry Wine: a brilliant, deep raspberry color-my absolute favorite, 3-3 ½ ft. tall

Marshall’s Delight: bubble gum pink, shorter, at 2 ½ ft. tall

Purple Rooster: 3 ft. tall.

Electric Neon Pink: A brilliant hot pink flower  to 22 in. tall.

Mixed bouquet in a yellow can holding pale purple echinaceas, lavender. a sunflower, oregano stems, and 'Raspberry Wine' bee balm flowers
‘Raspberry Wine’ flower in a mixed bouquet.

Sources for bee balm plants

Many nurseries carry good bee balm varieties in the spring and summer. And many online nurseries carry a good assortment.

Bluestone Perennials: this has been my go-to source for a wide variety of bee balms.

Seeds: ‘Panorama Shades’ is a common seed collection. I tried them once and the colors were ok, they were soft and the flowers weren’t  as full. They could be good for using in a landscape for a natural look. I got them from Johnny’s Seeds

Flowers to go with bee balm flowers

Purple echinacea flower


Long-stemmed flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators; good cut flowers

Flat topped yellow flower head


Grow this lavender for fresh arrangements, and it’s a spectacular one for drying.

Feverfew: small white daisies in a bouquet


Easy to grow, tall, long-stemmed flower lasts very well in the vase. Hard to find but worth it!

Big dark blue Scabiosa caucasica flower in a hand


Perennial scabiosa has long, thin stems and last very well in the vase. Produces flowers all season long.

Dark blue-purple lavender flower stems

‘Grosso’ Lavender

Grow this lavender for fresh arrangements, and it’s a spectacular one for drying.

Bouquet of variety of Alstroemerias


One of the very best cutting flowers you can grow! Long lasting and very easy to grow.

Mixed bouquet with purple and pink bee balm with white daisies, lavender and dark purple echinaceas
Bouquet with ‘Marshall’s Delight’ and ‘Purple Rooster’ bee balm flowers