Sumo Gardener

Bee Balm: How to Plant, Grow, and Care Guide

Whether you call it bergamot or bee balm, it’s a stunningly versatile plant, with gorgeous foliage, striking flowers, and mouth-watering fragrance. If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own herbal tea, or just want to attract pollinators, bee balm is the perfect plant to grow.

In this guide we’ll take a walk through growing techniques and a few beautiful bee balm varieties, as well as looking in detail at the best ways to propagate bee balm to build a bigger collection before harvesting those fragrant blooms and leaves.


Monarda, also known Bee Blam, Bergamot, and horsemint






North America

Common Names:

Bee balm, bergamot, horsemint, Oswego tea




Herbaceous perennial (some annual species)


90cm (H) x 50cm (W)

Sun Requirements:

Full sun or light shade

Foliage Color:


Flower Color:

Pink, red, purple, white



Edible parts: 

All parts other than roots are edible

Maintenance Level:


Poisonous for Pets:

Non-toxic to cats and dogs (some stomach upset may occur in large amounts)

What is Bee Balm?

Bee balm is the common name for a large genus of flowering plants called Monarda, also known as Bergamot or horsemint. The vast majority of plants in the genus are herbaceous perennial, meaning they die back each winter, and come back every spring, but some have woody stems, and others are annual plants, which need re-sowing every year.

Most bee balms have upright stems, with frilly crowns of petals surrounding a richly colored mounded center. Bee balm has plentiful herbal uses, as well as a unique flavor profile that makes it a striking addition to teas and herbal infusions.

Bee Balm’s Natural Habitat

Bee balm is native to North America, and widespread across the continent, thriving in a variety of temperature conditions, including those that require it to be particularly cold hardy (some species down to -4°F.

Bee balm’s preferred location, both in the wild and in our gardens, is a bright, exposed spot, with plenty of sun and moist but not water-logged soil. Loamy soils, or enriched and mulched sandy gardens are ideal. Clay will need soil improver to mimic natural drainage.

20 Beautiful Bee Balm Varieties to Choose From

You might be most familiar with common red bee balm (Monarda didyma), but did you know that there are over twenty species, and even more hybrids and cultivars. Each offers something unique, but nearly all share that same wonderful fragrance.

1. Monarda ‘Beauty of Cobham’

This gorgeously dense flower head belongs to Monarda ‘Beauty of Cobham’, a particularly popular, and very reliable cultivar of bee balm.

Its pale pink flowers sit over deep purple bases, and dense, richly scented foliage. ‘Beauty of Cobham’ grows well in most settings.

2. Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’

Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’

One of the most popular bee balms in cultivation, and certainly most common in our gardens is Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’. Its vivid crimson flowers are so plentiful, that it's rare you’ll have a flowering season shorter than four months, and would be unlucky not to make it to September in full bloom.

3. Monarda ‘Marshall’s Delight’

Amongst the brightest pinks in any garden is Monarda ‘Marshall’s Delight’. This vivacious bee balm stuns garden visitors every time, and is relatively easy to care for.

Simple division once every few years will keep this low-growing variety well in check.

4. Monarda ‘Squaw’

Monarda ‘Squaw’

Wiry, tenuous flowers are the marking of this striking bee balm, Monarda ‘Squaw’. Its flowers might look strange up close, but when they’re in full bloom they are bright and bold, and packed with scent like no other bee balm.

They are also incredibly common, so it should be quite easy to find one in a garden center near you.

5. Monarda ‘Talud’

Fuchsia pink, with a weighty and structural base. The flowers of Monarda ‘Talud’ are truly special. They hold their shape for ages, and dry well, storing flavor perfectly for months.

The foliage is quite striking, which isn’t for everyone, but the bright acid green can help to brighten up borders quickly in spring before flowering starts.

6. Monarda ‘Dark Ponticum’

Hard to find, but brilliant when you do, the pale, dusty pink flowers of Monarda ‘Dark Ponticum; have a muted beauty, and are hugely attractive to wildlife.

They are one of the least hardy bee balms, so will need regular sewing, or some protection from frosts below -23°F.

7. Monarda ‘Mohawk’

Two-toned petals, tipped with crisp white edges, and a deep purple center set Monarda ‘Mohawk’ apart from the crowd. In full bloom its open flower is perfect for ladybugs, and as flowers develop they offer stores of pollen and nectar for butterflies.

8. Monarda ‘Balmy Pink’

Bee balm is usually quite rigid in its structure, with upright stems, and flowers are reasonably samey heights. The mounding form caused by the dense foliage of Monarda ‘Balmy Pink’ offers a great bit of early succession planting that can be followed perfectly by domed pink chrysanthemums.

9. Monarda ‘Claire Grace’

One particularly tall bee balm cultivar is ‘Claire Grace’. Its lavender flowers sit at about 90 cm high, in clumps that can spread out easily over 2 m after a few years. 

For planting in sweeping drifts, there are few more useful perennials than Monarda ‘Claire Grace’.

10. Monarda ‘Petite Delight’

Monarda ‘Petite Delight’

For small gardens, balconies, or pots, Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ offers incredible structure, but in a compact form. Its tightly packed foliage is dense but no less fragrant, and its flowers offer dense violet blooms for months on end.

11. Monarda ‘Purple Rooster’

Monarda ‘Purple Rooster’

Purple Rooster was actually the first bee balm I had. I got it as a cutting from a friend, and have kept it alive for years in a spot that it, in theory, should hate. If you’ve got a slightly damp garden, and struggle to grow bee balm, then Monarda ‘Purple Rooster’ is ideal, as it will cope with wet winters and soggy summers quite happily.

12. Monarda ‘Violet Queen’

Violet Queen is a brilliant mid-border plant. It’s about 80 cm tall, and manageable in terms of spread, with pink to purple flowers (drought does seem to affect its bloom color), offering a perfect backdrop for annuals or bedding in front, and taller shrubs or vigorous perennials like hollyhocks behind.

13. Monarda bartlettii

There are many cultivars of Monarda bartlettii, but in its truest species form (also known as Bartlett’s Bee Balm), it’s a large-bloomed type with excellent foliage that’s not too dense, and quite resilient against humidity-related mildews.

14. Monarda bradburiana

Eastern bee balm (Monarda bradburiana) has stunningly bright blooms, with delicate spotting along each pale-pink petal.

Its flowers stand tall on spikes about 30 cm above a 30cm dome of foliage, offering a lighter, airier alternative to denser varieties of bee balm.

15. Monarda citriodora

Monarda citriodora

Offering both stunning flowers and unique fragrance, Monarda citriodora is one of the most unusual but brilliant bee balms there is. Its flowering spikes produce up to six blooms at a time, in a stunning candelabra effect, with drooping purple and white petals.

To add to an already wonderful plant, its scent is more akin to tart citrusy lemon or lime than the sweeter bergamot aroma most associated with bee balm.

16. Monarda ‘Snow White’ / ‘Schneewittchen’

One section of my garden is dedicated to white. It’s the path up to our greenhouses and it’s filled with the pouring scent of white lavender for much of early summer. As the year goes on, the unusual Monarda ‘Snow White’ takes over, filling that sunny section of the garden with bright white flowers and the accompanying rich bergamot fragrance that could cut through any close weather.

17. Monarda didyma

Monarda didyma

Monarda didyma, also called Scarlet Bee Balm, is a species variety. Its loose flowers tend to create more dotted waves of color, but on larger mounds once established. 

To keep these vigorous but heavenly-scented plants in check, try growing them in pots or containers, where they will spill over, offering drama as well as beauty.

18. Monarda russeliana

This wild Monarda has delicately spiraling petals with vibrant red spots, and secondary petals that fire up in shades of pink and white. The foliage isn’t much to write home about, but there are few more beautiful wildflowers in the US than the bold but delicate Monarda russeliana.

19. Monarda ‘Fishes’

The petals of Monarda ‘Fishes’ are beautifully graded from salmon pink tips down to crisp white centers. Their flayed shape matches the unusually textured petals well, with natural green centers and large, structural foliage.

Planted in brave drifts at the front of borders, it’s a statement plant, but one that works well with pretty much any backdrop.

20. Monarda ‘Pawnee’

Pawnee bee balm is a cultivar of Monarda didyma, but with taller stems and denser foliage. Its wide flat-headed flowers up slowly and tightly before flatting out into a more recognizable plant or pink petals.

If you’re after flavor, Monarda ‘Pawnee’ is one of the most potently fragranced bee balms around.

How to Grow Bee Balm

Bee balm is incredibly simple to grow, but hates being left wet in winter, and despite its apparent love of moisture-holding soils, it copes well with drought, and should only need watering in very dry spells in most beds or borders.

Smaller annual varieties work beautifully in pots and containers too, so we’ve included some handy hints on how to make the most of them in raised planters and pots below.

How to Grow Bee Balm

How and Where to Plant Bee Balm

It’s best to plant established plants when introducing bee balm to the garden, or growing your own from seed before planting out, so planting is quite straightforward.

Loosen up the soil in the area to allow roots to set faster, and then make a hole that’s just slightly larger than the pot. Plant bee balm slightly above soil level so its shoots are raised slightly, making sure they’re not sitting in a puddle after watering.

Tip: Space bee balm plants about 40-50 cm apart, so that they don’t grow into each other. They are prone to mildew and fungal leaf problems, so don’t like being too crowded. They will quickly grow to fill the gaps.

Soil & Drainage

Bee balm isn’t fussy about pH, but anything slightly acidic or neutral is best. In terms of drainage, your soil should be moisture retentive, but never pooling. Bee balm is drought tolerant, but hates being left with wet roots through winter, and often won’t survive a very damp winter.

If you’ve got clay soils, dig in some soil improver or leaf litter first. On sandy soils, add a couple of inches of organic compost and dig it through to help hold moisture through summer, and reduce watering.

Light requirements

Plant your bee balm anywhere with good sun. Ideally, you want to be aiming for around 6 hours of sunlight per day, but some light shade will be ok. The big difference between a shaded bee balm and a sunny bee balm is fragrance, with more essential oils present in bee balms grown in direct sun.

Growing Bee Balm in Pots

Bee balm is great for pots and will work from annual varieties in mixed displays, or perennial types in large containers for impact from single plants.

The soil in containers should be a mix of soil and compost to add nutrients and balanced drainage, but make sure to add some crocks to the base of the container to stop water pooling, particularly through winter.

In spring, feed established bee balm in pots, and in water throughout the year to make sure they don’t dry out completely. In winter, you can stop watering entirely as the plant will go completely dormant and die back.

How to Propagate Bee Balm

There are three ways to propagate bee balm and create new plants from your existing collection. The easiest is division, but it’s more than possible and more productive to get new plants from seed or cuttings.

Propagating Bee Balm

Propagating Bee Balm from Seeds

Bee balm of all types can be grown from seed with relative ease. If sown in early winter with some bottom heat from a propagator mat, it can flower the following year.

Take any bee balm seeds and sow them into a well-mixed seed compost with some moisture retention. We mix our own using equal parts of sieved compost, vermiculite (perlite will do), and sand. 

  1. Fill a seed tray or module tray with the compost mixture and tamp it down gently.
  2. Sow seed thinly on the surface of the compost (or individually into modules) and do not cover.
  3. Water well.
  4. Leave in a bright, warm spot in full sun.
  5. Keep the compost moist but not soaked, either by misting or watering from the base.
  6. Germination should start to happen after about three weeks but can take up to six.
  7. After sprouting, water them lightly every few days and then protect them over winter in a greenhouse, cold frame, or indoors.

Bee balm growth will stall over winter, but their early roots will spring back into life in spring, and by early summer you’ll have dozens of young plants ready to plant in the garden.

Bee Balm Propagation from Stem Cuttings

Bee balm grows well from stem cuttings, and you can take them in a number of ways. Either take a 10-15 cm section of the healthy, non-flowering stem in late spring or carefully cut at the base of a new shoot in early spring, making sure to keep a small piece of the connecting tissue between the root and stem.

With the top cutting, tidy it up so the cut point is just below a leaf joint.

For both types of cutting after this:

  1. Pinch off any leaves from the bottom half of the stem.
  2. Dip the stem in rooting hormone.
  3. Pop them in a glass of clean water (you can use moistened cutting compost, but I find they root faster in water).
  4. Roots should appear after about seven days.
  5. If the top leaves are drooping after seven days and there is no sign of roots, try again.
  6. Once roots develop, wait until new leaves start to grow, then pot them into an 8-10 cm pot to grow on.
  7. Keep moist, and grow on until they’re large enough to plant out or pot up.

Propagating Bee Balm from Root Cuttings

Perennial bee balm grows on underground fleshy rhizomes. That makes them incredibly easy to take root cuttings from and makes for a slow, but practical option for making new plants.

Taking root cuttings from bee balm can be fiddly, but if you follow the guide below, you should have good success:

  1. In early spring, just as the plant is showing signs of early growth, or just before, dig around the base of your bee balm.
  2. When you find a fleshy section of root (usually growing horizontally), cut a 5 cm section.
  3. If the root is already sprouting, take a section with sprouts on, leaving 2 cm on either side.
  4. Cover over the roots of the parent plant.
  5. Place the root cuttings horizontally into a 10 cm pot filled with moist compost, and cover with 1-2 cm of the same compost.
  6. Place the cuttings somewhere warm, but shaded from midday sun.
  7. They will root in a matter of days, and be ready to plant out in about two months.

Propagating Bee Balm from Division

If all of that sounds too fiddly, and you just want one or two new plants, you can divide your existing bee balm plants with great effect.

Because of their rhizomatous roots, they will recover quickly, and you can get three mature plants from one in a single season.

Simply dig up your Monarda and pull it into three sections with a garden fork. Replant the original, and plant the two other sections immediately into similar soil elsewhere. Keep all three sections well-watered for a few weeks until they show signs of new growth, and then just keep the soil moist for their first season.

Note: Only do this with established bee balm. Monarda that is less than 50 cm across won’t respond well to this sort of division.

Caring for Bee Balm

Bergamot doesn’t need much care once it establishes, other than a bit of extra water during droughts, and even then it will likely recover well once the rain returns.

While you’re trying to establish your bee balm it's worth giving it a little bit of extra attention though, and annual feeds and fertilizers can help to boost flavor, and blooms.

Growing Bee balm in the Garden


Mulch isn’t necessary for bee balm, and a winter mulch is actively detrimental, so avoid any moisture-locking mulches through damp cold months. In spring, particularly on poor soils, add a few inches of compost to slowly improve the soil’s nutrients and moisture retention through summer.

Once established this won’t be necessary, but for a few years, it can really help to improve poor soils for ornamental perennials like bee balm in the long term.

Bee Balm Fertilizer

We feed our bee balm with liquid seaweed once in early summer, and that seems to do the trick. One additional flush of nutrients in that way seems to offer the balance it needs for a healthy and floriferous year ahead.

Any other balanced liquid feed would do.

Pruning Bee Balm 

Bee balm needs quite a bit of pruning, either for health, appearance, or productiveness. Winter pruning can sometimes lead to damage as the cut stems don’t heal well and can rot back into the root.

Instead, prune the dead stems completely back to about 10 cm off the ground in spring. This will promote healthy new growth quickly, without risking winter damage.

Once growth starts up, pinching young stems back to a pair of leaves will promote bushier growth and more flowers too, which will continue to reach the same heights, offering a longer and more generous flowering season.


As well as annual pruning and removing diseased stems, bee balm benefits from regular deadheading. Deadheading bee balm will promote new flowers and prolong the season, sometimes into late September. 

The best way to deadhead bee balm is by following finished flowers back down the stem to the next leaf junction or bud. This creates a much nicer shape than just leaving stems sticking up.

Repotting Bee Balm

Bee balm grown in pots will need repotting at least every three years. Its rhizomatous roots will compact themselves and drain nutrients in their containers, so lift and divide any potted Monarda when its stems are within an inch of the pot rim.

Divide the plant in half, or quarters depending on its size, and replant each section in new containers, the same size as the old ones. They will quickly fill that space.

Harvesting and Storing Bee Balm

Bee balm is also called bergamot, despite being of no relation to the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit used to flavor tea. It got the name because its aroma and flavor are nearly identical though, so rather than struggling to grow citrus fruits, grow this hardy perennial instead!

You can harvest the leaves and flowers to dry and use in teas, or use the petals in salads. Stems are just as useful for making infusions and have plenty of flavor, so don’t let them go to waste.

Blooming Bee Balm Flowers

When is Bee Balm Ready to Harvest?

You can harvest bee balm at any time, but it's best while it’s in full flower in midsummer. Harvesting in the morning or early afternoon when the fragrance is strongest.

Simply cut the stems, leaves, and flowers in one go, or harvest each part separately depending on how you intend to use it.

How to Dry Bee Balm?

Bee balm is really easy to dry and can be dried as flowers by themselves, or all entire stems. Personally, I prefer the stem drying method as it still allows me to use all parts separately and takes up much less space.

Set up a string or washing line in a dry shed or garage, and then hang whole stems upside down, with a gap between each.

After about seven days, the stems should snap and be brittle. Simply crush or break up the dry material and place it loosely into an air-tight container (Kilner jars are ideal). 

Once dry you can use it straight away in hot water to make a beautiful tea by itself, or flavor other drinks. Even before drying, you can use the flowers and leaves to make a beautiful tea or flavor water for use in baking.

Possible Bee Balm Pests and Diseases

Bee balm isn’t very susceptible to pests, but aphids will occupy its fresh spring growth, with large infestations limiting its flowering potential. Remove aphids with a strong jet of water, or use a spray bottle with water and a few drops of dish soap, or by encouraging ladybugs. 

Refer to our in-depth guide on how to get rid of aphids for more details. 

Fungal leaf problems like rust and powdery mildew can take hold on bee balm grown in humid conditions, or too close together. Remove any damaged or diseased stems and thin out the remaining stems to improve circulation.

To prevent fungal problems in the first place, avoid watering the whole plant, and target water at the base of the plant so the leaves stay as dry as possible through summer.

Bee Balm Frequently Asked Questions

Bee Balm Varieties

Does bee balm need to be cut back?

Bee balm does not need to be cut back in winter and can be damaged if you do. Instead, cut bee balm back in spring to promote new growth. The stems add structure to winter gardens.

Why is it called bee balm?

Bee balm gets its name from its healing properties, particularly its ability to soothe inflammation from common bites and bee stings. In local bee-keeping groups, it is also used around bee hives to offer summer pollen and help to attract swarms, along with other members of the mint family like lemon balm.

Do you deadhead bee balm?

Deadheading bee balm helps to prolong the flowering season of these stunning plants. It’s not necessary, but you’ll get much more from your plants with regular deadheading through summer.

Does bee balm spread a lot?

Bee balm spreads from rhizomatous roots and can spread quickly through borders. It tends not to spread well from seeds in garden settings, so regular division is enough to manage and maintain these gorgeous plants.

Why is my bee balm dying?

Severe overwatering can cause root rot and stem rot around the base of the plant, particularly if it is planted in a slight ditch. Improve drainage if this is the case. Conversely, severe under-watering can have similar effects, with leaf drop and stunted blooming as a result.

Is bee balm evergreen?

Bee balm isn’t evergreen but in fair winters some foliage will be retained around the base of the plant. This is what will sprout in spring, so protecting that through wet and cold winters can help trigger earlier blooms next year.

Is bee balm always red?

Bee balm is most commonly found with red flowers but there are in fact a whole host of beautifully colored varieties, with pale pastel pinks and even crisp white blooms in some species and cultivars.

Are bee balm and bergamot the same thing?

Bee balm is often called bergamot, but the genus (Monarda) is very different from the bergamot orange. When people refer to bergamot plants, they are most commonly referring to bee balm though.

Time to Add Bee Balm in Your Garden

Bee balm is an exceptional garden plant, offering interest and fragrance from spring through to the first frosts, and flowering all summer long. If you’re interested in building a garden that is both beautiful and edible, with the bonus of some quirky medicinal benefits, then bee balm is the plant for you.

Get growing it today with this comprehensive guide on how to choose and grow the best bee balm you possibly can for your garden.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

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