Gardening

Monarda Didyma: Butterfly and Hummingbird Magnet For Your Garden

monarda didyma

Photo Compliments of Shlhmel Barger

Monarda didyma, known as bee balm, Oswego tea, and sometimes bergamot, is native to the eastern part of the U.S.  This plant can be found growing wild in bottomlands, thickets, moist woods, and along streambanks from Maine to Minnesota and south to Missouri and Georgia.

Monarda didyma is a somewhat coarse, clump-forming, mint family member that features unique and interesting tubular, two-lipped, bright scarlet-red flowers crowded into dense, globular, terminal flower heads (about 3 to 4 inches  across) somewhat resembling unkempt mop-heads.  Flower heads bloom atop 2 to 4 inch tall square stems clad with opposite, ovate to ovate-lanceolate, medium to deep green leaves (3 to 5 inches long) with serrate margins.  Leaves emit a wonderfully minty fragrance when bruised or crushed.  Each flower head is subtended by a whorl of showy, red-tinged, leafy bracts.

Long summer blooms last about 8 weeks; they will populate your garden from early to mid-summer, and sometimes to late summer.  Plant foliage will decline after the blooms, particularly if your plants are infected with mildew. A garden benefit to this plant is that it is very attractive to bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, particularly when plants are massed.

The aromatic leaves are still used today for teas and in salads.  The common name of bergamot is in reference to the purported similarity of the aroma of the flowers to the bergamot orange.

How to Make Your Monarda Didyma Thrive

You will get the best results when your bergamot is planted in rich, medium to wet, moisture-retentive soils in full sun to part shade.  The preference is rich, humusy soils in full sun, although some afternoon shade is appreciated in hotter climates. Soil should not be allowed to dry out.  If you deadhead flowers you will prolong summer bloom.

General  Monarda Didyma Information

Pests and Diseases

Powdery mildew can be a serious problem; particularly in plants are in crowded gardens with poor air circulation. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the stressed plants can become susceptible to disease such as rust can also be a problem.

Propagation

Propagating bee balm plants is easy and a great way to keep them in the garden year after year or to share them with fellow gardeners. They can be propagated by division in spring or fall, by softwood cuttings in late spring, or seeds.

You will need to divide clumps every 3 to 4 years to prevent overcrowding and to control spread. Plants spread by putting out rhizomes and self-seeding to form colonies.

Garden Uses

This plant is a butterfly magnet so border fronts are a good choice.  Bergamot provides color and contrast for the perennial border, cottage garden, wild garden, native plant garden, meadow, herb garden, naturalized planting areas, or along ponds or streams.  This is an excellent choice for butterfly, and bird gardens.

Quick Facts

  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Common Name: Bee balm, bergamot
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardiness Zones: Zones 4 to 9
  • Height: 2 to 4 feet
  • Width: 2 to 3 feet
  • Bloom Time: July to August
  • Bloom Color: Red
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Water: Medium to wet
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Leaf: Fragrant
  • Attracts: Hummingbirds, butterflies
  • Tolerates: Rabbits, deer, clay soil, wet soils, can coexist with black walnuts

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FlickrMonarda Didyma, Bergamot Photos

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12 Comments

  1. Yes it is, as you saw on my recent post. One thing worth mentioning. It can be very aggressive in the garden.
    Donna@GWGT recently posted..Why So Trivial?My Profile

  2. I just got some bee balm from a friend–I’m hoping it spread quite a lot becauSe I love it!

  3. Monarda has never prospered for me. I have tried several times. After reading your post I think the soil was too dry. I have often wished for a pond or bog!

  4. I love its explosive top knot 🙂 and it’s a favourite fragrance of mine for candles , oh and some delicious ice cream which I tasted for the first time in Arizona . I think I have enough aggressive plants in my garden Charlie … um .. and they’d be mostly weeds !

  5. Hello Seattle, Monarda-didyma flower acts like a magnet for tempting butterflies and hummingbird. I really enjoy it! Thanks for sharing this beautiful article.

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