The Bee Balm we planted a few years back is truly a survivor. Since the site where the plant was initially grown was not marked properly as it should have been, I forgot its existence and disturbed the entire area last fall while digging a hole for an encore azalea. However, come spring, new growth poked through any available nooks and crannies, followed by branches that worked their way through the azalea. Standing tall now, each branch is topped with the most unusual flower, giving me a reason to be amazed at the toughness of Bee Balm.
A member of the mint family, Bee Balm, also known as Monarda, is a summer-blooming perennial, continuously flowering until late in the season. Flowers that vary in color from pink, violet-purple, red to almost white, depending on the cultivar, are borne on fairly long stalks, thus making nice-cut flowers. ‘Jacob Cline’, the one we have, bears striking, deep-red blooms that stand out amid other plants in the vicinity. Leaves emit a pleasant fragrance when bruised, reminding one of a blend of the popular herbs basil and mint.
Bee Balms prefer to be grown in moist but well-drained soils where they can get plenty of sun and some shade as well. Once established, little care is necessary except some slow-release fertilizer, such as Plant-tone, when new growth is seen; since they have a tendency to multiply, one needs to divide plants in spring to rejuvenate overcrowded clumps.
Though overall carefree and vigorous, some of the varieties, especially when under stress due to factors such as water shortage, are susceptible to a mildew attack. To circumvent this problem, one can either thin the plants to increase air circulation or grow mildew-resistant varieties; fortunately, ’Jacob Cline’ is one such variety, so I have less worry to deal with during the busy gardening season.
As the name suggests, the flowers attract bees, and because of their tubular shape, they are inviting to hummingbirds too. Evidently, with the kind of assets Bee Balms posses, there seems to be little reason not to find room in the garden for this irresistible perennial.