By Jean Thomson
One of my favorite flowers is blooming in the perennial garden right now ? and it is exceedingly popular with pollinators as well! Bee balm, otherwise known as monarda or bergamot, attracts with its colorful, tubular blooms in July and August.
Bee balm is quite easy to grow. It prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade. It prefers a steady supply of moisture but will tolerate quite dry conditions. It needs little or no fertilizer.
The one challenge posed by bee balm is a susceptibility to powdery mildew. Growing the plants in full sun with good spacing and thus good air flow lessens the likelihood of this problem. My older variety ?Cambridge Scarlet? does sometimes exhibit signs of mildew. When this problem develops, it is wise to clear and discard plants from the garden in the fall to avoid carry over.
If you are planning to establish some bee balm for the first time, you may wish to choose from newer cultivars that have good mildew resistance. Options include bright pink ?Marshall?s Delight,? ?Gardenview Scarlet,? ?Violet Queen,? and ?Raspberry Wine.?
These bee balms are fairly tall, typically over three feet. If a smaller variety would work better in your garden, there are newer dwarf varieties available. They range from 10-20 inches and present many color options. All have good mildew resistance. Look for the signal words ?petite? or ?pardon? in cultivar names.
Deadheading spent blooms will prolong the season for bee balm.
Bee balm spreads through underground rhizomes. After a few years, clumps may lose vitality in the middle. To keep a planting of bee balm looking its best, plan to dig up each clump about every three years in early spring, as soon as you see the leaves. Use a sharp knife to cut the clump into sections, and replant immediately.
With this minimal care provided, bee balm will continue to bring happiness to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, you, and passers-by as well!
Special note: Japanese beetles have arrived. In my garden, they are making mincemeat of roses and malva. Sadly, there is not much to be done. Healthy plants will not look good after the assault, but they will survive. ISU entomologists assure us that traps are useless and that chemical controls are not recommended for typical home gardeners.