Growing Bee Balm

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green hummingbird feeding from a bright pink bee balm flower

Bee balm flowers are magnets for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

In the Garden

Add bee balm to flower beds or an herb garden for life and color. Try it in view of a window so you won’t miss the acrobatics of hummingbirds that visit in summer. Bee balm also attracts butterflies and bees. In a sunny field or meadow, let plants spread and multiply to create a blanket of color.

Soil, Planting, and Care

pinkish red bee balm blooms in garden

A native wildflower hybridized for gardens, bee balm is at its peak in summer.

For prolific blooms, plant in full sun; in the South and Southwest a little afternoon shade helps flowers last longer. Picking the flowers encourages a second round of blooms. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rich, well-drained soil with a pH from 6.0 to 6.7. Amend the soil with compost or add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before planting. Or, apply a liquid fertilizer such as Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food at planting and every couple of weeks thereafter. Although it will tolerate drought, bee balm will do much better if it gets adequate moisture; however, protect it from poor drainage, especially in winter. Water when leaves wilt in dry weather. Mulch in the spring.

In the late fall, cut plants back to within several inches of the ground. For a bushier shrub, pinch the tips of the stems when new growth appears each spring.

Bee balm spreads but not as aggressively as other members of the mint family. Every 3 or 4 years, dig up and divide the plants. Discard the old center section and replant the outer roots and shoots.

Troubleshooting

Bee balm can get powdery mildew. To avoid mildew, plant where there is good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. Also, cut back plants in the fall, remove old stems, and clean up old mulch.

Harvest and Storage

Pick bee balm flowers in summer as they appear. You can cut whole stems of bee balm to enjoy the flowers in a vase. Pick flowers for drying just before they open.

Uses

Use fresh flowers as a garnish for green salads, fruit salads, cakes, or preserves. The aromatic leaves serve as a substitute for mint and can be dried for tea. Dried leaves and flowers are also useful in sachets and potpourri.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

How do I use bee balm in an herb garden?

Bee balm is a great perennial for the flower garden, and a favorite of bees and hummingbirds as well as gardeners. However, one of its alternative names is Oswego tea, most likely referring to the tribe in the area of New York who used it to make a beverage. It does make a nice tea, similar to mint tea. In fact, you can use it as you would mint, although the flavor is somewhat different. In addition, the flowers are a lovely addition to green salads, fruit salads, or as a garnish. If you are fond of making potpourri or herbal wreaths, bee balm is a good plant to have on hand for both fragrant foliage and colorful blooms.

My plants faded quickly after a heat wave. Are they done for the season?

Actually, you may be able to get a second bloom in autumn by cutting plants back halfway down the stem. Be sure they have adequate moisture and a light application of fertilizer. When they bloom in fall, the temperatures should be milder and the show longer lasting.

The leaves on my bee balm are brown and crisp. I watered. What happened?

The most common problem with bee balm is a foliage disease called powdery mildew. That is a good name for it, because the leaves look like they have been dusted with powder. Unfortunately, leaves will turn brown and drop or be deformed. If powdery mildew hits in summer, cut your plants back to about half their height and fertilize. They will grow back and hopefully bloom again in fall. If the disease strikes in autumn, rest assured that your plant will sprout again in spring with healthy leaves.

30 thoughts on “Growing Bee Balm

  1. I bought two of your bee balm plants last year and put
    them in sunny spots (morning sun and afternoon shade).
    They never bloomed last year and they are twice as big
    this year. Why won’t they bloom? Is it too early yet to
    expect at least buds? I have an old bee balm plant on
    the side of the house and it gets alot of shade; it blooms
    every year! Do I need to feed it something?
    Thanks, Linda Douglas

    • Hello Linda,
      If the bee balm is healthy and thriving, all you need is time. Most of them bloom the second year, and what lovely blooms! – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. I have Bee Balm love the smell however I want to know if I should cut it back as you do to mums in the spring to keep the plants lower. IF SO WHEN SHOULD I STOP HEADING THE PLANTS BACK?

    • Hello Dale,
      You can head back or pinch the shoots back in the spring of the year for a more bushier Bee Balm. I do not cut mine back at all. You do not want to keep heading the plants back during the year, but pinch back the shoots (much like basil) to use in teas and potpourris. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I have bee balm in my garden and the leaves smell wonderful but I also have all kinds of leaves that look the same and don’t have any fragrance in the same area. Could this be bee balm as well? I ripped it all out last year because I didn’t think it was due to lack of fragrance but I’m questioning myself again….

    • Hi Shelley,
      It could have been bee balm spreading or propagated from the original plant you planted. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. What colors does the bee balm com in? I have the red and pink and would like to get the rest of the colors !

    • Hello Caroline,
      I googled bee balm tea recipes and there were a lot. Here is one from Food.com I like to plant bee balm for the pollinators it attracts.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I wish there was more information here about how to actually plant them. I got a bee-balm root in a package and it just says plant 2 inches deep in part-sun semi moist soil. When should I plant it? What kind of soil? Should I start it indoors? Can it be grown in pots?

    • Hello Jyn,
      Bonnie Plants does not produce root divisions that is why there is not more information on the site. When you plant it will depend on your area. You most certainly can grow bee balm as well as other herbs in containers. This article from Iowa State Univeristy Extension may help you with your questions on bee balm root divisions.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. I have bought bee balm to attract bees and humming birds (besides, i enjoy its peppery smell). And what not. I have also purchased shoo fly (and mint and basil) to repel flies and mosquitos. Do I have to plant these apart from eachother? Will they counteract one another?
    Thank-you,
    Blaise

    • Hi Blaise,
      I’ve not heard those called “shoo fly” but love to hear it! You will be fine to plant those near each other. In fact, if you let the mint and basil go to the flowering stage, they will also be very attractive and beneficial for the bees. I’ve not heard that mint repels mosquitos but anxious to hear if it works for you? We also sell a citronella plant, called the Mosquito Plant, that has a leaf scent very deterring to mosquitos. Enjoy! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi David,
      We’ve never heard that. Is it something you’ve heard from a fellow gardener? Fragrant plants in the mint or lavender families are often thought to deter deer, so maybe there is some truth to this for rabbits. Do any of you other gardeners know about this? Comment to help David…? ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

      • I CERTAINLY HOPE SO. I HAVE 1 RABBIT THAT LOVES TO VISIT. AND MY GIRLFRIEND WOULD KILL ME IF I DID ANYTHING TO IT. :)

    • I had several experienced farmers tell me the way to keep out rabbits is to plant marigolds. They are also a mosquito deterrent as well.

  7. Hi. thank you for the informative read about bee balm. Some of the bee balm i planted this summer withered & died … possibly powdery mildew. Question: do you think it will come back up this coming spring from the roots? Should I wait to see before trying to plant again? OK to plant in same spot, or should i try to avoid same location?
    thanks, Paul S.

    • Hi Paul,
      You are welcome! Glad we could be of service. Powdery mildew is very common with bee balm. Make sure that you are removing and destroying fallen leaves and debris that can harbor spores over winter and affect next year’s crop. It will be more common in areas with poor drainage and shadier spots. This article from Iowa State Extension gives great detail on how to manage or avoid powdery mildew. I do believe your bee balm will come up from the roots again next spring (if the entire plant did not die this summer; you mention “some of it” did), as it’s pretty prolific. It is a sister to mint, after all. Let us know! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • if you expect powder mildew, take some cornmeal and baking soda and mix it together and spread it all over the garden. It keeps down fungus naturally.

  8. I planted bee balm in spring, it is now October in West Texas. The plants are green and have filled out. They are in full sun and appear healthy, but no buds have formed. What has happened?

    • Hi Bryce,
      Did you plant them from seed or one of our transplants? It sounds like they have not had the ideal conditions to mature properly and bloom. It may be that they are not actually getting 6+ hours of full sun daily, or they soil is staying too moist and preventing its typically rigorous growth. These are also prone to powdery mildew, a foliage disease that looks like whitish powder was splattered on the leaves. Or, if you planted in late spring from seed, they just need a little more time. Once you have it established, it is much like mint in that the roots spread underground quickly and will always be in your garden! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  9. My daughter gave me bee balm seeds. Is this how I start to have my own plant ? Should they be planted in spring or fall?

  10. To quickly and effectively eliminate powdery mildew
    Mix (equal parts) milk and water in a small hand held spray bottle.
    Spray on the powdery mildew as needed.
    For larger jobs consider a hand help pump sprayer.
    I use the mixture on zucchini, squash and lilac bushes as well.
    Easy and “effective”.

  11. I have been balm & every summer it seems to get powdery mildew. It is in a shady/partial sun area. I really enjoy it but it would be better if I can get rid of the mildew. Do I need to remove the been balm & start with a new plant in a different area with full sun?

    • Hi Sheri,

      I love bee balm, too, and like you, mine always gets powdery mildew. Planting in an area with good air circulation helps. Also, avoid overhead watering. You can spray with neem oil but the mildew will likely come back. It’s just a perennial problem with these plants. In fall, cut the plants back and remove the old stems from the garden. Fertilize the plants well and they should grow back healthier next year. I hope this helps!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

      • My Bee balm was beautiful for weeks, but the recent drought caused it to stop blooming. Should I cut it back? How much? Or should I just cut off the dead blooms?

        • Hi Donna,

          Bee balm can withstand drought but prefers moisture. You can try watering and see if the plants perk back up. However, you should cut your Bee balm back every fall and can go ahead and do that now if the plants don’t seem to be recovering from the drought. Happy growing!

          Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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