Growing Bee Balm

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 growing bee balm 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.

Get gardening info on the go with our free app, HOMEGROWN with Bonnie Plants. Find out more, or download it now for iPhone or Android.

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.