For hummingbird fanatics, bee balm is worth the effort


Unlike many popular garden perennials, bee balm or Monarda is a North American native.

It has a long history as a favorite of indigenous people who used it as both a medicine and flavoring agent for food.

Today its popularity is found in the garden where it’s a mainstay of prairies, native gardens and perennial beds.

There are four wild bee balms, and since they easily interbreed, there are many selections available to gardeners.

The blossoms range in color from white and pale lilac to pink to vibrant red. Each blossom is composed of multiple, small, trumpet-shaped flowers that contain both male and female reproductive parts.

The first bee balm in our yard was a tall variety called ‘Mahogany.’

It has bright red flowers with a blue undertone that fit well next to the purple cone flowers and Joe Pye weed nearby.

Bees and other pollinators vied with the local hummingbirds to draw nectar from the flowers.

‘Mahogany’ remained a favorite for several years, but soon the nearby trees grew up, the shade increased and the plant was on the move.

Bee balm, a member of the mint family, tends to crawl, spreading through underground rhizomes.

‘Mahogany’ followed the sun.

It crawled right out of the space assigned to it and into the nearby hydrangeas.

Bee balm wouldn’t follow my garden plan, so it was ousted.

For hummingbird fanatics, however, banishing such a popular nectar plant was impossible.

New short cultivars looked promising, so I tried ‘Grand Parade,’ a pink beauty that’s only about 20 inches tall.

Over six seasons in the front garden, it hasn’t crept much, and it’s been happy in part shade, too.

I liked it so much that the next year I tried a couple more short bee balms — ‘Cranberry Lace’ and ‘Pink Lace,’ but they didn’t thrive like ‘Grand Parade.’

The following spring both disappeared.

I was cajoled into trying ‘Coral Reef,’ which is apricot pink and about 30 inches tall.

It was about to be composted and free for the taking, so I had nothing to lose.

It was a real hit with the hummingbirds, so although it’s moved a bit, I’ve kept it.

‘Coral Reef’ is planted under a gingko tree that’s double the advertised height, so I can’t fault it for seeking sunshine.

Last year, I put scarlet ‘Fireball’ in the bed that’s replaced the front pond.

It’s an in-between size and just the color for hummingbirds.

The short bee balms are still my favorites, though, and I planted three new ones this year.

‘Grape Gumball’ is vibrant purple and looks neat and bright green even out of flower and after the dry summer heat.

‘Rockin’ Raspberry’ is also mildew free right now, and its flower color is my favorite.

‘Blue Moon’ hasn’t made as good an impression.

Its blooms are the palest lilac and really looked washed out compared to its neighbors.

I’m hoping it shows more virtues next year when it’s fully established.

The big drawback to bee balm is powdery mildew, especially in a humid summer like this one.

In addition to ‘Rockin’ Raspberry,’ there are tall, resistant varieties like scarlet ‘Jacob Cline.’

Tall or short, for hummingbird maniacs like me or pollinator fans, bee balm is worth the effort to grow.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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