Monarda is for Pollinators – Bee Balm is the BOMB!

Hummingbird-FeedingScarlet bee balm, Monarda didyma, is a pollinator favorite in the garden. The red bloom of bee balm makes it especially attractive to hummingbirds. Red-flowering natives are few, but it is a mid-summer delight to gardeners who like seeing the hustle-bustle of life in the garden. It certainly is hard-working in my garden. Watching the plant for fifteen minutes around 11am on a scorching, hot July day, you can see the activity it draws.

Honeybee

The young, minty shoots are used as a flavoring in vegetable salads, fruit salads and drinks (especially teas), so we use it as well. I can’t say I ever tried bee balm myself, but I do know people who have.

Hummingbird-MothHow Did it Get the Name?

The common name of bee balm stems from the resin found in the plant that could be used for healing and soothing of bee stings. Monarda derives from Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish physician who introduced the North American native to Europe. Didyma refers to the stamens occurring in pairs, translated from Latin.

Scarlet bee balm has nectar-rich flowers that are large yet have no discernible scent. They are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies, hummingbird moths, and bees. Bee balm does like to be moist, so to be useful to pollinators, it needs these conditions. This brings up a good point too.

Monarda fistulosa is hailed as a popular native plant, which it undoubtedly is, but it is not by any means maintenance free. It needs more than average water to remain useful to wildlife, drying out quickly in the bright sun. If you use the wild species and have continued drought, be assured it will dry up and be useless to wildlife. At a local park’s meadow, I watch this small wild bergamot patch every year dry and shrivel. Sad to see a meadow that used to be bustling with flying pollinators, now almost devoid of pollinators. It’s too pathetic to show too.

Scarlet monarda in general also needs to be divided almost every year in addition to becoming dry in drought. My own garden has this and you can see how dry it is in the images. I water too.

Gardeners have a love-hate relationship with this course-looking plant because it spreads easily by seed or rhizome throughout the garden, not to mention its susceptibility to powdery mildew in humid climates. I often think of giving it the heave-ho since I have it in three locations, but…

Monarda-in-Garden

…regardless of the reasons to dislike the plant, there is no denying how useful it is to pollinators.

Pollen-Bound-Bee

A rather unique thing about the flowers, only those with long tongues get the nectar, or so it was planned. Some bees are notorious nectar robbers. Nectar robbing sweat bees, Carpenter bees, honeybees and bumblebees will chew a hole at the base of the flower. This circumvents the pollen and the plant’s purpose. Monarda compensates as a pollen factory and you often see bees fully coated like shown.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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42 Responses to Monarda is for Pollinators – Bee Balm is the BOMB!

  1. Annette says:

    Just adroable, Donna, and those hummingbirds made my day!!! We don’t have them around here but I saw lots in South America and know how hard it is to capture them, so well done 🙂

    • I do love hummingbirds and wish we got more than just the Ruby-throated in our region. I saw many varieties in Costa Rica, so I can imagine you saw many of the same in South America. Beautiful colors there!

  2. I have some of this bee balm as well and love it !
    The photos are fantastic!!!

  3. Loretta says:

    Oh, I had no idea about the bee balm being excellent pollinators, yes it does tend to spread, but so functional and useful in the garden. Thanks for that useful information, the pictures as always are gorgeous.

  4. A.M.B. says:

    I love monarda! My mom has the scarlet variety. I tried to plant native bee balm by seed in the spring, but it didn’t take. Maybe my mom will give me some of hers for next year.

  5. alesiablogs says:

    Love the photos Donna!

  6. I love bee balm. It does get mildew though so if that bothers gardeners (I just ignore it), they need to plant mildew resistant cultivars. If monarda is drying up and the conditions are not unusual like a severe drought, then I would say it’s planted in the wrong place.

    • Monarda prefers moist, compost-rich soil. I would say that is ideal conditions for the plant. Increase air circulation by thinning stems will help prevent powdery mildew, as does keeping the Monarda watered during dry spells. I cannot stress that enough. My Monarda does not get mildew because I do these things. Just because it looks “fine” in dry weather does not mean it is producing nectar though. I know this first hand and can always be assured it is watered if seeing bees. If not, I know it need more moisture. Pollinators are the only reason to add it to a small garden as far as I am concerned. It looks best in larger gardens where it has room to roam. Foliage can be cut back after flowering to encourage fresh new leaves when it starts to look mangy. I cut it early in the season too to control bloom time and height. As far as Monarda fistulosa, I think it looks best in a natural meadow, but our weather the last five years has the patch down to a plant one foot wide. Sad. I don’t think the meadow is the wrong place for it, but the weather has almost made it disappear – like the swamp milkweed that was growing there years ago.

  7. kimspringer821 says:

    Reblogged this on Things to bore you! and commented:
    We just planted Bee Balm in our Butterfly garden…I wondered what else would be attracted to it. Great read and perfect timing!

  8. I love Monarda because the hummingbirds love it, the bees love it, it (when it’s happy) spreads, and it waves color around my parched garden in the summer. And that coated bee is fabulous! It makes me wonder if there’s a tipsy effect to all that pollen.

    • I do know it adds color, but that intense red needs moisture to look its best and to serve wildlife. See my comment to Carolyn. The coated bee struggled wobbled when it flew. It was kinda funny. I have a photo of it from behind in flight, but I could not find it to post.

  9. I have lots of monarda which are covered in bees and butterflies, especially swallowtails and the hummers visit frequently. Mine is about done for the season as it has been so dry here and despite supplemental watering many of my full sun plants have had it for the season. I’ve often been tempted to try to make tea with it but haven’t tried it yet.

    • Same here. Too dry and plants even with watering cannot get enough moisture. This weather has been very odd for our area. It is like Niagara Falls has all that water and none is dropping from the sky.

  10. Alisha says:

    I love humming birds, they are so adorable…splendid pictures..thanks for sharing Donna 🙂

  11. bittster says:

    The monarda here is just starting to go downhill but it’s been a great season. All the rain we had in June really made the difference! I agree though, it’s love hate in my garden. The flowers and easy going vigor are great, but the mildewy dried up decline can be depressing.

  12. Alistair says:

    We dont have the Hummingbirds Donna, but I like to see the Monarda in the garden. Love that last picture with the bee.

  13. That last photo of the bee with all the pollen on it is amazing! I have some monarda and it has overgrown its boundaries, but I’m fortunate enough to have the space to let it expand. I’ve just had to move a few things out of it way. It’s planted next to a trumpet vine so they get along great together – both trying to take over.

    • I am always battling keeping it within a small area. I only added it for the pollinators, especially the hummers.I find my hummers forgo the feeders when the Monarda and trumpet vine are blooming. Picky eaters. 😀

  14. Those nectar thieves will do the same thing to the spurs of columbine. Such flagrant cheating! Personally, I find bee balm hard to resist. I love that red bee balm with the background of purple asters.

  15. Love Monarda and the creatures it attracts to my garden; I was grateful for the tips to help mine thrive a bit better as my climate is getting drier.

  16. debsgarden says:

    The photos with the hummingbird and the pollen-coated bee are marvelous. I tried twice to grow this plant, hoping to attract pollinators like yours, but it bloomed sparsely and soon perished, despite my loving care. It was advertised as being very easy to grow. Sigh. Even “easy to grow” needs the right conditions.

    • Thank you Deb. Too much shade and it does as you mentioned. The plant tags say part shade, yet I found in every case – and I have four varieties in the garden, that to keep it healthy, growing and full, Monarda needs full sun. Those that were planted in part shade did not last. The clay soil is no help either. Monarda has shallow roots and is one reason why it needs to be planted in compost-rich soil. They are so easy to pull in the garden when there is too many of them.

  17. Astonishingly beautiful – I always feel as though I’ve stepped into another world when I view your posts!

  18. The little hummingbirds are so cute !! I love these little creatures, they are so cute and colourful !

  19. Emily Scott says:

    The last photo is particularly spectacular, I’ve never seen a bee quite that pollen covered. Hard to tell what’s under there, but if it’s a honey bee you should enter it in the Vita honey bee photo competition: http://www.vita-europe.com/news/2015-vita-international-honeybee-and-beekeeping-photo-competition/

    • Not a honeybee, just a Carpenter bee. Too bad because it is a special capture since I too never saw one that loaded down. Thanks for the link though. I have some nice photos of honeybees, but I would have to hunt them down.

  20. I have mine is those areas that are moist consistently and they do colonize an area but are easily pulled. I also have thought about eliminating some but I can’t either because the hummers just adore it as do the bees.

  21. Brian Comeau says:

    Those bees are pretty smart… great shot of the one covered in pollin.

    How ofter do you get stung? 🐝

  22. I am not fond of the looks of my scarlet bee balm, or of how wildly it spreads, but I keep it around for the bees and hummingbirds. I finally found a suitable place for it–at the back of the house, right below my kitchen window. Nice to see the hummers come by while I’m doing the dishes!

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