Bee balm (Monarda didyma) is an aromatic herb bearing the distinctive square stems and pointed leaves of the mint family. The original wild version of monarda sports scarlet flower heads arrayed in loose clusters that look like fireworks, atop stems 2 to 4 feet tall. Cultivars are available with lavender, white or pink blooms, in a variety of heights. Monarda is an easy-care, fast-spreading perennial used for tea and cut flowers.
Planting and Watering
Monarda will tolerate most soil types as well as a wide range of light conditions, from full sun to fairly dense shade, but according to the Michigan State University Extension Service, Monarda does require its soil to remain consistently moist. Water your bee balm during dry periods of the summer, or incorporate additional organic matter in the soil and mulch during the growing season to help retain moisture.
Division and Containment
Monarda is a member of the mint family and shares mint's proclivity for spreading rapidly. According to the University of Illinois Extension Service, bee balm spreads particularly aggressively if planted in the shade. Plant your bee balm within a deep in-ground barrier to help deter spreading if you wish to contain the plant's growth.
As bee balm spreads, the older patches within it may die off. Dig out the dead section, then propagate replacement plants by dividing the remaining clump in the spring or by saving seeds, which form after the flower heads die back in the fall.
Harvest and Winterizing
Bee balm can be cut back after the first bloom to encourage a second round of flowers, according to the University of Michigan Extension Service. You can also cut the blossoms just before they are open for fragrant cut flowers or to dry for tea use.
Bee balm is winter-hardy to the far northern zones, but like most herbs, it can benefit from a few inches of organic mulch during the growing season to help conserve moisture and even out soil temperature. The University of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service recommends waiting until after the first hard freeze before putting on a heavy winter mulch, then removing the mulch in early spring when new growth begins.