By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
About Bee Balm
Bee balms are herbaceous perennials that have heads for red and claw-shaped flowers during summer. Bee balms are also called "Oswego Tea," "Bergamot" and "Lemon Mint." Bee balms' leaves contain the highest concentration of spicy, high fragrant oil that are released when crushed. Bee balms grow in height ranging from one to three feet (0.2 to 0.9 m). The spreads are equal, with ovate, sometimes slender and long-tapering (lanceolate) leaves.
Bee balms are excellent border plants.
Prepare the ground well in advance, preferably around fall. Remove weeds from the soil, taking care to remove any persistent perennial weeds such as quackgrass (Elymus repens) using a weed killer if necessary. Dig over the soil leaving it in a rough state over the winter to be broken down by frost.
In early spring, remove any weeds that may have appeared, add organic matter to your soil such as compost. Rake in the soil to a fine, level tilth to provide a free-draining and fertile soil.
Bee balms have flowers that are bright red in head-like clusters and have aromatic leaves that can be infused in tea. You can add bee balms in your summer drinks, salads and pork dishes and use the flowers to add color to salads and potpourri. Bee balms can relieve nausea, flatulence, menstrual pain and insomnia. They can also be helpful in alleviation of sore throats, colds and bronchial symptoms.
Choosing a Variety
There are varieties of commercial cultivars and hybrids that range in color from candy-apple red to pure white to deep blue. These cultivars tend to be smaller than wild species. Cultivars with red, pink, white or purple flowers are available.
In spring, sow seeds thinly-about ¼ inches (0.5 cm) apart. Sowing densely may result in thin, spindly plants that are prone to damping off.
In summer, you can plant stem cuttings by inserting cuttings around the edge of 6 inches (915 cm) of rooting medium and water in. Cover with a plastic bag, held away from the cuttings by stakes. When the cuttings have rooted, gently lift them and pot them up individually into 4 inch (10c m) pots.
In early spring, plants can also be divided and then planted.
Be sure that the medium is moist but not wet, at all times. Bee balms should be divided every three to five years to reduce spread. Dividing bee balms can keep the central core of the plant healthy and rot-free as well as can improving air circulation around the leaves.
Fertilizers are not mandatory, but can be added sparingly after blooming in spring.
Harvesting and Storage
Pick the leaves of bee balms in spring or just before flowering in summer for using fresh and for drying. Gather flowers in summer.