Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) is a perennial flowering plant in the mint family. It has square stems, opposite leaves and aromatic foliage like other members of the mint family. It has clusters of red tubular flowers with reddish bracts in the summer. Some varieties of Bee Balm have pink or purple flowers. Scarlet Bee Balm is a native North American plant found in Zones 3 to 9 along the edges of streams, ditches, thickets and woodlands. It is also called Bergamot, Oswego Tea or Horsemint.
Scarlet Bee Balms grow best in rich, evenly moist soil in sun or light shade. They should be watered deeply every week. Deadheading spent flowers encourages more blooms. The plants are susceptible to powdery mildew and should be spaced 1 ½ to 2 feet apart for good air circulation.
A small amount of fertilizer can be used around each plant in early spring. Too much fertilizer will cause rampant growth and the plant will be more susceptible to powdery mildew.
As Scarlet Bee Balms spread by underground stolons (stems), the centers of the plants begin to die out. Divide the plants every 2 or 3 years in early spring. Dig the plant up, cut into several divisions with two or three shoots and a good root system, and replant immediately. Seeds of Scarlet Bee Balm have to undergo 90 to 140 days of cold stratification at 40 degrees. The seeds will then germinate when exposed to temperatures of 70 degrees or more.
Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love the flowers of Scarlet Bee Balms. Some of the butterfly species that are attracted to Bee Balms are Cabbage, Easter Tiger Swallowtail, Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak and Painted Lady.
Scarlet Bee Balms are excellent plants for butterfly gardens and cottage gardens, as well as for wildlife or meadow areas. The flowers and foliage of Bee Balms have the flavor and scent of mint. They are used to make teas, in salads and as garnishes.
"Petite Delight" and "Petite Wonder" are dwarf varieties of Bee Balms that grow 10 to 15 inches tall. Some mildew resistant varieties of Bee Balms are "Gardenview Scarlet," "Marshall's Delight," and "Raspberry Wine."