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Vermont Garden Journal: Bee Balm

AP/Lee Reich

This popular perennial flower is native to  Eastern North America and, until recently, was more known as a tea and medicinal plant than an attractive ornamental. It was used to cure ailments such as upset stomachs to infections and called the Oswego tea by early colonists. We know it as Monarda or bee balm.

This mint-family perennial is one of the easiest flowers to grow. It likes full to part sunshine, although it will get a little wilty with hot, afternoon sun. It likes a moist soil and will spread so quickly that you'll need to divide it every 2 to 3 years to keep it under control. It will take over a small bed, but is the perfect perennial for filling in large space since it looks great planted en mass. While Monarda didyma is the classic species used for tea-making, all Monardas make a tasty tea.

For the healthiest plants, look for bee balm varieties that are powdery mildew resistant. This disease causes bee balm to yellow and dieback in late summer. Some good mildew resistant varieties to try are the red flowered, 'Jacob's Cline' and pink colored 'Marshall's Delight'. A new bee balm collection called Well Bee-Haved, grows only 1 to 2 feet tall, is mildew resistant, doesn't spread, and is fragrant. 'Petit Delight' is a lavender colored selection I'm growing this year. Bee balm is also attracts bees and butterflies to your garden. It can grow 3 to 5 feet tall, especially when in part sun. To dwarf the growth and delay flowering, top some your bee balm when it's 1 to 2 feet tall. It will regrow and flower a little later than the unpruned bee balm giving you an extended flower show. 

Now for this week's tip, time to support your peppers and eggplants. Keep the plants from flopping over under the weight of their fruit to reduce disease and have higher yields. I use small tomato cages around these plants to keep them upright.

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about sweet corn pests. Until then,  I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Bee Balm

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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