Beebalm (Monarda)

Published On: June 6th, 2022


beebalm monarda marshalls delight cultivar variety perenniial hot pink summer flower

My friend Cheryl calls Beebalm her “fireworks” plant and prizes it as the highlight of her 4th of July garden. Its unusual flower heads are a whorl of showy fire-engine red, funnel-shaped flowers surrounded by subtly colored leafy bracts – giving the effect of exploding fireworks! Combined with white Astilbe and blue Salvia, her garden earns lots of compliments in early July.

Beebalm has been valued as a garden plant for generations and has a rich history as an herb as well. One of its common names is Oswego tea as its leaves were used for tea by the Oswego Indians of New York State. Later, colonists used it as a substitute for British tea in protest of the Tea Tax which led to the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

WI Native Beebalm & Hybrid Options

In Wisconsin, we have two native beebalm species. The first is Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), which bears curious multi-tiered chartreuse, yellow, and pastel pink/lavender flowers in summer.  I love it, but it is rather an acquired taste.

Our second Wisconsin native Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa, blooms with lavender flowers in late summer and is a lovely addition to a prairie or naturalized garden.

Cultivated hybrid selections can be found in a tremendous range of sizes and colors and can be used in many different garden situations. The dwarf selections form compact mounds of color and are ideal for the front of the border, while the taller varieties will weave through the cottage garden and also make a great cut flower. Flower colors include a range of lavenders and purples as well as pinks, whites, raspberries, and true reds.

Beebalm in the Mint Family

As a member of the mint family, Beebalm has a pleasant minty fragrance that makes it disagreeable to deer and rabbits. Another mint family characteristic that they exhibit is the tendency to spread rapidly from shallow, running rootstock. Give this plant room to run!

Beebalm is adaptable to a variety of soil types but required well-drained winter soil as its shallow roots will freeze in low-lying areas that accumulate ice during the winter.

Older varieties are prone to developing powdery mildew during humid summer weather. While this fungal disease will not kill the plant it can be quite unsightly and lead to significant defoliation. We recommend selecting mildew-resistant varieties.

beebalm monarda punctata spotted mint wisconsin native flower perennial white flower

Wisconsin native Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata)

beebalm monarda fistulosa native perennial pink summer flower with bee

Wisconsin native Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa)

beebalm monarda jacob cline cultivar variety perenniial red summer flower

Jacob Cline Beebalm

Beebalm in a Nutshell

  • Mature height: 12”-40”, depending on the variety
  • Mature spread: 36”
  • Light requirement: Full sun to light shade
  • Growth form: Sturdy upright stems on colonizing rootstock
  • Flowers: Showy, funnel-shaped flowers in clusters atop sturdy square stems. Colors range from white to pink, lavender, purple and true red
  • Bloom season: July & August
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4
  • Especially valuable for:
    • Attracting hummingbirds, butterflies & other beneficial pollinators
    • Vibrant color, including true red
    • Deer & rabbit resistance
    • Dried florals. Retains color & fragrance when dried
    • Long bloom season
    • Perennial borders, cottage gardens, pollinator gardens
  • Special Notes:
    • Older varieties can be susceptible to powdery mildew, which will not kill the plant but is unsightly. Select mildew resistant varieties, keep plants healthy and thin out thick stands in order to minimize mildew.
    • Foliage and flowers are edible and can be dried as a tea or used as a fresh garnish.