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Native Wildflower Monarda is a Winner in the Garden

Memories of Monarda include finding the unusually shaped flowers blooming in the wild near my childhood home.  This native wildflower, ‘Scarlet Bee Balm,’ bloomed in summer with curvy petals that alternately hosted honey bees and hummingbirds.  Cultivated Monardas are brilliant additions to the mid and late summer garden, blooming profusely with strong stems that make great cut flowers.  These members of the mint family are excellent for attracting colorful hummingbirds and other pollinators to your garden.  Besides ‘Bee Balm,’ old timers will call Monarda ‘horsemint,’ ‘wild bergamot,’ or ‘Oswego Tea.’ If you crush a leaf, the scent is very reminiscent of Earl Gray tea, but this is just a coincidence – Earl Gray tea is made from tea leaves and the oil of bergamot oranges.

M. Jacob Cline reaches 36” tall.  Burgundy red and spiky, it does ok in full sun, but does even better with a little shade from the hot afternoon sun.  These plants like sandy, well- drained soil and need to be watered regularly.   They are notorious drifters, spreading from the original plant, so keep an eye on their habit.  They are easy to control just by pulling out the sprouts at the edge of the patch.  You will also want to pinch the tips in late spring when they reach about 12” tall.  This will encourage lateral growth and more flowers.   

Pardon My Pink is a newer variety by Proven Winners that boasts hot pink flowers and only grows to 10-12”.  Perfect for the edge of the border, it blooms for a long time and attracts butterflies with its scented foliage.  It’s a great filler for large containers, too.  Grand Parade is similar in size and use and has even better mildew resistance.  Abundant lavender-purple flowers cover this charming plant.

Blue Stocking is a bit of a misnomer – it’s more of a deep rich purple than a blue, but never mind that…it’s really pretty.  It grows 24-36” and forms a nice clump that doesn’t spread like Jacob Cline.  Raspberry Wine is another strong grower, with erect stems and berry red flowers. The foliage has wine colored highlights, and it has a wonderful scent. Try planting this with something blue, like Russian Sage or a late blooming blue salvia like S. leucantha.

Many monardas are susceptible to mildew, especially in our humid climate, so it’s important to keep the foliage dry – overhead watering is not recommended!  Thinning and pinching will also help keep mildew at bay.  Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to the red varieties, but all the varieties exude a sweet substance that attracts them too.  I have two patches of Monarda in the garden, and it’s fun to watch the hummingbirds zooming back and forth between them.