Zone: 4 to 9
Soil: Sand to clay
Light: Full sun to part sun
Bloom colour: Red,pink, blue
Bloom period: mid-summer
Height: Up to 48 inches
Moisture: Usually moist to average
Attracts: Hummingbirds, butterflies and larger bees with long tongues
Notes: The most common species sold in nurseries is Monarda didyma. The scarlet cultivar called Jacob Kline grows 40 inches high and blooms for 8 weeks. I highly recommend this plant in any wildlife garden with moist soil. It is a great perennial for attracting hummingbirds in mid-summer in Ontario.
The drawback of this plant is that it spreads vigorously. You will have to spend a bit of time in spring pulling out the stems (stolons) that grow underneath the soil surface. The stolons are easy to remove and I do not use barriers for these plants. Avoid covering this plant with leaf mulch.
It is best to plant Monarda didyma (and also Monarda fistulosa) behind other plants as the lower leaves can easily drop off during a drought.
If you are interested in hummingbirds, then plant the red cultivars. If you are more interested in attracting bees then choose colours with some blue in them (including purples). The blue/purple cultivar shown above is Blue Stocking. There is no other beebalm with a colour quite like it.
Generally, bee balms are in shades of red and pink. Petite Delight grows only 10 inches high. It is drought tolerant and can be grown in rock gardens but it is not particularly attractive to pollinators.
Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) usually has to be bought from a native plant supplier and it is found in drier soils than Monarda didyma. It is clump forming and flowers a little later than Monarda didyma. One specimen will form a decent sized 3-4 feet patch to attract pollinators and will grow about 4 feet high. Like Monarda didyma, its leaves tend to wither during the latter part of the summer and it is best to plant this behind other plants. It is far more attractive to bees and butterflies than Monarda didyma although its bloom time is shorter. Swallowtail butterflies, in particular, enjoy nectaring on Wild Bergamot. This plant is also more recommended than Monarda didyma in situations where water is an issue such as in rain-fed gardens and sandy soils.
If you are planting Wild Bergamot in sandy soil, it will still need extra watering when drought conditions are present. If you want a species that can really tolerate dry soils, then consider Monarda punctata (Spotted Bee Balm), which thrives in the hottest, driest and sandiest part of my garden. It grows between 2-3 feet high and would do well in the middle of a border. It flowers after Monarda Punctata in August. Specimens are shortlived and do not take up much space. To obtain a big enough patch to attract pollinators, plant at least 5 specimens about 12 inches apart. This plant will reseed itself easily to form a large patch the following year. Compared to moisture-loving beebalms, its flowerheads are smaller and less impressive. However, the lower leaves do not drop off and the flowerheads are enhanced by large creamy bracts that make it a fabulous garden plant. Monarda punctata is particularly attractive to beneficial wasps. and has a flower structure that is especially adapted for them.
Monarda citriodora, resembles Monarda punctata until it shows off its larger lavender flowers. It is a native of the southern United States, east of the Rockies and can be grown as an annual in Canada. It also grows to just over 2 feet (60 cm) and takes dry soil well. It flowers from August onwards and is a good plant for migrating Monarchs if you live down south. The species native to Ontario are better plants for pollinators.
Another species worth considering is Monarda bradburiana, which is native to the midwest. It grows to less than 18 inches high and completes flowering before any of the native species have even started. While it only flowers for a few weeks in late spring, it remains a beautiful plant with almost burgundy leaves, It does well in light shade and dryish soil, and it combines well with Downy Wood Mint.
Species native to Ontario include:
Monarda didyma (good for hummers)
Monarda fistulosa (good for butterflies)
Monarda punctata (good for beneficial wasps)