Crimson beebalm is a shrub that most prairie gardens could not exist without. From July, these unusual beauties open their bright flowers. Let us give you some tips and information about this popular shrub.
Crimson beebalm, bergamot, scarlet beebalm, Oswego tea or – based on its botanical name – scarlet monarda: the species in the monarda genus go by many names. The most common name is crimson or scarlet beebalm. Native to North America, this species was long used as a healing plant by Native Americans before its use as a decorative plant. Part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves of this shrub were used by Oswego Native Americans to brew a tea to treat colds.
Appearance and Growth
The individual pink, white, purple or red flowers are clustered together in dense, fringed whorls and attract plenty of bees and other insects from June to September. Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) is a particularly effective bee magnet. A monarda’s height varies greatly by variety at between 23 to 47 inches. Thanks to increasing demand, a plethora of species and varieties is now available in retail. Most are crosses or descendants of scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), which is native to Mexico and California. These two species are also great for making lemonade. Lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora) gives drinks a very unique, subtle lemony flavor.
Location and Soil
Crimson beebalm prefers permeable, nutrient-rich, moderately moist soil. In its native areas, crimson beebalm grows in sparse woodland and at the edges of forests, so tolerates partial shade very well. But they can also cope with full sun as long as the soil is slightly wetter. As its location needs vary, you should read the label carefully before making a purchase. Regardless of species and variety, crimson beebalm does not tolerate waterlogging. It also does not enjoy winter dampness.
Scarlet beebalm’s wild, almost exotic charm can especially take center stage in natural planting arrangements, combined with sage (Salvia), echinacea and yarrow (Achillea) or in autumnal beds with asters, sedums and decorative grasses. Over recent years, it has also become an important prairie garden shrub as well as an on-trend garden feature, decorating our gardens alongside asters (Aster), golden rods (Solidago) and decorative grasses. As crimson beebalm stalks tend to be quite bare, it is advisable to plant shorter perennials in front of them.
Crimson beebalm tends to spread via runners. So make sure to allow enough space when planting in spring. If the soil is particularly loamy, some sand or gravel should be worked into the soil before planting to prevent waterlogging.
The dry stems should ideally be cut back in the early spring. If very infected with mildew, cutting back to the ground immediately after flowering is advisable.
Separating the plants in spring or fall after flowering can prevent spreading while propagating the shrubs. Any scarlet beebalm in sandy or dry soil should be separated every five years at the latest, as they will quickly age and disappear over time.
Additional care tips
The addition of compost in spring encourages full flowering and increases this shrub’s lifespan, especially in poor soil.
Crimson beebalm species can be propagated in spring through seed sowing or in early spring through separation. Propagation through cuttings in early summer is also possible. All cultivated forms should be propagated vegetatively to maintain the variety’s purity.
Diseases and Pests
The crimson beebalm’s greatest adversary is powdery mildew. Some wild varieties and types are resilient or even resistant but this resistance can be broken as soon as the pathogen changes slightly through mutation. Newer cultivars such as “Aquarius” and “Squaw” are less susceptible. Crimson beebalm is also susceptible to rust and nematodes. If you regularly water thoroughly in summer and in any dry periods, and ensure the right location, you can prevent disease and pest infestation.