Bee balm (Monarda didyma), commonly called bergamot, is also known by the names oswego tea and horsemint. A member of the mint family, this hearty native American perennial grows up to four feet tall and has thick square stems with lance-like, toothed leaves that grow opposite each other. Bee balm will grow in almost any soil, but it does best in moist soil that is rich in organic material. It prefers full sun or partial shade (plants grown in mostly shade will become spindly). Bee balm has a tendency to mildew, but this can be controlled by giving the plants a location with plenty of good air circulation.
Bee balm can easily be propagated by division in either spring or fall. It can also be propagated by stem cuttings (take the cuttings in late spring, remove all but two leaves, dip in rooting hormone, and plant in sand). It is also possible to start new plants with seed, but because bee balm cross-pollinates so readily and most of the newer varieties are hybrids, the resulting seedlings will not be exactly like the parent. Seeds should be planted within two years after harvesting or they will lose their viability.
Bee balm is very aromatic and has a spicy, citrus-like scent. There are many different varieties with a range of flower colors including white, red, pink, and purple. The flowers can be single or double, and often a smaller flower will form at the top of a larger one. Bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love the tubular flowers, although honey bees are unable to reach the nectar.
I have a lot of bee balm growing in my gardens. Some were purchased plants, but many came from purchased seeds or seeds I collected myself, which has resulted in many shades of reds, pinks, and purples.
Bee balm can be a very invasive plant and the roots spread out rapidly. Because the centers of the plants have a tendency to die out, plants should be divided about every three or four years and the dead centers discarded.