Sunday, January 11, 2015

Plant This: Bee Balm

Native bee balm (Mondarda fistulosa) is like the all-American success story in my garden. I planted them about five years ago, and they languished without flowers, showing off nothing but powdery mildew. In a post years ago I threatened them with removal if they didn't shape up their act. And what did they do? Explode! They have beautiful light purple blooms in the classic monarda crown shape.

Bumblebees adore them. They are swarmed with fuzzy bees at all times; coming home to see their lavender flowers literally buzzing with life is one of the little daily joys I get from gardening. They are certainly a pollinator favorite out of my entire garden.

The mildew still sets in by late summer, even though I've gotten better about controlling it throughout the growing season. It's impossible to stop it altogether; there's just too much mildew latent in the soil here, and monardas as a genus are too damn susceptible. But it's OK; usually I cut back their whitetened stems and foliage because it's worst by the time the flowers are spent. Besides, I'm not getting rid of the peonies or lilacs that are comparably mildew-y by late summer.

This year, with all the craziness going on, I deadheaded very little in the garden. And what serendipity, because bee balm have that most elusive, wonderful quality...winter interest! They look like cake pops or a pom-pom hat, with a fresh layer of snow perched atop their perfectly round seed heads!

The seeds are long gone, having been feasted upon by goldfinches and who knows what other birds. I, however, have learned a valuable lesson: don't cut back monardas in the winter even when they have mildew problems! If you have dry clay in part sun, I recommend you try these tall, unique natives. I'm hoping the addition of wild petunias (Ruellia humilis) last spring will act as "socks-and-shoes" plants to hide their leggy stems, and then they will honestly look wonderful all four seasons of the year.

No comments:

You May Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails