October 15, 2015 – Kenosha News
Question: While attending a backyard event at a friends this summer, I admired a beautiful patch of red blooms. I was not familiar with these flowers and commented on their beauty to my friend. She told me they were bee balm and hers had self-seeded. Several weeks later she dropped off a container of the spent blooms. If you could advise when and how I should plant I would be grateful. I have no idea what to do with these shriveled red flower heads. Thanks for any help you might be able to send my way. L.A.
Answer: Bee balm, also called Monarda or bergamot, is an easy to grow perennial that attracts bees and butterflies. Several Wisconsin native species and numerous cultivars are grown in gardens. It sounds like your friend’s bee balm is not a cultivar so the seed propagated offspring are the same as the parent.
When propagating plants by saving seed, the seeds should be allowed to mature and dry as long as possible on the plant. Seeds are ready when flowers are faded and dry or have puffy tops. When seeds are ripe they usually turn from white to cream colored, or from light brown to dark brown. For your bee balm I’m a little concerned the flowers were removed before the seeds fully matured. One reference I checked mentioned waiting until bee balm flower heads were brown and another said native red bee balm seed was ripe two months after bloom. Regardless, I suggest following these suggestions and trying to grow the seed anyway.
After the mature flowers are cut off, lay the flower heads in a single layer on a clean surface to dry further for several days. Bee balm seeds are very small so place the dry flower heads in paper bags to catch the seed as it falls out of the flowers. You may need to shake the bag to help dislodge the seeds.
You can mimic nature and scatter the seeds in your garden this fall, which is the way the plants self-seed in your friend’s garden. If you don’t have a spot ready, store the seeds in a sealed container until planting time in early spring. Spread the seed on top of the soil and lightly cover with 1/8-inch of soil. Bee balm germinates six to ten weeks after planting and will bloom two or three years later.
Bee balm is easy to divide in spring or fall, which is another good way to get a start for your garden.
Barb Larson is horticulture educator for the Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. She holds a master’s of science in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you have a plant or gardening question, email her at email@example.com or call 262-857-1942.