How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Spotted Bee Balm

Spotted beebalm is a perennial that goes by many names. You might hear it referred to as horsemint, monarda, or just beebalm. Whatever you choose to call it, spotted beebalm is the superior beebalm for your pollinator patch or medicinal herb garden. Not to mention, it is drought-tolerant and native to North America. Gardening expert Kelli Klein talks all about establishing horsemint in your garden.

A close-up of a spotted bee balm flower, vivid purple petals in focus against a softly blurred backdrop of green leaves.

Contents

Spotted beebalm, or Monarda punctata, is a standout amongst other beebalms. Other monardas produce a single flower at the end of each stem, whereas spotted beebalm produces multiple flowers along the stem. As a member of the mint family, it is cold-hardy, drought-tolerant, perennial, and edible as well! 

Overview

Purple spotted bee balm flowers arranged along tall stems, showcasing their vibrant hues in a natural garden setting.
This is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family.
Plant Type Herb
Family Lamiaceae
Genus Monarda
Species M. punctata
Native Area northeastern North America
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 1-4 feet
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Aphids, powdery mildew, rust
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Dry, sandy, loamy
Hardiness Zones 3-8

What Is It?

Spotted beebalm is also referred to as dotted beebalm, horsemint, spotted horsemint, dotted horsemint, and monarda. This herbaceous perennial is in the same family as mint. It is edible and tastes like a cross between mint and thyme. Eat the leaves raw or cooked or brew them into tea. 

Monarda punctata is well known for its ability to attract tons of pollinators. It attracts beneficial predatory wasps that will help control grubs and pest caterpillars. This makes it an excellent companion plant for an edible vegetable garden. This plant also contains thymol, which gives it a thyme-like scent. Thymol is also an antiseptic and fungicide. 

Native Area

A close-up of a white bee balm flower; its delicate petals illuminated by the warm sunlight.
It can endure cold climates up to Quebec and Ontario.

Monarda is native to most areas of northeastern North America. It has since spread across the United States, including the Southeast and Midwest. It can be found as far south as Texas and Florida and as far west as Colorado.

In its native habitat, it can be found growing in areas with full sun and sandy, well-draining soils. These areas include prairies, plains, meadows, pastures, and savannas. It’s also found in dunes around the Great Lakes and sandy fields. It is also extremely cold tolerant, growing as far north as Quebec and as far west as Ontario, Canada. 

Characteristics

Purple bee balm flowers bloom amidst a backdrop of green foliage, showcasing nature's contrast of color.
They have a thyme-like scent due to high thymol concentration.

This perennial herbaceous plant is in the same family as mint and, therefore, has similar characteristics. It spreads aggressively via runners and forms dense clumps.

It produces heads of spotted, tubular flowers. White or light pink bracts surround green or yellow flowers with brown spots. The flowers will bloom from April through September. 

Propagation 

Spotted bee balm can be propagated very simply by seed. The seed heads are easy to collect. Like most plants in the mint family, you can propagate spotted bee balm by cuttings as well. Take cuttings at virtually any time of year, aside from winter when the plant is dormant. 

Seed

Brown bee balm seed heads stand tall on slender stems, contrasting against a soft background of green leaves.
Wait until seed heads turn brown and dry.

Collecting monarda seeds is very easy. When the flowers fade, they will die back and be replaced by seed heads. When the seed heads are fully mature, cut them off and spread them over a clean, dry surface to air dry for several days. Once the seed heads are fully dried, place them into a paper bag and shake. The seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag. 

Spotted beebalm seeds should be sown indoors 8-10 weeks before your average last frost date. 

Surface sow these tiny seeds. Sprinkle a group of five seeds in each planting cell. When your seedlings are one inch tall, thin them to one seedling per cell. They can be transplanted outside after the threat of frost has passed in the spring. Space plants at least 12 inches apart to give them room to grow. 

Alternatively, you can directly sow your seeds two to four weeks before your last frost date. Directly sow seeds by broadcasting them over the surface of the soil. Water them in lightly. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate. You should see germination within two weeks. Then, thin seedlings to at least 12 inches apart.  

Cuttings

A close-up of a spotted bee balm flower, bathed in sunlight, showcasing purple petals.
Plant cuttings in soil to root within one to two weeks.

Propagate spotted bee balm by taking stem tip cuttings. Make sure that your cuttings are at least three to four inches long, and remove the foliage from the bottom inch of the cutting. Remove flower heads from the cutting as well. You want the cutting to focus its energy on producing new roots, not flowers.

Place your monarda cutting directly into the soil, and it should form new roots within a week or two. If you see new growth, this is a good sign that your cutting has taken root. Cuttings can be planted into your garden by following the transplanting methods listed below. 

Planting

Spotted beebalm is a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plant once established. However, preparing the planting site and following the proper transplanting techniques is key to its ability to thrive. 

Preparation

A beebalm stem, adorned with small purple flowers, against a soft-focus backdrop of lush green foliage.
Ensure well-drained soil by amending heavy clay with organic matter.

Track the amount of sunlight that each area of your garden receives before choosing a planting site. Monarda requires a full sun growing environment. You want to be sure that the planting site receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day. This is especially important to consider during the winter when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. 

You should also consider the soil. Bee balm is not picky. However, it does require well-drained soil. If you have heavy clay soil, amend it by adding rich organic matter, sand, or perlite to increase the drainage. This can be done a week or two prior or at the time of transplanting. 

Transplanting

White and green spotted bee balm flowers in full bloom, showcasing intricate patterns.
Ensure good soil contact with the root ball.

Dig a hole that is the same depth as the original pot and at least twice as wide. This will give you some extra space to backfill with compost. Place your seedlings into the hole and backfill with soil. Press the soil down lightly to ensure good soil contact with the root ball.

Do not mound the soil over the stem, and keep the soil level the same as in the original container. Water your plant and keep it evenly moist for the first week or until it begins to show signs of new growth. 

How to Grow

Spotted bee balm is low-maintenance and easy to grow. This North American native perennial will readily self-seed and spread in clumps if you let it do so. Since not much maintenance is required this makes it a great option for filling in a spot that might be hard to reach with irrigation or other gardening tools. 

Light

A close-up of a purple spotted bee balm flower, highlighting its distinctive coloration and intricate patterns on its petals.
Bee balm plants need six to eight hours daily.

This perennial requires full sun conditions to thrive. When grown in shadier spots, it will grow tall, lanky, and flop over. Be sure that your beebalm receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. This does not need to be consecutive. In areas with extremely hot summers, it will benefit from afternoon shade in the hottest part of the day. But in most growing zones, shade is not required. 

Water

Vibrant purple spotted bee balm flowers bloom amid lush green foliage, illuminated by gentle, warm sunlight.
Established plants should be watered with at least one inch per week during summer.

As mentioned above, this plant can tolerate full sun and summer heat. It has low water requirements and prefers to dry out between waterings. It is drought-tolerant once established but still benefits from extra waterings during especially dry summers. Regular water during periods of drought will keep them blooming longer. Newly planted seedlings and transplants should be kept evenly moist until they show signs of new growth. 

A good rule of thumb for established plants is to make sure they receive at least an inch of water once a week during the heat of the summer and once every other week during the spring and fall. They will go dormant and die back during the winter. Snowfall will provide all of the moisture your plants need during dormancy. 

Soil

A hand holds rich brown soil under bright sunlight, showcasing its texture and color.
Improving soil drainage enhances spotted bee balm’s growth and spreading.

Spotted bee balm thrives in dry and sandy soil with a neutral pH. For this reason, they can be found growing wild along coastal plains. Adding compost to soil will increase drainage if you have heavy clay soil. It will also increase bee balms’ ability to spread its runners through the loose soil. Compacted soil will reduce the plant’s ability to spread. 

Temperature and Humidity

Purple spotted bee balm flowers bloom gracefully on slender stems, offering a striking contrast against their green foliage.
Improve airflow around monarda in humid areas to avoid fungal problems.

M. punctata prefers dry conditions with low humidity. The blooms may slow down in the extreme heat of summer when temperatures rise above 80°F (27°C). Most varieties of monarda are also extremely cold tolerant and will survive wintertime lows down to -20°F (-29°C).  

When growing monarda in areas with high humidity, it’s important to provide good airflow between plants. Poor airflow and high humidity result in fungal issues. Thin your plants throughout the season so that clumps don’t become too dense. This is the perfect opportunity for a harvest. More on that later! 

Fertilizing

A black shovel rests partially buried within a rich compost pile; its handle peeking out from nutrient-rich earth.
Avoid fertilizing with high nitrogen to promote healthy growth.

Spotted beebalm is a vigorous grower and prefers lean and sandy soils. For this reason, fertilizing is not necessary and can do more harm than good. Adding fertilizer with high nitrogen will cause too much leafy growth. This causes plants to grow tall, lanky, and flop over. It also causes the plant to focus on producing foliage rather than flowers. If you want to give your plants a boost, then give them a top dressing of compost each year in the early spring.  

Maintenance

Spotted bee balm flowers with vivid purple dots contrasting against delicate white petals.
Pinch back spent stems after flowering to encourage new flowering stems.

Once a stem has finished flowering, pinch it back. This will encourage new flowering stems to appear. If you wish to save seeds, leave the last flowers of the season to die back and form seed pods.

Remove the seed pods and follow the propagation techniques mentioned above. In the late fall or early winter, all of the growth will die back. At this point, you should prune the stems back to an inch above the soil level. Newer growth will appear from the ground in early spring.  

Harvesting

Not only does spotted beebalm make an excellent beneficial insect attractant, but it is also edible! Harvesting beebalm is easy and as mentioned above can be an opportunity to thin out your plants to increase airflow as well. When harvesting monarda for culinary purposes it is best to harvest before the plant produces flowers. 

Uses

A close-up of a purple spotted bee balm flower, illuminated by sunlight.
The leaves can be used fresh or dried for tea.

Monarda is edible and tastes like a cross between mint and thyme. It has medicinal benefits as well! It is harvested similarly to other plants in the mint family. Cut the stem just above a leaf node. Pull the leaves from the stems. The stems can be discarded, composted, or dried and used as incense. At this point, the leaves can either be eaten raw or cooked. They can also be dried and brewed into tea. 

Common Problems

Spotted beeblam is relatively carefree and low-maintenance. However, there are a few common problems to look out for. 

Leggy Growth

Purple spotted bee balm flowers contrast vividly against a blurred backdrop of slender, green leaves.
Inadequate sunlight for monarda plants can lead leggy growth.

Monarda needs full sun to reach its full potential. If you notice leggy growth, it is an indicator that there is not enough sunlight. Move container plants to a sunnier location. If your plant is growing directly in the ground, you should dig it up and move it to a spot with more sun.

Beebalm needs at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day. This does not need to be consecutive hours of sunlight. For example, this can look like three hours of morning sun, afternoon shade, and then three hours of late afternoon sun.   

Vigorous Spread

 Clusters of white spotted bee balm flowers; their petals catch the gentle rays of warm sunlight.
The plants can form large clumps if not managed.

Since monarda spreads via runners, it can grow in large clumps if left unchecked. It is not considered to be invasive but can be aggressive. Control vigorous spread by thinning your plants throughout the growing season. This is a great opportunity to harvest some bee balm for culinary purposes as well! 

Pests

Clustered green aphids covering a plant stem; their tiny bodies contrast against the green leaves in the background.
Attract ladybugs to your garden by planting umbel and pollen-rich flowers.

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that can be a pest to many garden plants. It’s best to inspect plants frequently and catch infestations early. When populations are low, blast aphids off of the plant with a strong stream of water from a hose.

Ladybugs love to eat aphids. Creating a balanced ecosystem will draw in these beneficial insects that act as a natural pest control. Consider planting flowers to attract ladybugs to your garden. Umbel flowers like yarrow, dill, and fennel are a few of their favorites. Pollen-rich flowers like calendula, marigolds, and sweet alyssum will do the trick too. 

These flowers make excellent companion plants for your vegetable garden. Additionally, provide ladybugs with undisturbed spaces with plenty of leaf litter to give them a location to overwinter in your garden and emerge the following year. In extreme infestations, it’s best to remove the infected plant to prevent the spread to nearby healthy plants. 

Diseases

A deep green leaf with white powder scattered across its surface, indicating a fungal infection known as powdery mildew.
Prevent this by spacing plants 12 inches apart.

Spotted bee balm is relatively low-maintenance and disease-free. However, when growing conditions are less than ideal, it becomes susceptible to powdery mildew. This fungal infection thrives in overly moist, humid conditions with poor airflow. Powdery mildew appears as white powdery spots on the undersides of the leaves. The powdery appearance will eventually spread to cover the whole leaf. This results in the death of the foliage and the eventual death of the plant. 

To prevent powdery mildew, make sure to space your plants appropriately. Plant bee balm at least 12 inches apart. You’ll also need to thin your clumps as they grow to prevent overcrowding. In areas with high humidity, avoid overhead watering. Water on the foliage will contribute to the conditions that powdery mildew needs to spread.

Inspect your plants frequently and remove affected foliage as soon as powdery mildew appears to prevent the spread. If selective pruning is not an option, employ a sulfur fungicide spray to help control the spread. 

Final Thoughts

Horsemint is a wonderful multipurpose plant for your garden. This native, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennial makes it great for beginner gardeners as well! The flowers will attract beneficial insects and the leaves make a delicious and nutritious tea. This medicinal plant has been gathered in its native range for centuries. Give it a spot in your garden today! 

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