How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Wild Bergamot
Are you looking for a native wildflower that’s easy to grow, beautiful, and highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds? Wild bergamot is a minty-scented perennial that would make a fine addition to any garden setting. In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen will discuss the proper care and maintenance of these prolific and showy plants.
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It has fragrant leaves and flowers and grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Plants can be grown from seed or by division, and once they become established in an area, they grow fast. You may recognize the similarities to the cultivated Monarda, also called bee balm.
This herbaceous perennial wildflower has a long blooming period and can flower anytime from early to mid-summer through fall. The flowers are tubular with prominent lips at the opening. They are pale pinkish-purple and grow in rounded clusters atop tall leafy stems. These native flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, who visit frequently to gather nectar.
Native to North America, it can be found throughout most of the continental United States, including Canada and Mexico. This common plant is highly adaptable and grows in fields, along forested edges, prairies, meadows, glades, hillsides, and along roadways. .
If you want something to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, or any other pollinator, consider adding wild bergamot to your garden. Grow it in your wildlife-friendly garden, native wildflower or herb garden, cottage garden, or naturalized landscape. This plant is somewhat drought-tolerant and can be part of a xeriscape landscape or grown in a container garden.
Let’s now dig into how to grow and care for wild bergamot.
Wild Bergamot Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Native Area North America
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 to 9
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Average quality, Well-drained
Water Dry, Medium
Plant Spacing 12 to 24 inches
Suggested Uses Pollinator garden, Hummingbird garden
Plant With Purple Coneflower, Blue Sea Holly
Bloom Season Summer, Fall
Flower Color Pale purple
Attracts Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Bees, Pollinators
Problems Powdery mildew, Root rot, Rust, Aggressive spread
Resistant To Drought, Heat, Poor soil
Height 2 to 4 feet
As a North American native, you can find this plant throughout most of the continent, from Canada through most of the continental United States and continuing south into Mexico. It spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes and self-seeding. Common and widely distributed, it can be grown in just about any habitat.
For the home gardener, this herbaceous wildflower is useful in many situations. Keep it tidy by growing it in a large container, or consider using it to help colonize larger naturalized areas. Grow it in a perennial wildflower garden or use it anywhere to attract a multitude of pollinators to your yard.
Several cultivars are available because this plant is popular and easy to grow. Cultivars will still have minty-scented leaves, but also have varied flower colors, different tolerances for soil types, and varying degrees of tolerance to fungal infections like powdery mildew. All plants in the genus Monarda will have fairly similar growing requirements, so you can choose the species or cultivar that best suits your specific needs.
Wild bergamot is very easy to grow, but it is not an entirely low-maintenance plant. It does best in full sun or dappled shade. Soil should be of average quality and well-drained. You won’t need to perform any rigorous maintenance while growing this plant. Just be aware that it spreads quickly.
When growing this plant, the biggest concerns are powdery mildew and a tendency to grow aggressively. Thin your patch regularly. This will help both issues. Thinning will help keep the population manageable and prevent plants from overcrowding, which can create poor air circulation, leading to powdery mildew infestations.
This perennial blooms throughout the summer, and this long blooming season helps these plants stay interesting in the garden setting. Not only are the flowers beautiful and showy, but they also attract plenty of pollinators.
This is a great choice if you are looking for a plant to help attract more pollinators for your garden crops or fruit trees. It also makes pretty cut flowers that you can enjoy indoors and out.
Growing this flower from seed or by dividing established clusters is very easy. Sometimes, young plants are available at nurseries and garden centers, and Botanical Interests offers high-quality seeds online. If you have an existing plant, you can easily propagate it from your plant. These plants grow rapidly and transplant well.
Start this wildflower from seed, either by directly sowing outdoors or in indoor pots. You will have more control over environmental conditions if starting your seeds indoors, although plants will readily self-seed in the garden. You can expect plants grown from seed to bloom in their second year.
Sow seeds in early spring. Do not cover them. Simply press them lightly onto the soil so they can absorb some moisture, or at most, sprinkle a very thin dusting of loose soil over them to help them stay moist, allowing them to have some exposure to sunlight.
These seeds need light to germinate well. Seedlings will sprout in 14 to 21 days. Keep your seeds moist until they sprout.
If you buy young plants from a garden center, look carefully at your options. Choose potted plants that appear healthy and vigorous. Stems and leaves should be green and firm. Avoid purchasing plants with obvious insects or signs of rot, such as brown, soft, or mushy vegetation.
Seedlings and young plants can be transplanted into the garden anytime, but spring and fall are generally the best seasons for transplanting. When young seedlings are around 5 or 6 inches tall, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors.
Division of Clusters
If you already have a cluster of bergamot, division is the easiest and quickest way to propagate these plants. It will spread and form dense clusters of above-ground vegetation and underground mats of roots and rhizomes. These clusters are easily divided to create multiple smaller groups of plants that can be transplanted to new areas.
Divisions are best done on a cool, overcast day to minimize stress caused to the plant. Use a sharp spade to cut through the root mass and carefully dig out the surrounding attached roots. Use this method to divide larger clusters into smaller clusters. Water each cluster well after transplanting it to its new home.
Whether you transplant young seedlings, older potted plants, or dividing clusters, you should prepare the site in advance. Since this wildflower isn’t picky about its growing environment, you probably won’t need to do much.
Simply loosen the soil where you’d like to put your new plants. You can add some fresh garden soil or compost at this time if the soil needs some amendments to improve its quality.
Ideally, do your planting on a cool, overcast day in either spring or fall. After preparing the soil at the planting site, dig a hole slightly larger than the root mass you will be transplanting.
Gently remove your plant from its pot and transfer it to the new hole, keeping its planting depth the same as in the pot. Then fill the gaps between the roots and the hole’s edge with fresh soil and pat the soil into place. Water newly transplanted plants well and ensure they stay moist for several days afterward to help them re-establish.
How to Grow
This wildflower is remarkably easy to grow and does not require much maintenance.
Grow this herbaceous plant in full sun to partial shade. Plants will do best with at least 6 hours of bright sunlight per day. Plants grown in heavy shade will appear weak and won’t flower well.
This native plant does best in dry to medium-moisture soil. Plants are somewhat drought tolerant, but prolonged dry periods may cause unhealthy amounts of stress and require some supplemental watering. Generally, one inch of water per week is sufficient.
Soil should be of average quality and well-drained. Well-drained soil helps prevent root rot and powdery mildew.
Climate and Temperature
Wild bee balm is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and climate conditions. Plants grow well in USDA climate zones 3 through 9. They tolerate heat and humidity, go dormant during winter, and grow back from the roots each spring.
There’s no need to add any extra fertilizer to most wildflowers. As an easy-to-grow native plant, this species is well-adapted to local conditions and grows well without much extra help.
Keep your plants thinned so they don’t create extremely dense clusters. You can thin them every year or two, removing select plants to prevent them from growing too densely together.
Thinning will increase plant vigor and health while improving air circulation and helping prevent disease. When plants have died back to the ground at the end of each season, remove any remaining above-ground stems and leafy debris.
This wildflower grows as a medium-sized flowering perennial. It generally blooms throughout the summer months and would complement other flowers well. Pollinators love it, while deer and rabbits avoid it. It grows well in large raised beds, containers, or any in-ground garden area.
You can include this wildflower in almost any garden theme, except perhaps a shade garden. Plant it near fruits and vegetables to help attract pollinators to the area.
Grow it with other wildflowers and at the edge of an herb garden. These plants will spread and occupy the allotted space, so they may compete with neighboring plants. Be sure to give them plenty of room to grow so they won’t crowd out less aggressive neighbors.
Wild bergamot is an excellent plant for wildlife, particularly pollinators. This native is beloved by hummingbirds, who come to sip nectar from the tubular flowers. Butterflies, native bees, and other beneficial insects are also attracted to the flowers.
Grow Monarda in any wildlife-friendly habitat, particularly in hummingbird, butterfly, or pollinator gardens. Small seed-eating birds will forage on the mature seed heads in the fall.
This summer bloomer is a good choice if you live in an area with deer and rabbits. Browsing mammals generally do not bother this plant or other members of the mint family. The fragrant foliage is a deterrent for browsers, so you won’t need to fence or protect these plants from wildlife.
Pests and Diseases
In ideal conditions, this species is quite hardy. It is, however, susceptible to powdery mildew and occasionally leaf rust.
Rabbits, deer, and other browsing herbivores dislike eating it because of its minty-scented leaves. You also shouldn’t have problems with insect pests on these plants.
Powdery mildew will appear as a grayish or whitish coating on the leaves and stems. It usually takes hold at the height of summer and is most prevalent in humid environments and crowded conditions.
Help your plants resist powdery mildew by thinning them to maximize air circulation. Don’t allow your plants to sit in wet soil.
Another hazard of wet soil is root rot. Wild bergamot will tolerate brief periods of wet soil, such as immediately after a heavy rain, but if the soil is well-drained, the standing water will quickly drain away and allow the plant roots to breathe again.
A plant suffering from root rot will turn brown and mushy and quickly die. Root rot can’t be cured but can be prevented by planting in well-drained soil.
Occasionally, these flowers have a problem with rust. You may notice numerous small rusty-brown spots on the leaves of your plants.
Rust is a fungal infection most common in moist, humid conditions. Keep your plants healthy, keep them thinned to promote good air circulation, and trim off and dispose of (not in your compost where the rust can spread) any rust-infected leaves to prevent the fungus from spreading.
Frequently Asked Questions
If wild bergamot is a type of mint, is it edible?
Yes! You can use a few leaves as a minty seasoning, or steep a leaf into your favorite tea. You could easily incorporate a little wild bergamot seasoning into many sweet or savory dishes.
Should I deadhead the spent flowers?
It depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to keep your plants looking neat and tidy, and possibly encourage a second blooming, you should deadhead spent flowers. Also, deadhead if you want to discourage plants from self-seeding. If you want to attract birds to your landscape, however, leave the dead flowerheads for a while. Some smaller seed-eating birds like goldfinches will browse on dry seed heads while looking for edible seeds.
What happens if I don’t thin my plants?
You do not need to thin this wildflower, but in many cases, it is a good idea. If you don’t thin your wild bergamot plants, they will grow into a rather extensive patch and continue spreading outward. If you have a large field or prairie planting, this can look very dramatic and attractive. If you are working with a smaller space, however, this species will quickly fill it in completely and continue trying to spread outwards, competing with neighboring plants. Crowded plants are also more susceptible to fungal diseases.
Wild bergamot is a wonderful plant for a sunny flower garden. It is easy to grow and produces many showy purplish-pink flowers each year. Plant it to attract hummingbirds and pollinators, enjoy cut flowers, or compliment your herbs, vegetables, and other wildflowers.
Thin your patch every few years to keep it looking its best, and feel free to share some extra divided plants with your gardening friends and neighbors!