Disease-Resistant Bee Balms

Super tough bee balms

'Jacob Cline' is just about impervious to the two most common diseases that plague bee balm: powdery mildew & rust.
'Jacob Cline' is just about impervious to the two most common diseases that plague bee balm: powdery mildew & rust.

Bee Balm

If you've grown bee balm (Monarda didyma), you're familiar with its delights and its drawbacks.

On the plus side? Bee balm's flower production.

A staple in butterfly gardens.

Whether in full sun or part shade, Monarda didyma puts on a continuous show of large, spiky blooms from midsummer into fall.

Its red, pink or purple flower heads have a sweet scent and a bright color that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Other names for bee balm include Oswego tea, monarda, bergamot and horsemint. It is a member of the mint family.

Watch bee balm flower in under a minute

A tasty aromatic tea.

Though not as eye-catching as its flowers, the herb's leaves are just as useful. According to National Geographic's Edible, the Oswego Indian tribe used them in diverse ways: as a meat preservative, a perfume and a treatment for colds and sinuses.

They also brewed tea from the leaves and taught the practice to colonial settlers. An aromatic drink with orange notes, Oswego tea is still popular today. In fact, dried bee balm is used in Earl Grey.

This light pink hybrid does well in partial shade.
This light pink hybrid does well in partial shade. | Source

The most serious drawback to growing bee balm is its susceptibility to powdery mildew and rust.

A sprawling habit.

If you have an informal garden, you may like bee balm's sprawling habit, too, although many gardeners consider it a drawback.

Bee balm's long stems sometimes grow out from the plant, flopping over to skim along the top of the soil.

The bee balm in the foreground isn't sprawling too badly. In the background: black-eyed Susan and pink turtlehead.
The bee balm in the foreground isn't sprawling too badly. In the background: black-eyed Susan and pink turtlehead. | Source

Bee balm also has a tendency to die out at its the center if it is not divided every two to three years.

But its most serious drawback is its susceptibility to disease, especially rust and powdery mildew.

Disease-Resistant Bee Balm Hybrids

Super tough 'Jacob Cline' Monarda didyma is ideal for informal landscapes in Zones 3-9. Pictured: a 'Jacob Cline' bud begins to open.
Super tough 'Jacob Cline' Monarda didyma is ideal for informal landscapes in Zones 3-9. Pictured: a 'Jacob Cline' bud begins to open. | Source

Janna Beckerman and B. Rosie Lerner's pamphlet Disease-Resistant Annuals and Perennials in the Landscape, a publication of Purdue University's Extension, lists five bee balm hybrids that are resistant to rust and powdery mildew. The best of the bunch? Jacob Cline.

Name
Description
Hardiness Zone
Colrain Red
A tall bee balm reaching up to 48 inches when mature, Colrain Red produces fragrant red flowers from mid to late summer.
4-9
Gardenview Scarlet
Gardenview Scarlet produces fragrant red flowers that attract hummingbirds from mid to late summe. It grows up to 36 inches tall
4-9
Jacob Cline
The most popular bee balm hybrid, Jacob Cline is super tough & highly vigorous, producing fragrant, bright-red flowers in full sun or partial shade from mid to late summer. It reaches heights of up to 36 inches.
3-9
Marshall's Delight
Producing showy, fragrant pink flowers from mid to late summer, Marshall's Delight grows up to 36 inches tall.
4-9
Petite Delight
Petite Delight reaches heights of 16 inches at most when matures. Its showy, fragrant purply-pink flowers bloom from mid to late summer.
4-9

The No. 1 Disease-resistant Bee Balm

Even when they're fading, Jacob Cline's flowers put on a show that resembles fireworks.
Even when they're fading, Jacob Cline's flowers put on a show that resembles fireworks. | Source

Monard dydima 'Jacob Cline'

A terrific bee balm hybrid.

Although several several disease-resistant bee balm plants have been developed, the favorite among growers is Jacob Cline.

Jacob Cline is a super tough bee balm that's virtually impervious to rust and powdery mildew. It's also a vigorous grower, producing larger blossoms than other hybrids and spreading aggressively when it likes its location.

I grow Jacob Cline bee balm in a small landscaping island in full sun in our Zone 7 garden among other native plant cultivars, including Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed).

This year our Jacob Cline bee balm is over five feet tall. This morning, I saw a hummingbird sipping from its highest blossoms.
This year our Jacob Cline bee balm is over five feet tall. This morning, I saw a hummingbird sipping from its highest blossoms. | Source

Jacob Cline is hardier and more vigorous than other disease-resistant bee balm hybrids. It grows well in Zones 3-9, either in full sun or part shade.

Last year, the black-eyed Susan didn't do well, developing leaf burn followed by a bad case of rust. Deer munched twice on the purple coneflower, a fragrant hybrid called Hot Papaya. The butterfly weed developed a severe case of aphids.

But nothing bothered Jacob Cline bee balm, save for a few chewing insects that did minimal damage.

This year the black-eyed Susan is fine (thanks to some intervention on my part), the coneflower is completely gone, having been ripped out by the roots by deer (RIP) and the butterfly weed, thank heavens, has doubled in size and is looking great. So is our Jacob Cline bee balm. It's about five feet tall, growing straight into the air and full of bright red blooms. Gorgeous! And healthy.

Chewing insects may do a little damage to Jacob Cline, but not so much that it's noticeable.
Chewing insects may do a little damage to Jacob Cline, but not so much that it's noticeable. | Source

Even when the weather turned its hottest and drought set it, Jacob Cline produced new growth (sprawling, of course) and fragrant, bright-red flowers. It also attracted hummingbirds, butterflies and bees—especially bees.

Bigger, tougher, stronger.

A tall plant, Jacob Cline reaches heights of up to 48 inches, with a width of about 36. Like other bee balms, it's a herbaceous perennial herb that grows in clumps. To maintain its vigor, the clumps must be periodically divided, and this spring I will definitely have to separate our patch, as it is beginning to develop a "balding" center.

I've read that Jacob Cline spreads faster when grown in partial shade.

Although it prefers moist soil, Jacob Cline can tolerate drought-like conditions. During the hottest, driest part of our summer, I gave our plant two quarts of water from the rain barrel twice a week, and it thrived. I also deadheaded the plant until the end of summer, when I allowed the remaining blossoms to go to seed. Deadheading also "opened up" the clump so that air could circulate around the stems, another way to deter mildew.

Jacob Cline's flowers are larger than those of other bee balm hybrids. Unfortunately, I did not get a good photo of it in full flower, but Cornell University's online library shows a good shot of a fully opened Jacob Cline bloom.

Jacob Cline's flowers are large and attractive, even after the petals fall and only the drying seed head remains.
Jacob Cline's flowers are large and attractive, even after the petals fall and only the drying seed head remains. | Source
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Comments 18 comments

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi RTalloni! I hope the experiment works for the both of us. I'd really like to have more bee balm in our yard for the pollinators. Good to hear from you! Take care, Jill


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Thanks much for this look at Bee Balm/Jacob Cline. I did not realize there were so many varieties of Bee Balm. Am looking forward to finding the Jacob Cline as I have just the spot for trying out the partial shade experiment.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi prasetio30. Nice to hear from you! I really appreciate your comment-- and your vote. Thanks! --Jill


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Very informative hub. I had never heard about this flower before reading this hub. I learn something new here. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!

Prasetio


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much, Peggy W. Appreciate it!

@ sgbrown-- You're so right--good smellin' and good lookin'. What's not to like? And I'd be delighted to be mentioned in your blog. Thanks!!

Hi Steph! Oh, I wish you could grow bee balm since it's such a good pollinator attractor. Still, I guess you do need a good bit of room for it. It does like to sprawl around! Thanks for sharing the hub. Take care, Jill


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Wonderful, informative hub! Love the photographs. Wish I would have known of Bee Balm at our old home. We had acreage and lived in a more temperate region than we do now. I love butterfly gardens/plants.

Rated up and sharing!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

I have never tried bee balms before, but this one sounds like something I would really like! Big showy flowers, smells good and attracts bees and butterflies, right up my alley! I would really like to share this hub on my "My Flower Garden Get a Way" blog, if that would be ok with you! Voting this up and more! Have a beautiful day! :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Your photos of the Bee Balm are absolutely wonderful. I don't have room for it in our garden but have an appreciation for it from reading your well written hub. All kinds of up votes and sharing.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Pearl. Thanks so much for the votes! Hope you have good luck growing Jacob Cline. I think you will--it's pretty tough. Really enjoyed your bird nest basket hub and look forward to making one once the snow has passed. I'm definitely going to put some fern in mine. Not sure what else. Take it easy! --Jill


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

Jill, I love bee balm so I am very happy to learn more about them. Now I know why mine died out! It's great to know that Jacob Cline is resistant to powdery mildew, which mine develop every year. So much great information--thank you! I'm bookmarking this one for future reference. Voted Up across the board (except for funny), pinned and shared. Wonderful stuff.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi purl3agony. Butterflies are a delight to watch, and bee balm will attract them as well as (of course) bees! I've been planning new garden projects, too. It's a pleasant way to while away the winter. (: Take care, Jill


purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 3 years ago from USA

These are so beautiful! I love the idea of attracting more butterflies to our garden. Thanks for sharing!!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi aviannovice. On our farm when I was a child, the honesuckle was yellow and downright invasive along the pasture fence. At night, it's sweet smell was so strong it was almost suffocating. Wish we had honesuckle around here in So MD. Will have to look into the coral kind like you have at Boomer. I've also read about a type of honeysuckle that blooms in winter. Wouldn't that be something! Thanks for commenting! --Jill


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

This is a wonderful plant. One thing that seems to do well around here is the coral honeysuckle, and at Boomer Lake the hummingbirds seem to go for that.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Glimmer Twin Fan! If I were you, I'd go with Jacob Cline, unless you don't want a tall plant. Jacob Cline is tougher than the others--and its flowers are bigger. Good luck to you! --Jill


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

Thank you for the chart on disease resistant varieties. I have had very little luck with bee balm and will try one of these varieties. I think I have good growing spots. Thanks. Up, useful and pinned.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Jackie. You'll love Jacob Cline. It's very show--and it smells wonderful! Glad you stopped by. Take care, Jill


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Great information. I have seen these but have none, will have to add them to my garden, thank you!

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