Disease-Resistant Bee Balms
Super tough bee balms
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 , the Oswego Indian tribe used them in diverse ways: as a meat preservative, a perfume and a treatment for colds and sinuses. National Geographic's Edible
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.
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.
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
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.
A tall bee balm reaching up to 48 inches when mature, Colrain Red produces fragrant red flowers from mid to late summer.
Gardenview Scarlet produces fragrant red flowers that attract hummingbirds from mid to late summe. It grows up to 36 inches tall
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.
Producing showy, fragrant pink flowers from mid to late summer, Marshall's Delight grows up to 36 inches tall.
Petite Delight reaches heights of 16 inches at most when matures. Its showy, fragrant purply-pink flowers bloom from mid to late summer.
The No. 1 Disease-resistant Bee Balm
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).
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.
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.