Saving seed from Bee Balm can be a tricky thing. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably followed some other guide and had disappointing results. Well, I’ve been saving this seed for over 5 years, and I will now share my process, tips, tricks and some other interesting finds about how to save Beebalm seed.
How to save Scarlet/Red Bee Balm Seeds:
- Remove seed heads when the blooms have faded and turned brown.
- But don’t wait too long! Seed falls out of Red Bee Balm much more easily than other species of Monarda! Birds, storms, and wind will dislodge much of the seed, so be quick!
- Dry the seed heads in a paper bag or container. For about a week.
- Shake the paper bag, or knock the heads in a plastic container to dislodge the seed
- Sift the seed/chaff mixture using a fine mesh kitchen strainer.
- Store the seeds in an envelope or zip-lock baggy (if completely dry). Do so in a cool dry place.
The seed will be viable for a couple of years after collection. But, the viability will reduce some with each passing year.
Process for saving Bee Balm seeds
1 – Find some plants
Although an obvious step, there are several species whose seed heads look similar to Bee Balm. Namely, Wild Bergamot and Monarda Citronella. So, be sure of your plant before you gather the seed!
Note, if you are gathering seed from a neighbor’s yard, make sure that the plant is not a hybrid. If it is a true native species, then you can be sure that the seed you collect will grow the plant you want. However, if you are gathering seed from a hybrid, the seed will yield one of the parent plants.
2 – Gather the seed heads
2-3 weeks after blooming, go inspect the plants. If the seed heads are brown or appear to have damage from birds, collect the seed heads immediately.
If the seed heads look a bit green yet, or not brown, then carefully bend a stalk over while cradling the seed head in your hand. If any seed falls out of the seed head, then consider collecting the seed heads or returning a couple of days later.
The reason it is important to collect seed heads of Red Bee Balm earlier than other species is that the seed will fall out very easily. Much more so than other Monarda species.
My own research has found that the clearance between the seed and tube diameter is up to 50% more on Monarda Didyma. It is kind of an interesting little study, which you can read here.
But, it is very important that when you cut the seed heads, you don’t tip the seed head sideways or upside down. Any loose seed will fall right out! So, carefully cut it, and place it in a paper bag or container upright. Or upright until the loose seed can safely fall into your container.
3 – Store/dry the seed heads
Leave the seed heads in a brown paper bag, or safely in a container that is exposed to the air in a dry environment. Doing this step will help the seeds dislodge more easily.
4 – Extract the seeds from the seed head
Shake the seed heads in a bag, or knock the seed heads on the side of a bucket. The seed should freely fall out of the head if dry.
I have attempted to destroy the seed heads too, by carefully massaging and separating tubes. This doesn’t appear to yield much more seed for me, as the collage below illustrates. I only obtained 8 seeds from 10 seed heads.
5 – Sift the seed in a kitchen strainer
Empty the contents of the bag, or bucket into a kitchen strainer over a paper plate. Then sift the contents several times to separate some of the chaff.
6 – Inspect the seeds
Carefully tip the paper plate at an angle and gently tap it. The seed should roll right down the side of the plate. Bee Balm seeds are very tiny, 1/16-1/8 (1.5-3 mm) long by 1/32″ diameter (0.6-0.8 mm). You will likely have a small amount of large and small seeds, as well as some small black pieces.
The small black pieces appear to be unformed seed in the above image. I often get a decent amount of these little black pieces. They are small, very hard, and feel very similar to the larger seed! It is my conclusion that these are seeds that did not fully form for some reason.
7 – Store the seeds
Once completely dry, Bee Balm seeds can be stored for several years in a zip-lock bag or paper envelope. Store Bee Balm seeds in a cool dry place and never in a musty basement or in sunlight.
Here is a video describing the entire process:
Extra Tips on harvesting Bee Balm seed
Get to the seed heads 2-3 weeks after bloom time. Monitor the plants! As soon the plants are producing seed, you should collect the heads very soon.
If a wind storm is in the forecast, you should get to the seed heads before! Violent winds are probably responsible for much seed dispersal.
Use a container that can hang around your neck. I use a travel cooler with a strap that hangs around my neck. This allows me to have both hands free when collecting seeds.
Don’t get discouraged! Some years I barely get any seed at all. It take diligence, tenacity, and persistence to save Bee Balm seed!
What if you are not getting much seed?
I have to say it is quite normal to not get much, if any seed from Red Bee Balm. I’ve been growing Red Bee Balm and collecting seed since 2014. And most often I don’t get much seed at all.
So, in making of a video on how to save Bee Balm seed, I starting doing some investigating. I found 3 key reasons why it is difficult to get Bee Balm seed. If you are curious, then I suggest you click on the article below to learn about them.
Would mesh seed bags help with harvesting Bee Balm seed?
I’ve attempted this with seed heads of Monarda fistulosa, Wild Bergamot. And the mesh bags that I use for seed collection of sunflowers DO NOT hold Bee Balm seed! I repeat, the bee balm seeds are too tiny.
What about ‘Magenta’ Bee Balm?
Several years ago I purchased Monarda didyma seed online. The packet had a picture of ‘red’ blooms, and claimed to be ‘Oswego Tea’ variety.
The flowers from this plant actually turned out to be magenta in color, so clearly not what I had bought. Even though it was labeled as Monarda Didyma. So, today I went and grabbed seedheads, and attempted to save them.
My first impression was that the seed head was quite small, more like Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. And, as the picture below shows, the results were more similar to Bergamot….
Also – we made a detailed video on complete grow and care guide for Scarlet Bee Balm. Have a look below!
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