Wild Bergamot – Identification, Growing, Info

Wild Bergamot is a wildflower that is commonly seen growing wild in ditches, pastures, meadows and prairies.  Native to Eastern North America, Wild Bergamot can add mid-summer color to your yard and attract much wildlife.  Loving full sun and growing to around 4′ tall (1.3 m), Wild Bergamot (also known as Pink Bee Balm) is a pollinator magnet.   Another benefit of this plant is that it is a favorite of hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and numerous bees and butterflies.monarda butterfly beebalm

 Facts

  • Long bloom duration of 4 weeks or more
  • Tolerant of partial shade to full sun
  • Wild Bergamot is drought tolerant
  • Hardy in zones 3-9.  Check your USDA zone here
  • Attracts a ton of bees, butterflies, as well as hummingbirds
  • Was used by Native Americans medicinally
  • The scientific name of Wild Bergamot is Monarda fistulosa
  • There are numerous local varieties of Wild Bergamot, with distinct characteristics in different regions of the United States.
  • Essential Oils are made from the flower of Wild Bergamot

*Note – this article is about a single species of Bee Balm.  To learn about some other Bee Balm varieties, check out the link below!

Bee Balms – Facts & Guide to Grow and Care for Monarda

 

Wild Bergamot Identification / Physical Description

This herbaceous perennial grows by sending up numerous shoots, making it seem shrub-like.  It slowly grows via rhizomes giving it a 3′ diameter when mature.  Depending on conditions the overall height can range from 2-5′.  Generally it doesn’t grow above 4′ though.

Stalk / Stem

Each stalk is square shaped, as it is in the mint family.  They are erect and will branch near the top, where multiple flower heads will eventually form.

Leaves

Leaves are opposite and kind of triangle-shaped to oblong.  It really seems to vary from plant to plant, and the age of the plant.  I’ve noticed that seedlings tend to be more lance/triangle shaped. The edges of the leaves are serrated.

An odor will emit when leaves are crushed.  It is a very distinct aroma, similar to oregano.  Many people think theorize that this is the reason rabbits and deer seem to leave it alone.

Flower

The pink to light purple flower will be 1-3″ diameter.  It is like a hemispherical shape, where the blooming progresses radially from the center to the edges over about a month’s duration.  The individual flowers are 1″ long, tubular like other forms of bee balm.  Individual flowers are ‘open’ for about 12 hours per day, or while the sun is up, providing nectar to numerous pollinators.wild bergamot monarda fistulosa

Root

The roots on Monarda Fistulosa are deep and branching, which is in stark contrast to Red Bee Balm.  Additionally there will be rhizome roots that help spread the plant.

Wild Bergamot Growing Conditions

Monarda Fistulosa will grow best in full sun to partial shade.  It is very versatile in that it can grow from dry to moist soils too.  Just make sure it drains well, as it can be subject to root rot like most other plants.

How to care  for Monarda Fistulosa

This plant doesn’t require much care once established.  Since it is Native to Eastern North America it generally will thrive when planted in conditions that it likes.  Just give it full sun and well draining soil, and this flower will not disappoint you!

Maintenance

This plant can spread aggressively (via rhizomes).  To keep it in check, you can plant it inside a pot with the bottom cut out.  Or, just pull unwanted shoots in the Spring.  Young seedlings are really easy to identify.

Besides that, you just need to cut the plant back in the Spring.  You can also deadhead the flowers if you don’t want more volunteer seedlings.  But this would only be a concern in a well-manicured garden.

A bumble bee landing on a flower of Wild Bergamot

How to Establish Wild Bergamot from seed

Growing this plant from seed is very easy.  The process is actually the same for any bee balm.  It is best to do this in early Spring.  This plant does not require cold/moist stratification.

  1. Obtain some pots and fill with moist potting soil, but leaving the top 1/4″ of the pot (6 mm) empty.  This will allow some room for water to collect
  2. Press 5-6 seeds into the moist soil, firmly.  Do not cover the seed.
  3. Place in a location that gets morning sun.
  4. Mist seeds to keep them, and the soil moist.  Do not water with a watering can, as the seeds may wash away.
  5. Thin to 1 plant per pot after germination, which should take approximately 2 weeks.Monarda fistulosa seedling

Alternatively, you can direct sow Wild Bergamot into a prepared area in early Spring.  Just sprinkle seed, and press it into the soil.  As long as the soil stays moist, and there isn’t a ton of competition, you should get germination.

Garden Uses

This plant can be used in a manicured flower bed, but you should be cautious.  It will spread via rhizome.  To stop this, just get a black plastic pot 12″ diameter (30 cm) by at least 6″ deep (18 cm), and cut the bottom out of it.  Dig a hole the size of the pot, and place the pot in the hole.  Then, transplant your flower into that.  The plastic lining should prevent most rhizomes from spreading the plant.  Although you may still have some if you mulch the entire area.monarda meadow beebalm

Where this plant thrives though is in an open meadow, micro-prairie, or border garden.  A wild setting will give Wild Bergamot competition that will limit its spread.  But it will also allow for more plants, bringing in more wildlife.  If you really want to attract hummingbirds, you can’t just plant isolated specimens of flowers they like.  You need to plant multiple of specimens of different species.  Think of it like ‘If you build it, they will come’.  Well, that is true for flowers (not just baseball!).

Side note – see how to make your own backyard micro-prairie below!

How To Make a Micro-Prairie

Companion Plants

The most obvious choices for companion plants for Wild Bergamot would have to be Red Bee Balm, and Spotted Bee Balm.  Besides being related through genus, they like the same/similar conditions.  But they bloom at different times, providing you with a succession of blooms that will attract hummingbirds.

Other companion plants that come to mind would be;

  • Black Eyed Susans, as the yellow blends really well with the purple
  • New England Aster, Aromatic Aster (for late fall purple/lavender color)
  • And yes, I’m going to say Red Bee Balm again.

Red Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, and Spotted Beebalm would give you a near constant succession of blooming from late May to Mid-September/October.  This would be really beneficial for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Fauna

As stated above, this plant is very beneficial for wildlife.  Bumble bees love it, butterflies love it, and Hummingbirds love it.  There are a couple of caterpillars that feed on the foliage too, the Gray Marvel and Hermit Sphinx.

Pests and diseases

Once these plants are established, you probably won’t have any problems from rabbits or deer.  This plant (and others in the mint family) have a strong flavor which seems to dissuade herbivores from eating them.

Although rare, there has been a bacteria recorded in Canada that harms Wild Bergamot, similar to Asters Yellow.

One common disease that Wild Bergamot can get is powdery mildew.  Powdery mildew is a fungus that generally affects the appearance of the leaf surface.  In the image above, you can actually see powdery mildew on the leaves.  I’ve never treated it on this plant, as it just appears to effect the cosmetics of Monarda.  (It can be fatal to other plants, or stop certain vegetables from producing).  But for Wild Bergamot powdery mildew doesn’t seem to be an issue except for the cosmetics.

Treating Monarda leaves for Powdery Mildew

If you want to treat it though, just mix up some hydrogen peroxide / water and spray the leaves.  A mix of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 20 parts water generally works.  So, that would be approximately 3/4c per gallon.

Spray the leaves in the morning or evening, but just make sure that it isn’t in direct sunlight when you are spraying!  You should probably spray every other day for 6 days (3 applications) and monitor.

Wild Bergamot / Monarda fistulosa

Quick Facts Reference Table

Common Name Wild Bergamot, Pink Bee Balm, Purple Bee Balm
Scientific name Monarda Fistulosa
Bloom Time Mid-Summer
Bloom Duration 4-6 weeks
Color Light Pink to Purple
Bloom Size 1 – 2” diameter flower heads
Characteristics A cluster of small individual tubular flowers that start upright, then bend towards the ground
Height 3-5’ (1-1.5 m)
Spacing/Spread 2-3’ (60-90 cm)
Light Requirements Full Sun / Partial Shade
Soil Types Any
Moisture Dry  to Medium
Maintenance None.  Cut back in Spring after insects have emerged
Typical Use Meadow, prairie, roadside, Flower bed
Fauna Associations Attracts Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths
Larval Host Gray Marvel and Hermit Sphinx
Sowing Depth Surface sow – needs light to germinate.  Press into the soil.
Stratification None required.  Direct sow when temperatures have warmed.
Native Range USDA Zones 5-9
Notes Tolerates Black Walnut

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wild bergamot grow and care guide

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