Monarda magnifica

July 24, 2008

No, Monarda magnifica is not a new species of Bee Balm, I made it up. It has a nice ring to it though and it made a good title for a post about the different varieties of Monarda that are blooming right now in my perennial borders. I have never grown Bee Balm until this summer. At some point over last winter they really caught my fancy and now I have 4 different varieties scattered throughout my garden. So far all have been easy to grow and are doing well in our climate.

I’ll start with Monarda didyma (I’m saving my favorite for last). Here is M. didyma ‘Raspberry Wine’.

This plant has by far performed the best in the M. didyma group. I attribute it’s success to a few factors:

  1. I think I planted this one at the perfect time this spring when it was just warm enough to start growing but cool enough for it to get established before the summer heat.
  2. I bought it at a local nursery and the plants were relatively large and healthy; the earwigs were not able to eat it to the ground like they did M. didyma ‘Jacob Kline’ (below).
  3. I planted these in a bed that I renovated over the winter. This bed received about 6 inches of fresh compost which was mixed to a depth of about 1 foot.

The other thing that I really like about ‘Raspberry Wine’ is that about 20% of the blooms are ‘double decker’ like the one in the photo above. When I saw this in photos over the winter I wasn’t sure if I would like it but after seeing it up close in my garden I have to say that I like the look. It’s pretty subtle anyway and you only notice it when you’re up close.

The next subject, and the one that I wanted from the catalogs most of all (at first), is M. didyma ‘Jacob Kline’. This one really excited me because of it’s bold red color and it’s height (can grow 4-5 feet tall). It hasn’t performed nearly as well as ‘Raspberry Wine’ but I wasn’t expecting any real show from any of these until next year anyway. The one ‘Jacob Kline’ that did get planted in nice compost enriched soil was a little on the smaller side and was eaten to the ground by earwigs so it has some excuses for being a little sparse. Here’s a photo of how it looked this morning:

One thing I’ve noticed (and I knew this before I had purchased any of these through my research) is that Bee Balms like regular water to look their best. They seem to be a little drought tolerant (depending on how you define drought) but the plants that I have on regular drip irrigation definitely look better than those that are not.

Now for Monarda lambada. I saw this one advertised in the Blue Stone Perennials catalog and I really liked the looks of it. Then, while visiting a local nursery in late December, I found a pack of seeds for M. lambada. (Side note 1: it’s not only because I’m obsessed with gardening that I would visit a nursery in the middle of winter, around here our winters are pretty mild so there actually are some things for sale. Side note 2: I can’t pass a display of seeds without picking up a pack or two, even if it’s not even close to the time to sow for the seeds I’m buying. Anyone else have this problem tendency?) I sowed the seeds in January along with the other seeds that I was starting using the winter sowing method (see here for more on how that went). To my delight, the seed pack was right and they are now blooming in their first season.

Out of all the Bee Balms that are in my garden, I have the most of M. lambada (with winter sowing you usually end up with a lot of plants). Almost all of them are doing quite well. I killed a few because I put them in spots that were too dry and then forgot to water them enough. M. lambada is also quite short compared to M. didyma (the tallest is probably a little less than 3 feet). I love the spots that you can see on the flowers when you look at them up close.

Another Monarda that also has spots on it’s flowers is also my favorite: Monarda punctata.

When I saw it’s photo in the catalog it was love at first sight. From a distance it’s not particularly showy but up close this is definitely one of the more interesting flowers in my garden. For a Bee Balm, there are a lot of colors involved. There’s the yellow flowers with red spots supported by purplish leaves that grow atop green leaved stems. Farther down, the stems even take on a darker reddish/purple color.

This plant gave me quite a bit of stress earlier in the spring. When it arrived (through the mail) it was totally out of it’s pot and one of the two main stems was almost totally broken off. I put the broken stem in a cup of water hoping that it might sprout some roots in case the rest of the plant didn’t make it. It took the main plant quite a while to get established and start growing but eventually it did (the earwigs left it alone for some reason). The cutting eventually just rotted in the glass and it ended up in the compost bin.

Well, that wraps it up. There would have been another, M. didyma ‘Coral Reef’, but despite what the tag says the plant I ended up with is definitely not ‘Coral Reef’ (which has pink flowers). I think it’s another ‘Jacob Kline’ which is fine with me. If you don’t have any Monarda in your garden I heartily recommend adding any of these great perennials, the hummingbirds will thank you for it!

The same night that I emerged from deep slumber to find cutworms I also found large herds of earwigs grazing on many of my emerging perennials. Dahlias and Monarda were the primary victims. One of my Bee Balms (Monarda Didyma ‘Jacob Kline’) that I was particularly looking forward to was wiped out in a single night (fortunately, it is now showing signs of life). Here is a photo of two Dahlia shoots that probably won’t live to see another day:

When I used the work ‘herds’ to describe what I saw I was not exaggerating. On one leaf there were probably as many as 20 earwigs of all sizes (eating must be a family affair). I was able to hand pick most of them but I was still seeing occasional damage so I knew there were probably more.

Having small children at home, I really did not want to resort to chemicals. I tried the rolled newspaper trick but it didn’t seem to attract very many (a little research later reveals that I was supposed to dampen the newspaper). I researched other natural options but gave up when I discovered that Sluggo Plus helped control both earwigs and cutworms. This option was additionally attractive because it was organic and safe to use around our veggies. I still find earwigs around the garden but everything is happily growing now (even the Dahlia in the photo above sent up another shoot). Next year I’m going to try again with the simpler home remedies but I’m going to start much earlier.