The bee balm or Indian nettle, also known under the name Monarda didyma, is a fiery plant and can inspire with numerous advantages. Adaptable and easy to care for, it is ideal for beginners in garden maintenance. For fans of exotic beauty, the fringed blossoms, which are available in different colours, are an eye-catching highlight. In addition, the bee balm has a fresh, lemony scent that gives an idea of the delicious taste. And the Monarda didyma even has a healing effect. If you want to bring this diverse beauty into your garden, you have to pay attention to a few things, despite the undemanding properties.
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In its North American homeland, Monarda didyma thrives on bright, damp meadows and at the edges of forests. These conditions are also decisive for them in their own garden.
The location of the Indian nettle should be as sunny and warm as possible. However, light penumbra is also tolerated. For this purpose, the plant prefers a damp place where there is no waterlogging. The conditions are optimal near a garden pond or watercourse.
A loose, humus-rich soil is ideal for the bee balm. The substrate should be able to store water, but neither tend to compaction nor waterlogging.
Herb soil is ideal. A mixture of normal potting soil or potting soil and mature compost is also good for the Monarda didyma. In order to keep them loose in the long term, coconut fibers can also be mixed into the soil.
The Indian nettle can be planted in the garden from May or put in a bucket outdoors. Special features are not to be considered here. Only the right location, initial freedom from frost and the right substrate mixture are decisive for thriving.
After planting out, Monarda didyma can be kept consistently moist for the first few weeks. A dose of organic fertilizer, such as mature compost or herb fertilizer, can encourage growth. However, if the substrate is already fresh and rich in nutrients, the initial fertilization is not necessary.
sowing and pre-breeding
The sowing of the bee balm directly in the garden bed or in a tub, as well as the planting, is possible from May at the earliest. Pre-breeding indoors from February or March is still more advisable. Because the seedlings make special demands on the substrate and are initially quite sensitive to direct sun and cold. The effort of protected preferring pays off in strong and robust young plants.
It is important to note the following procedure:
- Sow the seeds of the Monarda didyma on a nutrient-poor, as loose as possible substrate. Potting soil, substrate made of coconut fiber or herbal soil is ideal.
- The bee balm needs light to germinate, which is why the seed should only be covered thinly and pressed lightly.
- Moisten the substrate well but do not soak it.
- Cover the jar with transparent foil and place in a warm and bright, but not too sunny place. The foil should be removed daily to prevent mold and rot.
Seeds and substrate should be kept as continuously and evenly moist as possible until germination. The soil is then allowed to dry slightly until the next watering. At the age of six weeks, the young plants can either be pricked out or transplanted. When pricking out, the weakest sprouts are removed to give the stronger plants more space. When transplanting, it is important to be extremely careful not to damage the roots. From about the eighth week they can move to the bed or bucket.
Once grown in the right location, the Indian nettle proves to be an easy-care plant. Watering, fertilizing and an annual trimming – that’s all Monarda didyma needs to thrive.
However, the amount, type and time of the care measures must match their requirements.
watering and fertilizing
In the garden you only have to water the bee balm in the dry season. The top layer of the substrate may be slightly dry before watering. However, complete drying out is to be avoided, as is waterlogging.
Monarda didyma should be watered a little more frequently in the bucket, as it is less able to take care of itself here. This is especially true if the culture is covered, i.e. little or no rain gets into the container. In these cases, at least weekly watering is required during the flowering period from June to September. Of course, you should adjust the watering according to need.
Rainwater, pond water and soft tap water are suitable for watering the Indian nettle. The latter can be achieved through filtering or prolonged standing.
From spring to early autumn, bee balm benefits from additional nutrients. Small amounts of herbal fertilizer or mature compost can be used once a month. If it receives these, it shows a richer bloom and is less susceptible to diseases and pests. However, fertilizing the Indian nettle is not absolutely necessary.
Monarda didyma does not need to be stimulated to grow densely or shaped. Only the removal of dried plant parts is required. This basic pruning is best done in spring, before the first budding. The plant is shortened to a hand’s breadth above the ground. However, it is also possible to carry out this care measure in autumn directly after flowering.
If the bee balm is free in the garden and was planted in good time in spring, it is not sensitive to frost and winter sun. It can therefore remain in place without any problems and without special protection. Neither watering nor fertilizing are necessary during the hibernation.
The situation is different with culture in buckets. Here the roots are not deep enough in the ground and are therefore much more exposed to the temperatures. It is ideal to bring the bucket inside and set it up cold but frost-free. Monarda didyma does not need light during this time. If this is not possible for reasons of space, the tub should be moved to a sheltered spot and wrapped in several layers of garden fleece. These measures are usually sufficient to prevent the roots from freezing.
From around March, the garden fleece can gradually give way from top to bottom so that light and moisture can be absorbed again. The removal in layers is advisable to slowly get the plant used to outdoor conditions again.
Bee balm can be propagated by seeds and division, although obtaining seeds is much more complex. Sharing also has another benefit.
All you have to do is dig up Monarda didyma and divide it in the middle at the root with a sharp, clean spade or a knife. The resulting young plants are used again at suitable locations and watered well. A dose of organic fertilizer is advisable. Alternatively, the substrate in the planting hole can be exchanged for fresh soil.
The advantages of this method of propagation are the high chances of success and the reduction in size of the plant. Because if Indian nettles become too large and dense, they are more susceptible to pests and diseases. The division, on the other hand, rejuvenates them and ensures a lighter appearance.
Propagation should take place in spring before sprouting.
repotting and converting
Moving the Monarda didyma is usually only necessary if the location proves to be unsuitable or has changed unfavorably. Likewise, too dense growth may necessitate a change.
As with cuttings and division, the change of location should take place in the spring before the beginning of the growing season.
The same applies to repotting, which is advisable if there is a lack of space or to refresh the substrate. A slightly larger container is perfectly sufficient and drives the budding of leaves and flowers, as the roots reach their limits faster.
Typical diseases and pests
With proper care and a suitable location, Monarda didyma is extremely robust against parasites and pathogens. The essential oils it contains have a deterrent rather than attractive effect on pests in particular. Which makes the bee balm under windows and next to susceptible plants a practical enrichment. Nevertheless, the Indian nettle can be attacked.
On the pest side, snails are the most common culprits. Young plants and fresh shoots are particularly preferred by them and can suffer considerable damage overnight. In order to prevent snails from being eaten, appropriate snail fences should be used. At least until the plants are no longer young. If an infestation already exists, the animals must be read off immediately. Traps and slug pellets, on the other hand, only show a low level of effectiveness.
In terms of diseases, powdery mildew is the main problem. This also usually only occurs with unfavorable care, especially if the bee balm is too numerous and too dense or does not receive sufficient ventilation for other reasons. The so-called powdery mildew is a fungus that produces visible coatings on the leaves. The coating is initially white, but then takes on a dirty brown color. In a severe infestation, it can kill the entire plant. Timely intervention is therefore crucial.
As a first measure, the leaves should be wiped off or, if possible, washed off. A solution of milk and water, in a ratio of 1:8, can then be used to spray the bee balm. A fungicide should only be used if this simple household remedy has no effect. If the disease is advanced, you must remove and destroy the affected parts of the plant.
Targeted prevention is better than home remedies and chemical products. In the case of the Indian nettle, this means keeping the plant neither too moist nor too dry, ensuring sufficient distance between the plants and a suitable location. Division and blending are also useful. Regular visual checks also help to identify problems quickly and to be able to intervene immediately.
Is bee balm poisonous?
Although Monarda didyma can irritate the skin in high concentrations, bee balm is not poisonous per se. On the contrary, it is traditionally used as a medicinal plant – mostly in the form of tea. Headaches, colds and menstrual cramps are just three of the many areas of application.
Even without a healing or at least alleviating effect, the Indian nettle is a taste experience that can be used as a tea, sandwich topping and addition to savory and sweet salads. The herb and the flowers are suitable for this, each fresh or dried.
Due to its impressive size, the unusual flower shape and the wonderful aroma, the bee balm is an enrichment for tubs, beds and the kitchen. Easy to care for and undemanding, it is also the ideal plant for newcomers to the garden and anyone who does not have a green thumb or does not feel like comprehensive plant care.