Propagating Bee Balm

Monarda spp, commonly known by the name bee balm, is a dependable perennial that lends itself to propagation using easy methods and minimal tools. Collecting seeds, division, and stem cuttings will all result in vigorously growing plants that are ready to be planted in the garden within one or possibly two growing seasons.

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Methods To Propagate Bee Balm

Dividing the crown and root ball of bee balm is the quickest method to multiply your stock. The plants are ready to be transplanted immediately in the garden or can be held in 1-gallon pots for later planting. A slower propagation method is to take stem cuttings. Bee balm roots fairly easily from cuttings and can generally be planted in the garden the following year. 

Collecting seeds is a great way to start many plants at once, although the resulting plants may look different from the parent plant. This is especially true of seeds collected from hybrid cultivars. Some gardeners enjoy the challenge of crossing different cultivars and developing new varieties of bee balm.  

What You Need To Propagate Bee Balm

For cuttings: A cold frame for overwintering new cuttings is helpful and must be ventilated regularly on sunny or warm days. Use a peat-free potting mix or 100% perlite, and select pots with excellent drainage and preferably made of plastic to hold moisture in longer. Rooting hormone is optional for easy-to-root plants such as bee balm. 

For seeds: Bee balm seeds require cold stratification for proper germination, which makes this plant great for starting outdoors on trays over the winter. A cold frame will minimize frost, while allowing for stratification. Other sheltered locations near the house or under protective structures work as well. 

Seed trays or small 2-3 inch pots filled with a seed starting mix are ideal for growing new seedlings until they are large enough to handle and plant in larger containers. Bee balm needs light for germination but does not require artificial lighting when it is started outdoors. A thin layer of seed starting mix will protect the seed and allow plenty of light. 

Watering the containers from the bottom helps prevent the displacement of the seed. Use shallow plastic bins or solid seed tray holders for bottom watering until the seedlings have grown. 

For division: Narrow transplanting spades are good for digging up as much of the root system as possible. A hand trowel can be used to divide newly emerging plants in the spring as the stems will be short. A folding garden saw or sharp hori hori knife makes dividing the root ball easy. 

Prepare the planting site beforehand so the divisions can be planted immediately. Divisions that need to wait for a new planting area can be kept in pots for many weeks if they are placed in part sun and given regular watering, either natural or supplemental.

Best Time To Propagate Bee Balm

For cuttings: Cuttings taken from mid to late summer are most successful. Only take cuttings from nonblooming stems and healthy plants. The new plants may take up to 2 years to bloom and will be ready to transplant into the garden the following growing season.

For seeds: Seeds will form 2-3 weeks after the flowers have been pollinated. Wait until the seed heads are brown, and collect the mature seed heads in brown paper bags, allowing them to finish drying indoors. The dry seeds can be placed in paper envelopes, labeled, and kept in a dry and dark spot at or just below room temperature. 

Late summer is a good time to sow the seeds outdoors, so that they are ready to germinate in the early spring. The seeds can also be kept in the refrigerator, in their envelopes, over the winter. Start these seeds 6 weekends before the last frost date in spring. Blooming will occur one to two years after transplanting. 

For division: Bee balm can be divided early in the spring or late in the summer. Warmer zones will have better success dividing bee balm anywhere from late summer to late fall, when the temperatures are cooler. Supplemental watering will be required for newly divided plants. Fertilize divided plants the following year after transplanting according to your normal schedule. 

Steps To Propagate Bee Balm

Division of plants is the easiest and most dependable method for propagating bee balm. The plants are guaranteed to be identical to the parent and can be immediately planted in the garden. 

Step 1 - Prepare the new location for transplants, ensuring it has full-to-part sun exposure and well-draining soil. 

Step 2 - Using a long-handled spade or hand trowel, dig up a large area of the clump you would like to divide. Bee balm spreads by underground rhizomes and makes dense but shallow mats of roots. Include as much of the rootball as possible when extracting the plants.

Step 3 - Gently tease apart the roots of the clump and include 3 or more pieces of the crown (eye) for each division. Tightly growing clumps can be cut apart with a hori hori or pocket knife. 

Step 4 - Plant each division at the same depth it was growing on the mother plant. Gently tamp the soil down around the roots and crown to remove any large air pockets.

Step 5 - Water the plant in well, allowing excess liquid to soak into the soil.

Step 6 - Apply a 2-3-inch layer of organic material around the root zone to aid in moisture retention and help suppress weeds. 

Caring For Young Bee Balm

Newly divided bee balm plants will need slightly more attention than established plants in the garden. Supplemental watering is required until the plants are fully established. Provide 1 inch of water a week either natural or supplemental. Avoid fertilizing newly transplanted bee balm for at least the first year. Bee balm grows best when it is divided on a 2-3-year cycle to reinvigorate its root system and improve air circulation. 

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Author Robbin Small - Published 01-08-2024