Apr 4, 2018 | Featured Web Article

Plant Bee Balm for Birds

A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a bee balm flower in her search for nectar. Photo by Wikimedia.
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Monarda enhances almost any yard dedicated to attracting birds. It is native to North America, and in the mint family. Garden shops and wildflower books use such names as "bergamot," "bee balm," "Oswego tea," and "horsemint" for the various Monarda species.

Monarda is a genus that includes both annual and perennial species, including about 20 wild, native varieties, and dozens of cultivars. Every ecoregion in North America hosts at least one native Monarda species, although none thrives in dense forests or hot desert shrublands. Monarda plants grow best in sunny spots with moist but well-drained soil. Plants growing in partial shade spread, but produce fewer flowers.

Monarda is used in beds and borders to attract hummingbirds, pollinating insects, and insects that control garden pests. Some Monardas grow as annuals and must be replanted from seed every year. Others grow as perennials, producing clumps of slender rhizomes (underground stems).

Try to find a native variety that has historically grown wild in your part of the continent. It will thrive in your soil and climate with little care, and provide a natural feast for wild birds and pollinating insects.

Flower colors range from pale lavender-white to purple and from pale pinkish-white to deep red, depending on species.

Nectar attracts hummingbirds to the darker red and purple species. Moths favor the paler pink and lavender species. Most bees have short tongues and cannot reach the nectar in the long flower tubes.

As with all mints, the Monarda flower produces a fruit botanically defined as a "nutlet." Various sparrows readily eat the nutlets during winter months, and occasionally goldfinches and redpolls join in the feast. So don't deadhead Monarda! Let the dead flowers stay on the stems to feed birds in winter.

Some native Monarda species include:

  • M. bradburiana, eastern bee balm, native to the mid-Mississippi Valley
  • M. citrioddora, lemon bee balm, lemon-mint, native to the southern U.S.
  • M. clinopodia, white bergamot, basil bee balm, native to the eastern U.S., especially Appalachia
  • M. clinopodoides, basil bee balm, the southern Great Plains, Texas, Louisiana
  • M. didyma, Oswego tea, scarlet bee balm, fragrant balm, mountain mint, native to the eastern U.S., especially Appalachia
  • M. fistulosa, wild bergamot, horse mint, purple bee balm, native across much of the United States and Canada
  • M. media, purple bergamot, found across the eastern U.S. and Ontario


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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018