Beautiful Bee Balm

Even though the grasses of the prairie are drying up and seed heads are ripening, creeping quietly beneath it all is bee balm – still green and growing. I have stumbled on to quite a bit of it around our grounds as I begin to hang Christmas lights through the gardens. I can tell when I am tromping through a patch of bee balm because of the fresh, minty smell the crushed leaves exude. Extremely hardy and adaptive, monarda species stay green long into fall and early winter. Bee balm is a timeless prairie flower, and an excellent performer in the landscape.
Here are some tips to getting the most from your Monarda!

Monarda fistulosa flower, photographed by Brad Guhr

Know Before You Grow

Though bee balm is quite adaptable, each species has its preferences and will thrive in specific environments. Monarda fistulosa, for example, is native to much of North America and thrives in full to part sun conditions. You may have heard this plant referred to as wild bergamot or Oswego tea. This is the species you are most likely to find in the prairies of eastern Kansas. Monarda didyma, however, prefers a much shadier and protected environment. This type of bee balm is native to eastern regions of the US and cannot handle our full Kansas sun. There are countless varieties of bee balm, specially made to fit any color scheme or garden space. Just be sure to check the parentage of the cultivar to know what its true growth habits are.

‘Cherry Pops’ Bee Balm. Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Not Just For Bees

As I mentioned earlier, Monarda species often have common names that refer to its culinary use. It is sometimes called wild bergamot because of its aroma, reminiscent of bergamot orange oil in Earl Grey tea. The use of bee balm as a tea has a long history within the nations of Native Americans, for its pleasant taste and medicinal properties. I have personally had tea made from bee balm growing right here on the Arboretum grounds, and I love the warm, spicy flavor. I have even seen people use the flowers as cake decorations and in salads! Do your research and be sure you have edible species of bee balm growing in your garden before you decide to make any herbal concoctions of your own.

Monarda seed heads in winter add lovely texture to the landscape.

The Mildew Dilemma

One of bee balm’s fatal flaws is its tendency to contract powdery mildew. This is a fungal disease that causes the leaves to look as if they have been dusted with powdered sugar. This affliction causes leaves to twist and break off, and can lead to quite a bit of defoliation. It usually doesn’t harm the health of the plant, but can make it look a little sickly through the growing season. There are lots of ways to treat this issue, from conscientious watering to chemical options, as well as low-cost low-impact homemade remedies. Even though Monarda is so susceptible to this disease, it still stays in my top list of landscape plants because of its floriforus habit, aromatic leaves and pollinator attraction. As you see in the photo above, it even looks nice in the winter when the globe-shaped seed heads make their debut!

Katie’s Plant Picks: Mint Family

Working in the Arboretum greenhouse is a terrible temptation. I love my perennial garden at home and I never stop adding new specimens, so our selection of natives and adaptables this year is a treasure trove for me. I must truly exercise some self control to prevent my entire paycheck from turning into wildflowers. Until I win the lottery or inherit a rich uncle’s fortune, I will have to just pick a few favorites!

If you, like me, have a fond eye for every flower, then it may be helpful to guide your shopping this year by selecting a plant family to collect. Researching a scientific plant family and finding those species native to your area can help lend a theme to your garden, add cohesiveness, and curtail your wild garden spirit.

This year I am going to plant from the mint family, Lamiaceae, or formerly, Labiatae. Lucky for me, our upcoming sale has lots of gorgeous options!

A red variety of bee balm shown with solidago (Left) and a light purple monarda fistulosa (Right)

A red variety of bee balm shown with solidago (Left) and a light purple Monarda fistulosa (Right). Bee balm is part of the mint family.

Family Traits

Lamiaceae (lame-ee-ay-see-ee or lame-ee-ay-see-ii) is a large plant family with of over 3500 species. In science lingo, families are groupings of plant genera – a fancy way to say that these plants share common traits. A tell-tale sign of a mint family member is a strong aroma from the leaves, be it traditionally minty or not. These plants are some of the most valuable aromatic, culinary and medicinal crops in the world – rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, salvia, hyssop, bee balm, and lavender are all a part of this big family.

Mint family plants commonly have square stems and flowers with bilateral symmetry (top and bottom do not match but sides mirror each other). The pictures in this post will hopefully help you to recognize some of the common traits shared among the mint family, and soon you will be identifying mint family species on your own!

Following are my top mint family picks from our plant sale, along with a list of varieties available.

Agastache 'Raspberry Summer' (left) Salvia azurea (right)

Agastache ‘Raspberry Summer’ (left)                                                                       Salvia azurea (right)

My Plant Picks

One of my top picks from the mint family is agastache, commonly known as hyssop or hummingbird mint. It thrives in sun and heat and its leaves emanate a wonderfully minty scent. Its tubular flowers attract hummingbirds to the garden. We are offering it in yellow, orange, blue, violet, and pink – perfect for whatever color combination you can dream up! Blooming from early summer to late fall, agastache is a showstopper year after year in the landscape.

A. foeniculumAgastache ‘Kudos Yellow’ ‘Kudos Coral’ ‘Raspberry Summer’ ‘Summer Sunset’
‘Summer Love’ ‘Blue Boa’ ‘Violet Visions’

Salvia is another sun loving flower that I will be adding to my garden this year. Pictured above is a native variety, growing as tall as 5 feet in the right conditions. Salvias come in all shapes and sizes; mound forming, tall and showy, wispy, etc., and many different colors. Their long flowering spikes add nice movement in the breezy garden and are beloved by butterflies. The sale will have saturated deep blues and magenta available, as well as lighter tones, pink and lavender.

S. azurea ‘Grandiflora’ – S. pitcherii ‘Nekan’ – S. greggii ‘ Furman’s Red’ ‘Ultra Violet’ – S. nemerosa Violet Riot’ ‘Pink Dawn’ ‘Crystal Blue’ ‘Caradonna’ – S. macrophylla ‘Hot Lips’ ‘Windwalker Royal Red’

If you love the smell of Earl Grey tea then monarda is for you! Commonly called bee balm or wild bergamot (because of its similar fragrance to Citrus bergamia, source of earl grey tea), the leaves of this plant release their pleasant aroma every time you water or brush past. This year we are offering many different varieties of monarda, some native and others hybridized, in various shades of red and purple.

M. fistulosaM. didyma ‘Pardon My Pink’ ‘Pardon My Purple’ ‘Pardon My Cerise’ ‘Leading Lady Plum’ ‘Grape Gumball’ ‘Lilac Lolipop ‘ ‘Cotton Candy’  ‘Cherry Pops’ ‘Rockin Raspberry’

It’s hard to only pick a few when we have so many ‘minty’ options! More than just the three discussed here, we also have catmint (Nepeta sp.), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and lavender (Lavendula ‘Phenomenol’), and many more. If you come to the sale, you know where to find me – hovering near the mint family plants, sniffing away!

 

Some information fact checked at http://delta-intkey.com/angio/www/labiatae.htm
Photos from Dyck Arboretum archives and Walter’s Gardens media resources.

 

 

 

 

Scott’s Top Ten Sun-Loving Plants for Spring 2015

One of the themes this spring for planting is diversity.  By planting a diversity of wildflowers and grasses in your garden, you will attract many different forms of wildlife, including pollinators and birds.  A wide variety of plants blooming at different times of the year will provide interest and beauty throughout the growing season.

As we have been busily getting ready for the plant sale this week, I can’t help but notice the diversity of plants available this spring.  There are so many wonderful plants to choose and incorporate into a landscape setting.

Here are my top sun-loving plants for the spring sale:

Asclepias_viridis

Green Antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis)

This is the 2015 Kansas Native Plant Society wildflower of the year.  It grows 18 to 24 inches tall with green flowers in May and June.  It loves full sun and thrives in dry prairies.  Monarchs use milkweeds as a host plants.  Grow this species or any other milkweeds to increase habitat for the perilous populations of monarchs.


Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’

It is beautiful in flower and foliage.  In early spring, the whitish-pink tubular flowers emerge.  Bees and even hummingbirds flock to these flowers to sip the sweet nectar.  Not only is it attractrive when blooming but the maroon-purple foliage adds interest the rest of the year.  A plant for the front of a border that is attractive at many different seasons of the year.


Blue Grama Blonde Ambition

Blue Grama, Boutleoua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

I was blown away by this grass last summer.  It looked fantastic with the airy golden flowers all summer.  The horizontal eyelash-like flowers wave in the wind atop the fine blue-green foliage.  It grows effortlessly in any sunny site and just about any soil.  Great in mass plantings or along borders edges.  Quite the dramatic, unique grass.


Vernonia Iron Butterfly

Ironplant, Vernonia lettermanii ‘Iron Butterfly’

I have grown to appreciate the toughness of this wildflower.  This selection found in Arkansas has fine foliage like Amsonia hubrichtii but stays more compact.  The dark purple flowers cover the entire plant in late summer attracting pollinators by the herd.  It thrives in hot dry locations.  When other plants are wilting, it is performing like a champ.


Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Arkansas Bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii

I have put this plant on my top ten list just about every year because it is a great plant.  Sky blue flowers in spring develop atop stems with narrow leaves that whorl the stem.  Each plant can grow about three feet tall and three feet wide.  The real show is in the fall as the entire plant turns a beautiful golden yellow.  Plant in mass or alone in the middle of the border.  A garden worthy plant that should be used more.


Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’

This is a new and improved form of native Little Bluestem.  It colors up beautifully in the early fall but the iridescent silver-mauve foliage from spring to fall is eye-catching. Growing stiffly upright, this grass reaches three to four feet tall by the end of summer.  Plant as a backdrop for other perennials because the foliage is a wonderful complement.  Great native grass for interesting foliage and form.


Photo courtesy Terra Nova Nursery.

Photo courtesy Terra Nova Nursery.

Agastache ‘Raspberry Summer’

What an awesome perennial!  The large, dark raspberry pink blooms cover this plant all summer and into fall.  Pollinators flock to the blooms and make the plant come alive with activity.  Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.


ArbFlowers 143

Yellow Purple Coneflower Echinacea paradoxa

A yellow purple coneflower is a paradox.  However, it is tough and beautiful.  The flowers emerge in May and June with long yellow ray petals.  It grows best in full sun, ultimately reaching 3-4 feet tall.  Mix with native grasses like Little Bluestem or Switchgrass to showcase the attractive seedheads later in the year.


Solidago ‘Little Lemon’               Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries 

Solidago “Little Lemon’

Goldenrods get a bad rap for causing allergies.  Actually, they don’t cause your allergies in the fall – that is the fault of the ragweed pollen instead.  So now that you know that tid-bit of information, you can plant this dwarf goldenrod in your garden.  It grows to 12 inches tall and mixes well with short grasses along a border or edge.  Plant in full sun for best results.


Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Beebalm Monarda ‘Cherry Pops’

Brilliant cherry-red flowers cover this new bee balm in midsummer.  The well-branched plants have clean mildew-resistant foliage creating a compact mound.  Each nectar sweet flower attracts hosts of pollinators throughout the summer.  Great new form for the front of a border or along a sidewalk.


It is time to get these plants in the ground.  The beneficial rains of the past few weeks have really got me itching to plant some of these varieties this spring.  There are so many beautiful plants that are worth trying.  Hopefully, you will have a chance to stop by the plant sale, take a look and give some of them a try in your own garden.