Monarda – AKA bee balm, bergamot mint, and Oswego tea- is one of those plants I’ve had a love/hate relationship with. The perennial herb is beautiful- brightly colored blossoms on fragrant foliage- but not too long after it starts blooming it also starts developing powdery mildew in many years. These days, there are monardas which are mildew resistant. One of them, ‘Petite Delight’, is an especially charming one.
Monarda in general is a great plant. It attracts bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies like crazy. It doesn’t care what kind of soil it lives in, as long as it’s not sitting in mud all winter (ironically, it likes consistent moisture in summer). It’s dead easy to grow, and isn’t normally eaten by deer, rabbits, or rodents. And it’s useful; the minty, orangey scented foliage makes a good tea, and the flowers and leaves can be dried for potpourri.
While standard monardas grow to around three feet –occasionally more- in height, ‘Petite Delight’ stops at anywhere from 12” to 18”, making it perfect for containers and border edges. It grows more densely than standard monardas – very little bare soil showing when you look into the plant- and does not die out in the center nearly as fast. Of course there is a drawback: it doesn’t spread nearly as fast, either; which, if you’ve ever had to dig monarda out of peony plants every other year, might not be an exclusively bad thing. ‘Petite Delight’ has lots of full sized, lavender-pink double flowers and is covered in pollinators all the time. The foliage is a nice, neutral, gray green. Bred in Canada, ‘Petite Delight’ was the first dwarf monarda. Like all bee balms, it blooms from mid-summer on through fall.
Plant monardas with the crown just barely below soil level, in well-drained soil that doesn’t dry out much in summer. It will grow in full sun to partial shade; it will bloom heavier in full sun. Like all herbs, it doesn’t want to be over fertilized, and never use a high nitrogen (the first number on the bag or box of fertilizer) on it. Don’t expect much out of it the first year; it took three years to really get going for me. Now it’s a solid performer.
Monardas can be propagated by both division of the parent plant (just digging parts up and moving them) or by stem cuttings; cut a piece of stem below a leaf node and right above another leaf node, and place the cutting (right side up- it does matter!) in lightweight potting soil or perlite with more than half of the stem below ground. It will soon root, and then sprout new leaves. However, ‘Petite Delight’ is still under patent (it comes out of patent in 2019) and cannot be propagated legally, except by seeds. Seed grown plants may not come true from seed; you may get a tall, ordinary looking monarda or you might get the next breakthrough plant!