Bergamot is one of the common names for flowering plants in the Monarda Genus. The Genus includes many different species of Monarda, including both annual and herbaceous perennial plants. A popular garden plant, Bergamot is a magnet for honey bees and other pollinators, attracting them in droves to the garden. Learn how to grow Bergamot, or Monarda, and fill your garden with these interesting and fragrant plants.
Bergamot was one of the first perennials that I grew in my first garden.
When I first grew this scented plant I referred to it as Bee Balm, which is yet another common name that can be used for all of the Monarda species. It’s not hard to tell why it would have been given this name, as it certainly attracts many bees to the flowers when it is in bloom.
Along with bees and beneficial insects, hummingbirds, butterflies, and hummingbird moths are frequent visitors to Bergamot blooms, and love to dine on the rich nectar.
Let’s have a look at Bergamot, and some of the reasons to grow it in the garden.
What Is Bergamot?
Bergamot is a member of the mint family, or Family Lamiaceae. It belong to the Genus Monarda.
Within the Genus there are approximately 21 different species of Monarda, many of which are wild bergamot plants, as well as about 50 different hybrid cultivars from hybridization efforts.
Bergamot is just one of the common names for the many Monarda species. Other common names of these plants include Bee Balm, as mentioned, as well as Horsemint and Oswego Tea.
The name Oswego tea is related to the use of bergamot as a tea, originally by the Native Americans in Oswego New York.
A native North American plant, Bergamot has long been grown in gardens, and has a long history of ornamental, culinary and medicinal use.
Bergamot is a summer flowering plant with a bloom time of approximately two months during the growing season. The bloom time is dependent on the species or cultivar.
You can prolong bloom time for Bergamot as well by deadheading the plant.
Some newer hybrids can have an earlier bloom time, such as Monarda “Leading Lady”, which is a disease resistant variety which blooms 2 to 3 weeks earlier than other varieties.
Like other members of the mint family, Bergamot likes to spread, densely growing and filling in the area in which it is planted.
- Bergamot are summer blooming fragrant flowers.
- The blooms grow on multi-branched square stems.
- The flowers of the many Bergamot species have similar long tubular flowers, that burst from the centre of the blooms in a firework-like display.
- The flower heads begin as small blooms which grow larger in size as they mature. The tubular flowers on the flower head begin blooming in the centre, and gradually work their way out towards the edges the blooms.
- The flowers are fragrant, and when you brush up against them they release a citrusy smell.
- Bergamot flowers are edible, and can be used in salads and as an interesting garnish. The flowers have a strong peppery flavour, which can become more enhanced with the drier the condition of the flowers.
- Just like other members of the mint family, Bergamot leaves grow opposite each other. These opposite leaves grow along a square and hollow stem, which is a common trait of the mint family.
- Bergamot leaves are green in colour and have a slightly serrated edging.
- The leaves are highly fragrant with a strong aroma, and when crushed smell like oregano.
- Dried leaves can be used to make tea.
- The seeds of bergamot are small, oval shaped, and tan coloured.
- Seed length is approximately 1.5 mm.
- The perennial varieties of Bergamot seeds will benefit from seed stratification for germination, which can be achieved by winter sowing, or direct planting in fall or early spring to allow exposure to frost.
Popular Bergamot Varieties
There are a few species that are great to grow for the garden space. These include:
Monarda Hybrida – Bee Balm “Lambada”
Monarda Lambada is an easy to grow annual, growing to three feet in height during the growing season.
The blooms are dramatic in appearance, with whorls of purple flowers which appear stacked in tiers upon each other along the stem.
Best grown in full sun, start this flower from seeds indoors at least 6 to 8 weeks before your last spring frost. Transplant out into the garden after hardening off.
Grown as a cut flower in our garden, this plant takes approximately four months to grow from seed to mature bloom. The plant itself makes a wonderful filler plant, and is a great addition to flower arrangements.
Just as with the perennial species, Monarda hybrids have the same flower form along with the familiar scent of oregano from both the blooms and the leaves.
The best time to harvest the blooms for cutting is earlier or later in the day, or during the cooler parts of the day. If picked during the hottest part of the day the stems have a tendency to wilt.
Long lasting in the vase and with proper conditioning, the cut flowers will last for approximately 7 to 10 days.
Monarda Fistulosa -Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm
Wild Bergamot is a native perennial wild flower with tubular flowers in shades of pink and lavender. This is a hardy species of Monarda.
The blooms appear in late summer on strong stems which bear fragrant and aromatic leaves. The leaves themselves can be used to make a tea.
The flower stems grow to be approximately three feet in height or taller, depending on planting location. Plant width is approximately eighteen inches.
M. fistulosa is very attractive to pollinators and therefore an excellent plant for the pollinator garden.
Best grown in full sun, although it will tolerate some shade.
Wild Bergamot is able to adapt to and tolerate drier soil conditions than some other varieties, however will still benefit from watering during the summer heat.
These plants tend to fill in quite densely within several years, so divide the plant every three years if possible for best blooming.
Monarda Didyma -Bee Balm, Bergamot
This species of Monarda is another perennial, hardy in USDA growing zones 4 to 9.
The flowers are tubular and each tube seems to burst from the centre of the flower like fireworks.
This Bergamot is available in many colour variations, ranging from bright reds and pinks, purples, whites, and blues, and is often grown as an ornamental.
Give lots of space between plants when planting in the garden to allow for good air flow between plants to prevent powdery mildew, a common plant problem.
Eighteen inches between plants would be considered a good spacing distance.
Monarda Punctada- Spotted Bee Balm, Spotted Horsemint
Another native plant, Spotted Bee Balm is a short lived perennial species which is very easy to grow. Due to the short lived nature of the plant it is sometimes grown as an annual.
This plant is easy to grow from seed and will establish in the garden for a short period of time.
The blooms are very attractive and unusual, with a speckling colouration on flowers adding to it’s distinctive look, and giving it the common name of “Spotted Bee Balm”.
The blooms are tiered on each stem, with multiple blooms growing atop each other along the stem, just as with Bee Balm Lombada.
A long blooming bergamot species, the blooms on Spotted Bee Balm last for two to three months.
Considering the benefits to the pollinators and beneficial insects, this plant in particular is a good one to have in the pollinator garden.
Is Bergamot Easy To Grow?
Bergamot is very easy to grow, and can be propagated from seed or plant division.
The plant can sometimes develop powdery mildew, especially if grown in climates with a lot of humidity.
Powdery mildew can be treated with a fungicide, as well as pruning to allow for good air circulation around the plants.
Propagation Of Bergamot
Bergamot can be propagated from seed, division, and basal stem cuttings.
How To Grow Bergamot From Seed
Growing Bergamot from seed is easy, especially if growing annual or Wild Bergamot, as these seeds are more easily accessible.
Winter Sowing Bergamot
Winter sowing perennial bergamot seeds is great for natural stratification.
This planting process is an easy one, and frees up space on the indoor shelves for the more cold sensitive plants.
The thing that I love about winter sowing is that it is more or less “set and forget”. Plant the seeds in their little winter growing jugs, place them outside, and then wait until spring.
Now, you will have to transplant them after they grow, however they will already be hardened off and ready to transplant.
Steps To Winter Sow Bergamot:
- Recycle a milk or juice jug, wash it out well, cut in half, and poke drainage holes in the bottom.
- Full the lower half of the jug with a soilless potting mix, and pat the mix down.
- Sprinkle the seeds over the mix, and just barely cover.
- Label the jug with the seed name, on both the inside and outside of the jug.
- Tape the jug back together with a good duct tape.
- Leave the cap off the top of the jug to allow moisture of all types to enter the jug: ie snow, rain etc.
- Place outside in an uncovered area in winter.
- When the timing is just right, the seeds will germinate at a time that is perfect for your own hardiness zone.
Direct Sowing Bergamot
Direct sowing is similar to winter sowing, in that it exposes the seeds to the outdoor elements.
In the case of direct sowing however, the seeds are directly sown into the garden, in the spot where you plan to grow them.
Generally there will be no need to transplant the direct seeded plants after they start to grow. This is a benefit of direct sowing, and makes it much less stressful for the plants.
Direct sow perennial Bergamot seeds in late fall or early spring, into a prepared bed in the garden. Exposure to some frost will help with the seed germination.
Annual Bergamot seeds on the other hand are best started indoors. Although these seeds can be direct sown into the garden, they should not be exposed to frost.
If direct seeding annual bergamot, it is best done in an area with a longer growing season, and after the risk of all frost has passed.
To Direct Sow Bergamot:
- To direct sow, sprinkle the seeds over the prepared garden bed.
- Keep the area moist until germination occurs.
- The natural elements will help with the moisture.
- Germination can take anywhere from 10 to 40 days.
- If sown during the cold and freezing temperatures, germination will occur when the weather warms up in spring.
Starting Bergamot From Seed Indoors
Growing Bergamot from seed indoors is best for the annual Monarda Hybrida “Lambada”.
Wild bergamot can also be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before planting out.
To Grow Bergamot From Seeds Indoors:
- Fill cell trays with soilless medium.
- Make a small indent in the top of each cell with your finger, into which to drop the small seed.
- Place a seed into each cell of the cell tray.
- Lightly cover with vermiculite.
- Bottom water the tray thoroughly, and remember to keep moist throughout the germination process.
- Provide bottom heat on a heat mat until sixty percent seed germination is achieved.
- Grow on under lights until it’s time to harden off and transplant out into the garden.
- Harden off the seedlings, then transplant into the garden once the risk of all frost has passed in spring.
Growing Bergamot From Division
The best way to propagate Bergamot is through plant division in spring.
The process is fairly easy to do:
- In early spring before the bergamot plant begins to bloom, dig down around the plant with a sharp shovel.
- Dig up pieces of the root ball, ensuring that you have roots attached to the stems which you have removed from the plant.
- Replant the divisions into small pots, or into a new space in the garden.
- Water in well and keep the division moist while it becomes reestablished.
- If planted into pots, transplant the divisions back into the garden when there is evidence of good growth.
Growing Bergamot From Basal Stem Cuttings
Many herbaceous perennials can be propagated from basal stem cuttings, and perennial Bergamot is no exception.
- Take cuttings from strong stem shoots emerging in spring, taking part of the woody basal tissue in the cutting.
- Trim off lower leaves.
- Dip the stems in rooting hormone, and place in a pot with drainage holes in a soilless mix.
- Firm the soilless medium around the cuttings, and water thoroughly.
- Place in a warm location out of direct sunlight.
- Keep the soil moist while root development is occurring.
- Generally cuttings will be well rooted in about a month.
Does Bergamot Come Back Every Year?
Perennial bergamot should return to the garden year after year.
Annual bergamot, such as Bee Balm Lambada, will have to be replanted every year.
Collect the seeds from the annual plants at the end of the season to save for next year.
How Long Does It Take Bergamot To Grow?
The length of time it takes for bergamot to grow and bloom is dependent on the maturity of the Bergamot plant, as well as the species of the plant.
If growing a perennial species from seed, you will generally not have blooms until the second year. This is common with most perennials.
If growing a perennial species from division however you are more apt to get earlier blooms.
In both cases the plant will require energy for growing and establishing in the garden, which is diverted from bloom production. A new division however does have the potential to bloom in the same season that it is planted.
Annual Bee Balm Lambada will bloom in the season that it is planted. Give the plant a head start to the blooming season by starting the flower seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date in spring.
Bergamot Planting And Care
- Most Bergamot are hardy to usda growing zones 4 to 9.
- Bergamot will tolerate many different soil conditions, and can even grow in clay soil.
- For best results and for most floriferous blooming, grow in a fertile well drained soil.
- When planting, space plants at least 18 inches apart to promote good air flow between each plant at maturity.
- These plants grow best in full sun, however will tolerate some partial shade. Bergamot may have less blooms in a more shaded location.
- For best results provide at least six to eight hours of full sun per day if grown in a partial sun location during the growing season.
- Bergamot likes an evenly moist soil in the garden.
- Regular watering is important when the plants are getting established in the garden.
- Some of the wild Bergamot species can be more drought tolerant once established.
- Deadhead blooms during active growth to prolong bloom time.
- Once the flowers have finished blooming and are spent, cutting or pruning back the stems will help with air flow around the plant, and help to prevent powdery mildew.
- Cut back the stems, down to where there is new growth visible on the stem.
- You can cut back approximately two thirds of stem length, which will clean up the look of the plant as well as stimulate new growth.
Bergamot As A Cut Flower
Many of the Monarda species can be used as cut flowers. The main use of Bergamot as a cut flower in arrangements is as a filler flower.
The swords of tubular flowers add an interesting touch to flower arrangements.
The fragrant foliage makes an excellent filler for empty spaces .
Harvest bergamot in the cooler parts of the day, and hydrate after cutting to help prevent wilting. Harvest at the stage when the petals are just opening and begin to turn from green to coloured, for longest vase life.
As with any cut flowers, using post harvest conditioning will also prolong vase life of the flowers.
Bergamot flowers as well can be dried and preserved, and used as a fragrant potpourri.
Is Bergamot Deer Resistant?
Bergamot is deer and rabbit resistant, due the the strong flavour and aroma of the leaves and flowers.
Growing Bergamot in the garden is fun and easy, and a great choice for the garden space.
Perfect for cottage gardens with their informal appearance, bee balm plants have multiple uses.
This native flower can be grown as an ornamental, and is perfect for flower beds and perennial borders. It can also be grown in the herb garden, with both herbal and culinary uses.
There are a variety of Monarda species that are popular for the gardening space. These include ornamental perennial hybrids, Wild Bergamot, as well the annual variety “Lambada”.
The flowers are interesting, colourful and fragrant. I love how they are edible and can be used as a garnish.
A common problem is powdery mildew, although this disease can be managed with proper care.
The best part of growing these plants however is all of the pollinators that they attract to the garden.
It is always a good choice to grow native plants whenever you can for the pollinators and ecosystem.
From hummingbirds and butterflies, to the bees and other pollinators, Bergamot plants are a valuable food source in the garden space.
Have you tried to grow Bergamot in your garden? Be sure to share your experience below!