Monday, September 14, 2015

Bee happy...plant bee balm (far away from other plants)

My spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata, is a hub of activity. Bees and beneficial wasps are constantly flying in and around the plant’s speckled lavender-pink blossoms. The blooming period for this herbaceous perennial also known as horsemint is August through September.

A carpenter bee snuggles up to a spotted bee balm blossom

This is my first year growing spotted bee balm. Last August, my daughter Amber and I found a patch of the Florida native wildflower growing along the shoulder of a bumpy dirt road. We pulled over, uprooted a couple young plants and took them home for our own gardens.

While my intentions were good, my follow-through was not. The plan — it’s so easy to make plans — was to pot up my rescued plant (I kept one and Amber kept the other) in a small container. Once it had recovered from the shock of uprooting, I intended to transplant it directly into the soil.

I had no trouble doing the first part. I potted up the bee balm — it was quite small at the time — and I placed the container in a garden bed next to the garage where several other plants were already growing. However, as the weeks went by, projects kept popping up and I never got around to transplanting bee balm into a permanent spot in the ground.

As it turns out, spotted bee balm is a forgiving plant. Not only is it attractive to bees and pollinating wasps, it’s also tolerant of neglectful gardeners.

That single uprooted seedling is now a behemoth bush despite the fact that its base remains encased in a black plastic pot. 

Recently I attempted to remove the pot but was unable to do so because the plant’s roots had broken through the container’s bottom anchoring it to the ground. My small pot of spotted bee balm has turned into a sprawling shrub about three feet wide and three feet tall. It looks quite at home.

That may be a problem.

Like all other members of the mint family, spotted bee balm is a strong-willed plant that tends to dominate space. Once it puts down roots, it has a way of taking over. That’s why the wise place to plant bee balm far away from other plants.

Unfortunately, my bee balm is not growing all by itself. I unwittingly set it down in a garden bed already occupied by several succulents, bugleweed and a young pineapple, plants I’d like to keep. However, from the way the bee balm is sprawling, it will soon spread over and smother its neighbors unless I intervene.

Spotted bee balm infringing upon space allocated to the succulent Stapelia gigantea 

My plan — here I go again with plans — is to leave the spotted bee balm where it is until it stops blooming at the end of September. At that point, I intend to severely prune its branches before relocating it to a new spot. This time, assuming I follow through on my intentions, I’ll take it out of the pot and place it in a bed of its own where it can sprawl as much as it wants without infringing on any other plants’ space.

I like spotted bee balm because it attracts so many pollinators to the yard. I like that it’s an easy plant to grow, unbothered by pests, tolerant of dry conditions and accepting of poor soil. I like that its flowers are pretty and that it has a fragrant scent. I also like it because it proves a point: If you’re not careful in the garden, a plant may take over and when it does, other plants will suffer. If bee balm can teach me to be better at following through with my intentions, it will be a lesson well learned for gardening and for life in general.

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