Bee Balm (Monarda)
A female Ruby Throat Hummingbird feeds at a red Bee Balm flower in the garden.
Brillant beautiful Monarda lands in many places in my gardens as a favorite perennial. This easy to care for perennial has a lot going for it! Besides its easy care, it attracts nectar seeking hummingbirds, butterflies, honey bees and the humble bumble bee.
Monarda is commonly known as bee balm, but is also known as wild bergamot, bergamot mint, horsemint, wild oregano and Oswego tea. It comes in an array of pink, red, white and purple colors and some even have double-flowers.
Monarda is not to persnickety in our garden, but in hot climates light shade keeps the leaves from burning out and it does best if it isn’t allowed to dry out the first year while establishing its root system. Most Monarda varieties seem to adapt to most soil conditions, but bloom better in well-drained rich soil. Prepare planting site by loosening soil to the depth of 12-15 inches with a digging fork, then add a 2 to 4 inch layer of compost. Each spring add a new layer of compost to retain moisture. Remove spent flowers to keep plants looking tidy. After frost arrives in fall or winter, plants will die back to the ground and it’s time to cut back to one or two inches above soil line. Plants can be divided in early spring to keep them looking healthy and the bonus…More plants!
My favorite herb garden has a nice clump of Monarda of various sizes and colors. I suggest a chair nearby to take a few minutes and enjoy the bumblebees and other flying friends that come and visit! Now if that doesn’t relax you, I don’t know what would!
Monarda isn’t just for looks though, it’s a fabulous remedy for a sore throat. Harvest a handful of leaves and flowers and let them wilt. Once they have wilted (12 hours will work), infuse/submerge them into some local raw honey and let them sit for at least 4 weeks. Strain out the plant material after the four weeks and transfer honey into a dry bottle and label. Take 1-2 teaspoons as needed for sore throats and coughs.
Bugleweed is another name for the easy to grow ground cover Ajuga. It loves full sun unless you live in a very hot and dry climate, then plant it in the shade and full shade is just fine! The foliage will tend to grow smaller in full sun, but will produce more flower spikes then in shade. Ajuga tolerates clay soil that is dry or moist and a wide soil pH range as well. It’s a semi-evergreen perennial, plus Ajuga is easy to propagate. It’s hardy in zones 3 to 9. So why not plant it?
Growing up, my mother planted ‘Bronze Beauty’ bugleweed all over the yard and now I know why…It did fantastic in that hard compacted clay soil and needed little care. Ajuga was never a favorite of mine until I found a few varieties that really hit the spot and now I find myself poking them in areas that need a little ground coverage to fill in and soften the look. I’m now hooked! I have my favorites though, Bronze Beauty not being top of my list however…Perhaps because it is so common and I like a little twist on things. Top favorite is ‘Black Scallop’. It has dark, almost black, large succulent leaves that look like you could eat them. The leaves stay glossy as well…even with our hard water! But it really likes shade and stays beautiful in my HOT climate there. Second Fav is ‘Burgundy Glow’. It has a variegated leaves with shades of greens, white and burgundy. Truly a beautiful ground cover! It will give you a little color splash in a shade garden. ‘Chocolate Chip’ is a fun name for an Ajuga, but it’s more than that. It has elongated leaves that are skinnier than others and it does have a chocolate color to it.
Burgundy Glow Ajuga
Black Scallop Ajuga
Chocolate Chip Ajuga
All these varieties do well in pots as a filler/spiller. They will hang nicely over the edges in no time. But keep Ajuga watered well in pots, as they are not as drought tolerant when grown in a pot as they are in the ground. Ajuga will bloom from spring to summer, sending up flowers of blue, pink or white, depending on the variety. Divide clumps in the spring or fall after two or three years. Just find the new crowns around the mother plant and slice down between them lifting the dirt and roots together. Share with a friend, neighbor or plant in a bare spot in the yard. We have seen many lawns of Ajuga and people just mow them like a regular ole’ lawn in areas that may be hard to grow grass, such as under dense mulberry trees. If non variegated foliage appears on variegated Ajuga, they should be removed to prevent the plant to reverting back to its original green form. Adding a little compost and fertilize in the early spring is about all you need to get this easy ground cover off and running!
Anise Hyssop Flowering
It’s Fall! Well not technically, but around here when the monsoons come in and the temps cool just a little and mornings are crisp, I know it’s time to start planting fall crops, whether it be vegetables, herbs, annual or perennial flowers. Anise hyssop is first on my list. It’s a member of Agastache genus and is a favorite herb to attract hummingbirds. But more than that it’s a great mosquito repellant plant (perfect for fall monsoon weather). Bees love Anise Hyssop! I see bees hover over its flowers more than any other herb in the garden. Any help with pollination in the garden these days…I’m on it!
Agastache (Anise Hyssop) comes in a variety of colors from purple-blue to the ornamental varieties coral, apricot and pink. Culinary Anise Hyssop makes a delicious tea. The leaves and blossoms can both be used and they have the fragrance of anise. Add the leafy stem to flavor a pitcher of water. Scatter the blossoms over a cooked vegetable like beets, or a plate of slice peaches. Add color to a lettuce salad. Be creative.
Anise Hyssop is a very showy plant, blooming from June to September. Giving a bit of care by deadheading will insure larger blooms for a longer duration. Some plants will reach 32 inches tall or taller and they make a great accent in the background of herb or perennial beds. Once established, Anise Hyssop is very drought tolerant and most varieties are hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant is a winner in my book because it’s soil needs are minimal. Good soil drainage and a little compost upon planting is all it seems to need. A great plant for dry-land gardeners. You can also divide in the early spring with ease.
Anise Hyssop Tea: Bruise a small handful of leaves by crumpling them in your hand, then add to a teapot, pour boiling water over the leaves, cover the pot and let it steep for 10 minutes. Easy as tea!
Years ago when we put up our first greenhouse, I wanted to start every herb I could get my hands on from seed. Joe-Pye Weed was agonizing. I could never get it to germinate. Perhaps the seed was old. Year after year I would buy more seed only to fail over and over. On one of our vacations we stopped at a small nursery in Moab Utah on the way home and there it was! Joe-Pye Weed! It was towering out its one gallon pot with its huge pink flower heads. I was in love and of course it come home with us along with many other plants from cute little nurseries on our travels…. And now that I have my specimen, I have no problems starting it from seed.
A little history; Joe-Pye Weeds botanical name is Eupatorium. It is also known as Boneset, Purple Boneset and Gravel Root. The King of Pontus, Mithridates Eupator discovered the use of this plant as a medicinal tonic and it was named after him, “Eupatorium”. Joe-Pye, its common name comes from the name of an Indian name Jopi who used it medicinally as well. It has been used to relief pain of the fever, break-bone fever, to fight typus, to dissolve kidney stones and an affective diuretic. Its quiet bitter to taste.
The roots are the parts used for making tinctures and can be harvested at anytime, but it’s best harvested in the late fall for the strongest qualities. Harvesting should be done after this perennial has been in the ground for two years.
Joe-Pye Weed is easily grown in full sun, moisture-retaining, but well drained soil. When grown in a shady spot it can get floppy. It is an excellent showy fall blooming plant that should be grown in the back of flower beds, reaching over six foot tall. It pairs beautifully with Snow on the Mountain and Goldenrod. Moderate fertility is enough to feed this awesome performer. Joe-Pye Weed does better when the soil isn’t allowed to dry out. It can be become rather scruffy and tattered looking if it doesn’t get enough water. It forms huge flower heads ranging from a light pink to a deeper rose-purple depending on the variety.
This plant is not flashy as a small immature plant in pots. We grow this every year for our nursery and most people snub it off. Perhaps it’s the name that has “weed” in it that turns their noses, but come summer time and they see it in our demo herb bed, most everyone says with great excitement, “what is that plant?”. It’s not a weed or invasive so even if you don’t have typhus or kidney stones, but have a sunny location, you might want to give Mr. Joe-Pye Weed a spot in your landscape!