Plant combo of the week: Bee balm and ‘Karl Foerster’ grass

You knew it wouldn’t be long before I featured an ornamental grass in a “Plant Combo of the Week” post and you would be correct. This one is brutally simple with the two plants available at every garden center around.

I give you Monarda (Bee Balm) and Calamagrostis acutiflora (Feather Reed Grass) ‘Karl Foerster’.

This combo peeks in early summer when the Bee Balm is in full bloom and smelling deliciously minty and ‘Karl Foerster’ blooms have settled into their long lasting buff color.

Take a step back in my garden and you’ll see that I also have them matched up with Joe Pye Weed which blooms the latest of the three.

But we’ll keep it simple for now and keep Joe Pye Weed and my exquisite design skills out of it.

I’d love to tell you that I masterminded this pairing from the beginning but of course I didn’t. The Karl Foerster grasses have been in this location for years with the only upkeep being a quick trim to the ground in late winter. By that time, new signs of growth are already evident since Karl is a cool season grass.

I should add one more piece of maintenance. Every three years I divide these grasses¬†and as a result, have a ton throughout my garden. It couldn’t be an easier task and the divided sections are so quick to establish, with the only requirement being supplemental watering if divided during a dry time.

The Karl Foerster grasses look great spring, summer and even into fall, when the blooms shine when back lit by the late afternoon sun.

The Bee Balm started as three tiny little plugs that I shoved in an open spot at the end of the gardening season and in three year’s time, they have exploded.

Are they invasive? I would say they are “aggressive spreaders” but I have no issue pulling those that jump out of bounds and planting the piece in another spot or gulp, tossing them into the compost pile.

In case you weren’t already aware, Bee Balm attracts visitors like mad and provides endless hours of entertainment and photo opportunities all summer.




Even after the blooms fully fade in late summer, they still look  great with their brown seed heads.


And all the way into winter.

Both plants thrive in my clay soil, don’t mind some wet feet from time to time and are 100% ignored by the deer and rabbits.









6 thoughts on “Plant combo of the week: Bee balm and ‘Karl Foerster’ grass

  1. Laura

    Some people call plants like monarda invasive, but I personally love Clay and Limestone blogger Gail Eichelberger’s term for ‘rough and tumble’ plants: colonizers ( I haven’t yet found quite the right place for my monarda yet, so unfortunately it has not done any colonizing on my property. Your profusion of monarda fistulosa must have an enticing fragrance when in full bloom. The structure of the tall grass really highlights the star-shaped blooms.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      I like that Laura! I can honestly say that I’ve never had to deal with true invasiveness to date (knoco on wood, although Northern Sea Oats has been close) but always fear recommending plants that may truly be invasive in other parts of the country/world. The smell of the Monarda is incredible but the butterfly draw beats it all. I am friends with Gail on FB and love all of her stuff, thanks for the heads up!

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Hi Michelle – I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know for sure yet, so I’ve hesitated to include it but once I do know, I will definitely update this post. That color is fantastic for sure.

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