Agastache 'Ava' and Salvia reptans

Pink Agastache, like this Agastache ‘Ava shown with Salvia reptans, are extremely attractive to hummingbirds.

How do you pronounce the Latin genus known as Agastache?  In Colorado and New Mexico, where we can grow a wide variety of these wonderful perennials, we generally say the name as A gas tä key, A gas key or A gas key. I’ve also heard it spoken as A ga stash ē or A gas tash.  However, if you’re still not comfortable uttering the name in public, call these superb plants by one of their common names; hummingbird mint or hyssop.

The Blue Ones

In general the blue flowered varieties are the more moisture tolerant of the two color groups. They are also a bit more tolerant of enriched soils. Of the entire genus ‘Blue Fortune’ and the Mid-Western species Agastache foeniculatum (Anise Hyssop) are the most reliably cold hardy.  This group of Agastache, are best for feeding butterflies and bees with their abundant nectar .

The Orange, Pinks and Red Ones

The species and hybrids of Southwestern origin (the large flowered orange, pink and red ones)  thrive in the cold,  arid climates of the Intermountain West.  But they are  more sensitive than the Blue Ones, to cold, wet winter soils.  So they can be challenging to grow in USDA zone 5 & 6, regions further east  where rain and snow amounts are in excess of about 25” or more per year.

Of course we gardeners love to push the boundaries when trying new plants. So to grow these incredible flowers in wet zones 5 and 6, I recommend planting them in a container garden or pot where they will thrive. Then you can treat them as an “annual” or bring them into a greenhouse, cold frame or cold sun room for the winter. They will be fine for 2 to 3 years in a pot.  In moister, warmer winter climates  such as Washington D.C.  (USDA zones 7) , the Southwestern species and hybrids are very happy as long as the soil drainage is excellent. NO CLAY!!

Agastache cana 'Rosita' with Picea pungens Montgomery

Agastache cana ‘Rosita’ with Picea pungens Montgomery

The orange, pink and red  Agastache are unsurpassed at attracting hummingbirds.  If you have them planted, the hummingbirds will find them!

The Secret to Cultivating Agastache

The important thing to remember about successfully growing the Hummingbirds Mints is “tough love.”

  • As a general rule, these plants like to grow in hot, dry conditions once established.
  • As for their soil, the “leaner” (less fertile) and more well drained, the better.  Stay away from rich loams and heavy clay.
  • Fertilize organically with a little quality compost and Yum Yum Mix in the fall.  Chemical fertilizers will push these plants too much and weaken their tolerance to cold.
  • Leave the stems standing over the winter months to increase cold hardiness. Cut back hard in mid-spring.
  • Mulching is only necessary in arid climates. Use crushed gravel, pine needles or crushed nut shells at a depth of 1 to 2 inches.

Agastache will act like annuals when grown in rich, fertile soils with too much water and fertilizer. They’ll grow and flower lushly but are most likely to perish over the winter.

The Best Garden Tested Varieties

Unfortunately, many of the newer Agastache hybrids have had limited testing in outdoor growing conditions. Based on my extensive garden experience with these perennials in the Intermountain West, here are some of my top picks.

Agastache Acapulco® ‘Orange’ – Originally bred in Holland by Keift Seed Co. in the late 1990’s, Acapulco ‘Orange’ is a superior cultivar with excellent cold hardiness and vigor. Long-blooming, clear orange flowers and minty foliage are its best attributes.

Agastache 'Ava' with Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe'

Agastache ‘Ava’ with Helianthus maximiliana ‘Santa Fe’

Agastache ‘Desert Sostice’ – A 2012 High Country Gardens exclusive introduction that I bred, this tough hybrid is a cross between the two best Southwestern species Agastache cana and A. rupestris.  A semi-dwarf grower, it has stunning flower spikes with pink and orange flowers and a strong, pleasing herbal scent.

Astastache ‘Ava’ – My best hybrid introduced through High Country Gardens in 2004. If this cultivar is a good fit for your growing conditions, it will be one of your showiest perennials. Blooming for many months beginning in mid-summer, the bright rose-red flowers and non-fading calyxes are stunning.

Agastache cana ‘Rosita’ – A High Country exclusive. A semi-dwarf form of the species, A. cana that I found some years ago grown from habitat collected seed from southern New Mexico. It has about 50% more bright rose-pink flowers (corollas) in the spike than is typical, so the flower spikes are particularly plump and full.  ‘Rosita’ has a most delicious sweet herbal fragrance too.


Text and Photos by David Salman

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21 Responses to “Tomāto, Tomäto: Pronouncing Agastache Could be the Hardest Part of Growing These Superb Perennials”

  1. CheyDesignGuy says:

    Mr. Salman,

    I planted one of the orange agastaches – sunset hyssop in my garden last year here in Cheyenne. Do you think it will survive the winter? Our soil is more clay than anything. I ripped out my front lawn, amended the soil with an inch of compost and planted all perennials. So really, I did not amend the soil much. The plant was barely a twig when it was planted and then grew into a lovely shape full of flowers. I would surely like to have it flourish in my garden.

    Kind regards,

    • David Salman says:

      Chey, if you are refering to Agastache rupestris, when you write sunset hyssop, I don’t think it will be a reliable perennial in Cheyenne. Some winters it might make it, but then fail the next. It’s just too cold for extended periods of time. Agastache rupestris, when well established, can tolerate a blast of subzero cold followed by a quick warm up. But not week(s) in the deep freeze. Try it as an beautiful, hummingbird attracting “annual” in one of your hot, full sun container gardens.

      You best best in the ground in WY, is Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’. It is zone 4 cold hardy, and needs a rich, well amended clay-loam and regular irrigation.

  2. Ron Landis says:

    Latin is a DEAD language, right? The Roman Empire ceased millenia ago, right? I submit that despite the assertions of modern Latin teachers, NO ONE knows how latin is pronounced. For example; do you think we speak English the same way it was spoken during Chaucer’s time? [Rhetorical question.] Of course not. English isn’t even spoken the same between New England and the Middle Atlantic states, and the English would submit that no one in the United States speaks it at all. Quite.

    So pronounce it as you will as you enjoy the lovely waves of Agastache while hummingbirds dance with its to and fro from a summer breeze. That is all that matters.

    • Monica Felt says:

      Personally I love to say and pronounce latin names properly.

      • David Salman says:

        Monica, I too enjoy talking about plants by their latin names. It eliminates confusion that can be caused by using common names and it helps to keep one’s brain more limber.

  3. DanaH says:

    Can these plants be grown in Los Angeles? I’m atop the hill, neither cool near the ocean nor quite as sweltering as the valley, zone 10a. New to the west and to gardening!

    • David Salman says:

      Dana, I would think your hilltop location would be ideal for Agastache. I understand that some coastal locations have too much fog and it doesn’t get hot enough for the hummingbird mints to do well.

  4. DebM says:

    Mr Salman,

    I live in a suburb of Phx, Az (zone 10). I have planted 2 Agastache ‘Ava’ and just ordered 6 more to plant. When you say this plant likes to grow in hot, dry conditions once established, I wonder if you can give me an ‘inches per week’ estimate so I know how to set my drip timer and how often each week. I installed 2 gph drip on each plant and after established thought I could drop ~4 gallons on each plant per week. I realize when it is 110 outside I will need to supplement water, but I don’t know if a 2 gph emitter is appropriate if I water for 1 hr each time. Any ideas for me?

    Thanks so much – love these agastache plants.

    • David Salman says:

      Deb, your 2 gallon per hour emitters are the right size and a twice weekly watering of 4 gallons per plant should be about right. It depends on how much afternoon sun they get. Just make sure you have a good thick layer (2 to 3 inches) of gravel mulch to keep the soil cool. If they don’t get enough water you’ll see the tips of the branches visibly droop.

  5. Alec Humann says:

    Good afternoon HCG,
    I live in Buffalo, NY. I have had decent luck growing several of the pink-flowered agastaches; Desert Sunrise and Ava. Obviously Buffalo does not offer the best of growing conditions, but I have had both of these species return for 2-3 years in a row and then die off. If they pull through, this spring will see the 4th year of return for my two Desert Sunrise specimens! The hummingbirds are absolutely magnets to these plants and the duration of bloom is months, July-October. I add sand and gravel to the planting site and also plant the agastaches in raised beds to aid in drainage. This past autumn I planted a ‘Desert Solstice’ in a pot with sand-amended soil. The last time we had a thaw (mid January) there was a rosette of fresh foliage around the base. This is an experiment, so I will let you know how the plant pulls through this winter. Above all, anyone interested in hummingbird gardening needs to include these plants in their design – even if used as annuals! They are an important late season food plant for late migrant Ruby-throateds in the East. I have had individuals remain at agastaches into early October. Some day, I fully expect to look out and see a vagrant Rufous or Black-chinned Hummingbird some autumn! Thank you so much for offering these invaluable species to us gardeners/hummingbird aficionados!

    • David Salman says:

      Alec, I’m fascinated to hear of your success with Agastache in upstate NY. You have skills. I too delight at all the hummingbirds that visit my gardens to enjoy them.

  6. Colette says:

    I live in zone 6, southwest Missouri, so it looks like my best bet for growing a pink agastache would be a container. What sort of potting soil blend would be best? How much water should it get? As our summers get hotter here, I have been shifting from a cottage garden to semi-xeric watered by dripline, and I really appreciate your good healthy plants and helpful advice. Thank you so much!

    • David Salman says:

      Colette, I would agree that pink Agastache would do best in a container in sw Missouri. I would suggest either ‘Ava’ or ‘Desert Solstice’ for starters.
      - I recommend a potting soil that has a mix of composted bark, sphagnum peat moss and perlite.
      - Put a couple of 1 gal per hour drip emitters on either side of the pot.
      - Go with at least a 16″ diameter pot so they have plenty of soil to root into.
      - Fertilize with a dilute fish emulsion and liquid seaweed mixture.
      - And pinch the tips a lot in spring and early summer to thicken up the plant and give you lots of flowers.
      Enjoy the hummingbirds.

  7. gail klodzinski (Rock Garden Nursery) says:

    I live in John Day Oregon where I garden and have a small nursery. We are a zone 5, high desert area with little winter snow cover. I have found Agastache Rupestris, Cana and anise hyssop to be by far the hardiest in our area. Many have returned for 5 yrs or more. Some of our favorite plants!

    • David Salman says:

      Gail, these are some tough native plants and I’m always amazed how well they do far away from their Southwestern origins. Thanks for the information. It’s very helpful to learn about Agastache growing in other regions. You live in some ruggedly beautiful country.

  8. Elizabeth Sobrevilla says:

    I’m in south central PA, zone 6. ‘Ava’ has come back 2 years in a row, as has ‘Rosita’, with ‘Ava’ being the much more vigorous of the two. Mirabilis and salvia reptans have also very happily come back for the last few years although they were not recommended for my area. Your Fall 2013 catalog did solve a mystery for me regarding the salvia reptans. It was described as cobalt blue but it turned out to be what you have introduced as ‘Summer Skies’. It has seeded itself about nicely in my xeric bed.

    • David Salman says:

      Elizabeth, I’m surprised by your success with Mirablis. I wouldn’t have thought it would grow for you in moist PA. But I guess that’s the point of experimentation. In general, I err on the side of caution when recommending western plants for Eastern gardens, but it’s great to get your feedback on what you’ve been able to grow.
      We always strive to keep Salvia reptans and S. reptans ‘Summer Skies’ separate, but I guess we have mixed up the cuttings on occasion. Both are great plants.

  9. Erica Grivas says:

    Hi David what are your best suggestions for Seattle? In fall I planted Agastache Firebird in a dry sandy street strip and some Blue Fortune in a nearly clay but amended area. BTW the Blue Fortune was part of a HCG order whose quality and packing care impressed me greatly.

    • David Salman says:

      Erica, In general, Agastache should be a good match for the Seattle area as long as they get enough heat. Overall I’d say the blue flowered varieties like ‘Blue Fortune’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Blue Blazes’ would be suitable for your amended clay soil (as long as you’re not planting in a low spot that collects water). For your dry sandy soil, I would suggest Agastache rupestris, Agastache Acapulco ‘Orange’ and Agastache ‘Desert Solstice’.

  10. Jere says:

    I live 10 miles inland from Malibu CA. I think this is 10a I bought four Acapulco Orange and planted them in the ground about 3 weeks ago. Two of them have turned brown except about 4 inches from the base. I do use sprinklers 20 min 3 times a week. Did they get too much water?

    • David Salman says:

      It’s hard to say what happened to your Acapulco Gold Agastache plants. But if your daytime temperatures have been hot, a 20 minute sprinkling may not be enough water. I would recommend that you hand water them for a month or so to get them established before depending on the sprinkler to irrigate them. Water them three times a week but apply at least a gallon of water per plant so they get a good deep soaking.

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