Agastache: "Super Stars" of the Perennial World-Part I

Growing Agastache

Agastache RupestrisAgastache Rupestris

Growing plants of the genus Agastache (A gas' ta kee or A gas tack' e), commonly known as hummingbird mint or hyssop, has been an obsession of mine for the last 15 years. They have everything I love in a perennial: aromatic flowers and foliage, stunning spikes of tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and they bloom in summer and fall, extending the seasons of color in my xeriscapes, and with the exception of one species (Agastache rugosum) they are North American native plants.

This time of the year in my gardens, the Hummingbirds Mints are the superstars. Now in full bloom, they are magnificent! Aglow in shades of pink, orange and lavender, and blue, these plants are like peacocks, over the top in extravagant colors. The hummingbirds are plentiful too. From dawn to dusk, they're busy sipping the Agastache flowers, thriving on the abundance of their nectar. These hyperactive little birds give my xeriscapes a frenetic energy not seen or felt at other times of the year.

agastache desert solsticeAgastache Desert Solstice

Through High Country Gardens, I have introduced 7 new Agastache to cultivate in the US, including a new species, Agastache rupestris (in 1996) and hybrids, such as 'Desert Sunrise' ®(2000) and 'Ava' (2005). My fascination with the genus is undiminished and my efforts to breed and select more cultivars and hybrids are continuing. I like to think that through my many years of growing these plants, I have gained insights and knowledge of the genus that help me to find the best species for future hybridizing and recognizing really great new plants when they appear in my test beds.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting a few of cultivars and hybrids introduced by High Country Gardens, as well as from other breeders that I think will stand the test of time.

Agastache AvaAgastache Ava

Agastache 'Ava': a native hybrid between Agastache cana and Agastache barbari, 'Ava' was a cutting propagated from a single seedling that appeared in one of my xeriscapes more than 10 years ago. A tall, robust plant, 'Ava' inherited her height from A. barbari, a very tall species from northern Mexico. Her flowers are rose-pink that push out of raspberry-pink calyxes (the papery sheaths that hold the flowers). Blooming for 2 to 3 months, 'Ava' is unique among the Agastache because the calyxes hold their color even after the flowering is finished. This extends the season of color for the plant until knocked back by hard frost. 'Ava's only fault is that her stems can be brittle; use a peony cage or construct an enclosure with 3 or 4 bamboo stakes and some twine to protect the stems from breaking in harsh weather. When happy, this can be a very long lived perennial. The original plant is still growing in my garden!

Text and Photos by David Salman

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  • Ava's Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache Ava

    Starting at $10.99

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    Starting at $47.45

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10 thoughts on “Agastache: "Super Stars" of the Perennial World-Part I”

  • S.Sparow

    I discovered High Country Gardens shortly after we moved in 2000. After extensive clean-up of our neglected country garden I began planting,first with a pre-planned garden. Then I discovered Agastaches. Desert Sunrise was first. I now have 6. We have hummingbirds and 6 varieties of bees, and lots of inquiring human visitors! I have only lost one plant in shipment (which is being replaced) which is more than I can say for some local purchases. Thanks for your excellent service and extraordinary plants.

    • David Salman

      Glad to hear you've discovered the joys of Agastache. It's a remarkable genus. I'm always amazed by the diversity of pollenators they bring to our gardens.

  • Kathi McCorkle
    Kathi McCorkle 10/10/09 at 12:26 pm

    Hi David...I love agastaches!!!! My problem is I live in zone 5 and have had problems getting the to winter over..last year I resorted to trying to keep them alive in my attic...PLEASE any help??? I saw you on gardening by the yard but did not see the whole segement..would like to have one of each if I can get them to come back..thanks sooooooooooomuch!!!

    • David Salman

      There are many zone 5 cold hardy Agastache. Agastache rupestris, Agastache Desert Sunrise, Agastache Acapulco varieties are all very cold hardy once established. Agastache 'Blue Fortune' is cold hardy to zone 4 in the Midwest and eastern US!

      Where you are trying to grow them? They do require a very well drained soil in areas of the country that receive a lot of rain and snow. They are excellent container plants in these "too moist" climates. The good news is you don't need to haul them to your attic.
      They can be overwintered out-of-doors on the south side of a building under an overhang where they will stay dry during the killing freeze/thaw cycles of late winter and early spring. Just mound up some leaves around the pots to insulate the pots.

  • Kathi McCorkle
    Kathi McCorkle 10/20/09 at 2:16 am

    I live in Western Pa. My soil is well draining because I live in an area that is all rocks (I have to haul in all soil!!) All my agastaches are in the you think it would be a good idea for me to pot them up for the winter...we have not had a frost yet...I live along the Allegheny River and the water keeps us from freezing till later than the rest of the area. My agstaches are still blooming. When I caught you segement on Gardening by the Yard you were mulching around the agasache with gravel...I was too late to hear what you were doing. The areas where these are planted will be pretty dry durning the winter so do you think they will be ok? Maybe I could try both...pots and ground and see which works...they are one of my favorites...thanks...Kathi

  • Sharon

    David, I ordered Ava last yr, sadly, it didn't make it. I liv in Az, (zone 10) wondering if the extreme heat did it in?? I am going to try again, as I am so intrigued by the Agastache.


    • David Salman

      If you're gardening in the Phoenix and Tucson (or other areas in the lower elevation Sonoran Desert), my gardening friends in those cities report mixed results when growing Agastache. The extreme heat does kill them. Especially if your nights stay very hot (in the ninties). I think you might have better success growing 'Ava' and other Agastache in containers where they can be watered regularly in a fast draining soil mix and be placed where they get only morning sun.

  • Ann

    I live in zone 9 in Texas and the first Ava I bought did not make it because we had tons of rain and even with the sandy soil it perished. I did not give up and ordered again and I planted Ava in a large container. We had over 30 days at over 100 degrees this past summer and she did fine. I did make sure that she had enough water. This fall I put her out in the garden and I hope she will be happy and continue to be the butterfly magnet she was last year.

  • Dianne shuntich
    Dianne shuntich 09/06/10 at 8:49 am

    I hope you are still answering some questions about agastache. I really appreciate it.
    I have a small raised bed around my mailbox in central Kentucky. It is a bit larger than one yard square. I'm not sure how many agastaches could be planted there. It would be nice to have a mix of colors.
    The other thing I thought of was to plant some daylilies with the agastache, and some spring bulbs to precede them. Do you think that would be a good idea?
    I was going to fill the bed with bagged topsoil with a little peat moss added. Would that work, or do I need to add sand?

  • vince

    Dave. i love agastaches they fair well in michigan as long as they are in full sun and well drained soil with gravel mulch they thrive very well

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