Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Agastache

Butterflies love Agastache

Gardening should be fun and bring joy to our lives.  That is why I am always happy to discover a new group of plants that thrive in our climate, grow beautifully without a lot of fuss, and that don’t attract the attention hungry deer looking for the salad bar.  Allow me to share one of my favorites….

Anise hyssop, hummingbird mint, Agastache; this well- mannered native mint may not be our first pick at the nursery.  These aren’t particularly seductive plants at first glance.  Their leaves may seem rather dull and their flowers a bit coarse, if colorful.  And that name?  I still mumble and stumble over pronouncing it around a fellow master gardener.  (For the record, it is ah-GAH-sta-kee.)

I never gave Agastache a second glance until one August morning in 2018 when we visited Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display gardens.  Their gardens were filled with every imaginable August blooming flower, but the butterflies were clustered on a few pots of blooming Agastache in their nursery area behind the shop.  With 10 acres of delicious flowers to visit, we found the butterflies crowded together to sip from the few potted Agastache, in a puddle of sunshine on their patio.   I watched in amazement as the butterflies bumped into one another to have a chance to sip this Agastache nectar.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is a popular variety

Of the 22 species of Agastache, most are native to North America.  You will find a wide variety of named cultivars whose flowers bloom in shades of blue, purple, white, orange, peach, red, and yellow.  Most grow into tall, bushy plants absolutely covered in panicles of tiny, two lipped flowers for several months from early summer through frost.  The Sandy’s Plants online catalog, which lists an enormous variety of cultivars, is my ‘go-to’ source of information about them.

Agastache thrive in our coastal Virginia climate.  Grow them in full to partial sun on well-drained but evenly moist soil.  Agastache proves drought tolerant once established.  It may not tolerate heavy, wet soil in the winter, so do not plant it in a wet spot, and wait until spring, after the last frost, before cutting back old plants.    Watch for new growth from the crown in spring before cutting the old stems away.  A hardy, native herb, Agastache isn’t particularly fussy about soil, moisture or light and easily adapts to many situations.

Agastache leaves may be brewed into tea.  Their fragrance and texture make them unappealing to herbivores.  Grow Agastache with confidence that it won’t be grazed, and you won’t need to treat it for pests or disease.  Do deadhead the old flower stems from time to time to encourage more blooms.  Pinching back in the spring also encourages a bushier, more floriferous plant.

Like its close relative Nepeta, the cat mints, Agastache clumps rather than runs.  You should still leave plenty of space for it to grow, as it may be 3’ tall and 3’-4’ wide, depending on the cultivar, by August.

Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ and A. ‘Blue Fortune’ have been popular in recent years.  Both are tough and dependable, with large blue clusters of flowers that begin blooming in late May or early June. 

A new introduction, Agastache ‘Crazy Fortune,’ a sport of ‘Blue Fortune,’ displays variegated cream and dark green leaves beneath its blue flower panicles.  This one commands attention, as its new growth is tinged with lavender, making its foliage as attractive as its flowers.

Agastache ‘Crazy Fortune’ has an unusual pattern of variegation on its leaves. The foliage is much showier than its flowers.

I am trialing a pink flowered cultivar, Agastache ‘Morello’ this summer for the first time.  Its color is lovely, but its stems seem less upright, and overall, it is a softer plant that many other Agastaches. 

Agatache rupestris, left, with Artemesia and Lavendula at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

Agastache rupestris, known as threadleaf giant hyssop or Mexican hyssop, is a much airier, more delicate plant with tiny leaves and more widely spaced, large flowers.  Find it in many beautiful shades of peach, coral and orange.  For pots or a smaller space, try the ‘Kudos’ series of Agastache cultivars, which all remain smaller than 2’ tall and wide.

Agastache may be used interchangeably with most Salvias in a planting design, and it also thrives in pots.  But grow it where you will pass by often, so you’ll have a front row seat for the incredible display of butterflies, clear wing moths, hummingbirds and native bees that Agastache will attract to your yard.

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore

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