Plant This: Mexican oregano spices up the garden

Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora ) is one of my favorite summer-blooming perennials. It loves sunny days and hot weather, and it laughs in the face of drought, although, like most xeric plants, it appreciates a good drink every 10 to 14 days when it’s dry.

Its tubular lavender flowers appear in late spring and last throughout the summer with occasional light trimming to encourage rebloom. Hummingbirds love them, as do sphinx moths. The tiny, evergreen leaves are fragrant, edible, and deer resistant.

I use two plants to frame my ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave, and I like to keep them trimmed into a low, rounded hedge. Although Mexican oregano will bloom beautifully if left untrimmed, with tall stems like liatris, I like the neater form of the hedge in my small front garden. So when the new growth starts in early spring, I cut it back hard (to 12 inches) in March or April. It looks a little twiggy for about a week, and then it recovers with a flush of new growth. Pruning it back so hard in the spring does delay the bloom until June, but that’s OK with me. When the flowers start to wither, I cut the plant back again by about a third, encouraging it to rebloom later in the summer.

If you garden in Zone 8 or higher, try Mexican oregano in a sunny spot and enjoy.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses

  1. Samantha says:

    I saw this at Zilker Botanical Gardens yesterday and I thought it was beautiful!

    Isn’t it? Did you smell the leaves too? —Pam

  2. Diana Kirby says:

    Your oregano is fabulous. That’s a real testament to your pruning plan and the full, hot sun it gets in your front garden. Isn’t it great to have plants that actually LIKE our summers here?!

    Yes, it is! I need to take James David’s advice and plant even more of these kinds of plants. —Pam

  3. gintoino says:

    That sounds like a great plant to grow in my garden…now, if I could only find it…let the search begin!

    Good luck, Gintoino. It really is a wonderful plant to have. If you lived closer, I’d give you cuttings. —Pam

  4. Lee says:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you how you get your MX oregano to look so nice. I planted two small plants last year and pruned them this spring. They grew, but they grew lanky and horizontal (all the branches fell outward from the center). I just pruned them again, but maybe not enough…how do you get yours so bushy and pretty?

    Full sun helps, Lee. They get floppier in shade. But other than that, I just prune them as I said: really hard in mid-February, and by one-third in early spring and again in summer. Maybe yours just need a little more time to fill out. —Pam

  5. Pam your yard is just beautiful!! How big was the Mexican Oregano when you got it? I love the
    bushy look. It looks so good against the agave!

    Thank you, Linda. I planted two one-gallon pots of it about five or six years ago. It grows pretty fast, so a one-gallon is all you need spring for. —Pam

  6. vertie says:

    It looks great. I also saw it growing at Zilker and decided to add it to one of my beds in the fall. Do you ever use it season food? I make a lot of Rick Bayless’ recipes, and he’s always recommending Mexican oregano.

    Does he? I have to admit that I’ve never cooked with it, Vertie, not being much of a cook. But I’d be intrigued to hear about it (and taste it!) if you ever do. —Pam

  7. Gail says:

    Lovely Pam…so perfect in the spot you’ve chosen!

    Many thanks, Gail. —Pam

  8. Frances says:

    Many thanks, Pam, for showing us good xeric plants and how to use them in the garden. Your pruned mex. oregano looks like something that could fit in here in the sunniest dry spots. Now, as Gintoino said, trying to find it!

    I looked online at High Country Gardens and Yucca Do, but no luck there. I could send you seeds in the fall, Frances, if I could figure out how to collect them. As you know, I’ve never been a big seed person, but I’m willing to try. —Pam

  9. Frances says:

    Oops, never mind, it is a zone 9 plant, but aren’t you 8?

    We’re zone 8b here in Austin, but it’s definitely hardy. In fact, it remains evergreen in the winter. I see that Dave’s Garden has it listed as zone 9, but Magnolia Gardens has it, more properly, at zone 8. —Pam

  10. cindee says:

    That is really pretty. I have not seen it here. I will have to add that to my lists of wants(-: Thanks for posting the picture!!!!

    I bet it would do great in your hot summer garden too, Cindee. —Pam

  11. Very pretty, and I’ve never tried it. Perhaps I will if I can find space. LOL.~~Dee

    It looks nice with roses, Dee. —Pam

  12. My two Mexican oregano plants (shrubs?) are a little floppy but I still like them. The flowers on one plant are starting to fade so I’m going to follow your advice, Pam, and cut them back now.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Happy trimming, Annie. I hope they’re reblooming for you again soon. —Pam

  13. Phillip says:

    It is beautiful. Alas, I am in zone 7. What is the hardiness factor for the whale tongue agave? I read on Mr. MacGregor’s Daughter’s blog that she saw it in a Chicago nursery.

    Phillip, I asked MMD about that too. She said it was sold as a houseplant in Chicago. Online sources tell me that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave grows in zones 9 and 10 but also will survive Dallas’s winters, which is, what, zone 8a? Other sources say that ‘Whale’s Tongue,’ which is native to the high desert of Mexico, is easily sunburned and needs shade in hotter zones, like Phoenix. I think it’s not exactly known what this agave will tolerate. If you don’t get colder than Dallas, it sounds like you could give it a try. —Pam

  14. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Oh Pam I do lust after your Whales Tongue Agave. It is well framed by your manicured MX oregano.

    I wish you could have one too, Lisa. —Pam

  15. Mexican oregano is definitely on my short list of plants to buy! (Actually, it’s a really long list, but Mexican oregano is on the shorter list of plants to buy sooner, rather than later.)

    It’s an easy-care, good plant to have, Rachel. Maybe this fall, eh? —Pam

  16. Aiyana says:

    Mexican Oregano does well in spring, but not so hot in summer here in Phoenix. Your Whale’s Tongue Agave is wonderful!

    Hmm, it’s too hot in Phoenix for it? That’s too bad. Just goes to show you what another 10 or 15 degrees of summer heat will do. —Pam

  17. joey says:

    Always fun to visit and compare gardens in different climates, Pam. Here in Michigan we are wet and wild!

    I sure wish we could have some of the rainfall Michigan has had too much of. I don’t think I want the wild part though. Hope your garden has come through OK. —Pam

  18. Bob Pool says:

    I’m so bad at cutting back my plants. I must say that I cut scared. I don’t want to kill them. How much do you cut back the Mx. Oregano? Mine is huge and really needs it.

    In this post I discuss how much and how often I cut mine back. Good luck with yours, Bob. —Pam

  19. Lori says:

    I got some Mexican oregano maybe a month back, and it’s been looking more and more pitiful every day. It’s in full sun and well-drained soil, but maybe I’m watering it too much? I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it bounces back.

    A month ago was when our heat wave and late spring drought started. Maybe it’s just been too stressful for a new plant. I suggest you try again in the fall and see if it does better. Good luck! —Pam

  20. I love when I get to see a new plant! thanks for sharing your oregano with us. I don’t know if it will work out here on the left coast, but it’s worth the search. Seems like a pretty kick-ass addition to any garden where it will thrive.

    I hope it grows for you, Billy. It’s a staple in many Austin gardens, thanks to its workhorse tendencies. —Pam

  21. I love that whales tongue agave! I have to keep my eyes open for one of those! This year’s drought has inspired me to look for more drought tolerant plants.

    We had such a wet summer last year, and now we’re having such a dry one. It’s hard to keep up with Mother Nature, isn’t it? —Pam

  22. Hi, Pam, Those photos look so inviting! You’ve done such a good job and showcasing what the possibilities are for the FRONT yard! I’m sure many are inspired. I know I am!

    Thanks, Kathryn. The front yard is an untapped resource for so many people. For me, it’s where most of the fun is. —Pam

  23. Bonnie says:

    Looks great Pam. I love my oregano but let it go too long without a trim. It was starting to look tired so I just gave it a haircut and I’m sure it will bounce back and reward me with some blooms.

    I’m sure it will too, Bonnie. By the way, I need to find a copy of this month’s Texas Gardener so I can read your article about garden bloggers. —Pam