By Erin Marissa Russell
Want to learn about how to grow Mexican oregano? We’ve got all the information you need, from how to plant and care for Mexican oregano to what makes it different from other oregano varieties. Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know to get your Mexican oregano plants started and keep them thriving.
Mexican oregano is a member of the verbena family that grows as a large shrub or small tree. It comes from the southwestern US, Mexico, and Central America. In the garden, the flowers attract valuable pollinators like bees and butterflies, and once the seeds appear, they entice birds to visit. The blossoms are small and may be white or yellow.
As a culinary herb, Mexican oregano is part of Central American and Tex-Mex cooking traditions. Its flavor is more pungent and earthy than European oregano, with citrus notes. Mexican oregano can be used fresh or dried.
Mexican oregano plants are made up of small, fuzzy, aromatic leaves and fragrant star-shaped white or yellow flowers that appear all year long. Mexican oregano attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. These plants can reach heights of up to eight feet tall, but typically they top out around five feet tall, with a spread of five feet. Mexican oregano plants have a lifespan of five to 10 years.
Mexican oregano is drought tolerant and is hardy in zones 10 and 11. Plants may or may not make it through winters in zone 9, depending on the season’s temperature and rainfall. In northern regions, these plants are brought indoors to a sheltered spot for the winter or grown as a houseplant year-round. In zones 10 and 11, it may lose leaves over the winter to come back with new growth in spring.
For centuries, people have turned to Mexican oregano for its medicinal properties. Mexican oregano has traditionally been used as a remedy for asthma, bronchitis, stress, stomachache, bloating, and other types of stomach conditions.
Common names for Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) include hierba dulce, oregano cimmaron, Puerto Rican oregano, redbrush lippia, scented lippia, scented matgrass, and Sonoran oregano. Do not confuse the Mexican oregano plant we discuss in this article (Lippia graveolens) with other plants sometimes called Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora and Monarda fistulosa var. menthifolia).
Mexican oregano is not a relative of most other oregano plants, though it tastes similar to the others called oregano. As a matter of fact, it comes from a different genus. Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) is not quite as hardy as the other oregano plants, but in the right climate and soil type it will thrive. The Mediterranean oreganos (“regular” oregano plants like Origanum vulgare) are members of the mint family. There are dozens of different species with different common names. If you are looking for information on growing a Mediterranean oregano and not Mexican oregano, you can find what you need in our article How to Grow Oregano.
Mexican bush oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) also goes by the common names rosemary mint and Mexican sage. It is renowned for its ability to thrive in the harshest conditions and is adorned with slender flowers in a lavender pink hue that bloom from summertime through fall.
Plants are winter hardy in zones 8 through 10. Outside these zones, you can still grow Mexican bush oregano, as long as you keep it in a container and move it indoors to a sunny windowsill for the winter. Alternatively, gardeners north of the recommended planting zones
Mexican bush oregano grows to around three or four feet tall and three or four feet wide. Outside the southwestern United States, plants tend to be smaller than this. The leaves can be used in cooking as with other oreganos, but the flavor of Mexican bush oregano is more pungent.
Typically, Mexican oregano is planted from starter seedlings from a nursery or garden center, or it can be grown from seed. We’ll explain how to plant it both ways in this section. If you want information on planting Mexican oregano from cuttings or division, refer to the section on how to propagate Mexican oregano farther down in this article.
Before you plant your Mexican oregano, you’ll need to choose where to put it in your garden. The most important factor is soil. Mexican oregano needs soil that provides plenty of drainage. If you don’t have good drainage in your garden, you can amend your soil to make it a better habitat for Mexican oregano. Find out more about how to amend soil in our article Organic Soil Amendment 101. The ideal soil for Mexican oregano is both loamy and sandy, providing excellent drainage, with a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0.
A little compost should be mixed into the soil where you will grow Mexican oregano. A one-time application will provide all the fertilization your plants will need. However, if you feel more fertilizer is needed, you can use a 3-2-3 NPK blend, but you really do not need it.
In addition to providing your Mexican oregano with a spot where it will have plenty of drainage and the kind of soil it likes, you’ll also need to consider its sunlight needs. Mexican oregano plants should be grown in full sun, which means they need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. While the plants are happiest in full sun, they will tolerate a bit of shade if you don’t have a sunny spot for them.
If you choose to grow your Mexican oregano in a container, make sure to give it a pot with a width and depth of 12 inches for both measurements. If you’ll be planting directly in the soil, make sure to give your Mexican oregano plenty of room to spread out, since the bushes can get up to eight feet tall and five feet wide.
Start your Mexican oregano seeds indoors. They will take two to four weeks to grow large enough to transplant into the garden. Choose your date carefully so that all risk of frost will have passed by the time you will be moving your Mexican oregano plants into their permanent home outdoors.
You will need something like seed trays or peat pots to start your seeds in, along with a high quality seed starting mixture. You can purchase a commercially made seed starting mix or make your own. Refer to our article Why Should I Make a Seed Starting Mix? for directions on how to make your own seed starting mixture.
Plant your seeds in tiny holes a quarter of an inch deep. Each hole you make can hold two to five seeds. Find a sunny spot indoors for your baby Mexican oregano plants, like a well-lit windowsill. Keep the soil evenly moist, but do not let it become oversaturated. Too much moisture in the soil can lead to fungal diseases like damping off [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/how-to-prevent-damping-off/], which can be fatal to seedlings, so be careful to keep the soil moist, not wet.
In two to four weeks, your plants will be strong enough to move into the spot you’ve found for them in your garden. You’ll know your Mexican oregano is ready to transplant when the seedlings have two to four true leaves. (The first two leaves that appear are “seed leaves” and do not count.) And as we’ve stated, the seedlings should not be moved outdoors until the risk of frost in your area has passed completely.
Once you’ve found a spot for your Mexican oregano plants, it’s easy to get them into the ground. Simply dig a small hole about the size of the container your plant is in. Gently lift the starter plant out of the container and into the hole you’ve made for it. Then use your hands to gently press the soil around the plant and firm it up so that the plant stays in place. Water the base of the plant to help it settle into the soil.
In its recommended zones, you shouldn’t have a problem with the weather getting too cold for your Mexican oregano. However, you should beware of inclement weather or rainy spells, as too much cold or high levels of moisture can be fatal to a Mexican oregano plant.
Your plants are able to survive through temperatures all the way down to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops lower than that, you’ll need to take measures to protect your Mexican oregano plants against winter weather. If you aren’t sure what measures to take when cold weather threatens your plants, refer to our article How to Protect Plants in the Winter.
After your plants are well established, you won’t need to water them as much as you do when they’re young. Mature plants just need a deep watering session every once in a while. During winter, your plant will go dormant and will not need to be watered as often. While the plant is dormant, you only need to give it water when the soil is thoroughly dried out. While Mexican oregano is tolerant of periods of drought, you may notice that it loses its leaves if a drought goes on too long.
If you’re growing your Mexican oregano plant in a container, transplant it every two or three years into a pot that’s at least two inches wider than one it’s currently in, or divide your plant ,following the instructions below, and plant the divisions in separate containers.
Pruning isn’t a requirement, but if you’re in zone 10 or higher, you should cut your plants down to a height of one or two feet each fall. Doing this encourages the plant to make lots of new growth the following spring. Mexican oregano plants can even be pruned into topiary or espalier patterns, making them decorative as well as useful in the kitchen.
|Soil Type||Well-draining soil|
|pH Level||6.0 – 8.0|
|Watering Requirements||Drought-tolerant. Water regularly in growing season.|
|Sunlight Requirements||Full sun|
|Temperature||Hardy in zones 10 and 11|
|Plant Size||Up to 8 feet tall|
|Culinary Uses||Use fresh or dried. Citrus notes.|
You can divide your Mexican oregano plants every two or three years to control their size and get more specimens. This should be done in early spring before your plants have started their new growth cycle.
Use a sterilized garden spade or knife to separate your Mexican oregano into two or more separate plants. Then you can situate your newly separated plants at least a foot apart.
One of the most commonly used propagation methods for Mexican oregano is with cuttings. Use sharp, sterilized shears to take cuttings from the tips of the branches where you see new growth. This should be done as summer comes to a close.
If you let your Mexican oregano grow until it flowers, then allow the flowers to go to seed, you’ll have everything you need to grow a whole new batch of Mexican oregano plants the following seed. All you need to do is cut off the branches with seeds and allow them to dry, then store them in a cool, dry location.
Harvest Mexican oregano year-round as needed for cooking once the plant has reached two feet tall. If you only need to harvest a little, just remove the individual leaves that you need by gently plucking them from the stem.
If you need a good amount of Mexican oregano, instead of attempting to harvest the leaves individually, you can cut off the branches you need as you would if pruning the plant, using sharp, sterilized shears.
Remove the leaves from the stem to use in cooking. The branches with leaves stripped from them can be repurposed in the kitchen as skewers or burned in the grill fire to add some of the plant’s aroma and the taste to the food you’re cooking.
You can preserve your harvested Mexican oregano by drying it. Individual branches you harvest can be hung upside down to dry. If you will be growing Mexican oregano as an annual, once winter comes you can dig up the entire bush. Do this just before the first frost. Separate the bush into individual branches for drying.
Make sure to dry your Mexican oregano in a cool, dark location that provides plenty of air circulation. If you like, you can also dry Mexican oregano in the sun or in a food dehydrator. The leaves have dried completely and are ready to store when they crumble easily.
The insects you’re likely to deal with when you’re growing Mexican oregano include aphids, leaf miners, mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies. Insecticidal soap or neem oil can be used against all these common garden pests, and sticky traps work well for whiteflies. For more detailed information on identifying and treating infestations from these insects, refer to the articles linked just above.
|Aphids||Small, soft-bodied pear-shaped insects. Suck plant sap.||Leaves distorted, yellowing, molted or dropping prematurely.||Spray the plant with a strong water to knock off aphids. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Natural predators, like ladybugs.|
|Leaf Miners||Larvae that tunnel inside the leaves.||Distorted leaves with white or yellow streaks or blotches||Prune off affected leaves and destroy them. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Natural predators like parasitic wasps or nematodes.|
|Mealybugs||Soft-bodied, white insects that suck sap from the plant and leave behind a white, waxy residue.||Stunted growth, yellowing leaves, black sooty mold on the leaves||Remove mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil.|
|Spider Mites||Tiny arachnids that suck plant sap.||Leaves yellowing and dropping off prematurely. Eggs or webbing under leaves.||Spray the plant with a strong water to knock off spider mites. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Natural predators like ladybugs.|
|Whiteflies||Small, white, soft-bodied, moth-like insects that feed on the plant’s sap||Leaves yellowing and dropping off prematurely, black sooty mold on the leaves||Use sticky traps to catch adult whiteflies. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Natural predators like parasitic wasps or ladybugs.|
Root Rot: Root rot can be a problem for Mexican oregano if the soil is too wet. Insufficient drainage or overwatering are common culprits. Root rot causes symptoms like yellowing or wilting leaves and stunted growth. Below the surface of the soil, the roots of an affected plant will be dark in color (unlike healthy roots, which are pale) and can be slimy.
If your plant has root rot, you’ll need to carefully dig it up, taking care to get all of its roots. Gently brush the soil from the roots and wash them in clear running water. Use sharp, sterilized shears to snip away all the dark, slimy root sections, leaving only pale healthy roots behind. Let the plant dry completely before returning it to the soil. Be careful not to overwater a plant that has had root rot. It may be necessary to amend your soil and provide more drainage if root rot is a recurring problem.
Mexican oregano is incredibly easy to grow. Not only is it a hardy and attractive plant to brighten up your garden, it’s wonderful to have in the kitchen. Before you know it, you’ll be using Mexican oregano in tons of recipes to add a bit of Latin flavor. Enjoy!
- Mexican oregano is part of Central American and Tex-Mex cooking traditions, featuring a more pungent, earthy flavor with citrus notes compared to European oregano.
- Mexican oregano attracts pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds and can grow up to five feet tall with a five-foot spread.
- This plant is drought-tolerant, hardy in zones 10 and 11, and may survive winters in zone 9 depending on temperatures and rainfall.
- Mexican oregano has traditional medicinal uses for conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, stress, stomachache, and bloating.
- It is not a true oregano (in the mint family) but rather a member of the verbena family.
- Mexican oregano needs well-draining soil, ideally loamy and sandy, with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0.
- It can be grown from seeds or starter plants and should be planted in full sun for optimal growth.
- Mature plants require less frequent watering, and container-grown plants should be repotted every two to three years.
- Pruning is not required but can encourage new growth in warmer zones, and Mexican oregano can even be shaped into topiary or espalier patterns.