Hummingbird fans, you must add the shrimp plant to your garden’s floral menu. Your first thought might be the yellow shrimp or lollipop plant, Pachystaychus lutea, also a must-have. But the one I am touting is Justicia brandegeeana and is often referred to as the Mexican shrimp plant.
True to that common name, it is native to Mexico and happens to be the “feast du jour” for our hummingbirds at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens. Ours grows in the landscape, but it also will make an exotic thriller plant in mixed containers. This means everyone can grow it, keeping the hummingbirds flying throughout the landscape and well fed.
This Mexican shrimp plant is cold hardy from zones 8-11, which includes most of Down East North Carolina. This winter was hard in the Savannah area with temperatures reaching 18 degrees. As expected, our plants retreated to ground level but are pushing 4 feet plus right now.
Mexican shrimp plant comes in several colors or named selections, like Chartreuse, which is yellow/green’ or Gator Orange, which is orange/red; and the ever popular Cocktail, which has red, orange and yellow. Our Yellow Queen is the perfect complementary partner for its companions of Black and Blue salvia and blue plumbago.
All of those varieties have exotic-looking bracts that stay landscape effective for weeks. Mexican shrimp plants are prolific bloomers, flowering all summer long on new growth. Even though we grow them for their brightly colored bracts, hummingbirds will find the white tubular flowers irresistible.
Try planting several in front of bananas or upright elephant ears for a tropical look or combine with salvias for a hummingbird garden. In a container, shrimp plants make great thriller plants; try Blue Wave petunia, or Surdiva scaevola as filler plants; and Goldilocks lysimachia as your spiller.
Mexican shrimp plants prefer fertile, well-drained soils, so work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter along with 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet. A slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer containing minor nutrients would be a good choice.
Side-dress plants with light applications of the fertilizer to keep them growing vigorously. Feed container-grown plants with a dilute water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer every other week.
During the winter, relocate shrimp plants to a frost-free location. When you bring them out for the spring, you may want to re-pot and cut back for a quick flush of growth and blooms.
Shrimp plants are easy to propagate. To root yours, cut an 8- to 10-inch-long stem, stripping off the lower set of leaves. Place in moist potting soil or sand, keeping one to two sets of leaves above the soil line. Place cuttings in the shade, and they should root easily. This may be useful next fall if you planted yours in the landscape and want to over-winter some for next spring.