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A Gardening Life – January 9

I got an email yesterday from someone who wants plants that attract hummingbirds to his garden. He specifically asked for perennials, “something easy to grow,” that would bloom the first year.

In my reply I went over the possibilities and tried to steer him to a few perennials and annuals. In the Northeast there is no one perennial that will bloom from June through September (hummingbird season) and attract these tiny, winged creatures.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) appeals to hummers and is easy although it spreads fairly aggressively in some situations and many varieties are prone to mildew. ‘Jacob Cline’ is a tall, red-flowering variety that is less prone to diseases, however, so that might be a good choice. If this man found large plants they would flower this summer.

Many cultivars of Agastache (aka hummingbird mint!) are both hardy and long-flowering in this region. I’ve had great success with ‘Desert Sunrise’ and ‘Blue Fortune,’ the former is a coral pink and the latter, big surprise, is blue. Both of these perennials need full sun and good drainage, and they bloom from mid-summer into early fall.

If you have a warm area with sandy soil, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ would do well. This is not a long-lived perennial in this area and like bee balm it only blooms in mid-summer. Plant the Crocosmia with summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) however, and you’ll have a colorful show of flowers and birds in July.

In addition to perennials I advised that the inquirer should consider adding an annual or two every spring. A hanging basket that contains Petunia and Lantana will pull those little birds in, and Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ is the most reliable hummingbird magnet that I know. In fact, contrary to the belief that hummingbirds prefer red flowers, this Salvia is favored by these birds over all other flowers in my garden.

When we think about what we want to see on our properties the word “diversity” should remain a watchword. In other words, don’t approach our landscaping goals with blinders on. Nature seldom plants a mono-culture of all one plant and we shouldn’t either. Come to think of it, this is good advice in our lives as well as our gardens. Words to live by: plant diversely.

Monarda 'Jacob Cline' is a tall bee balm that will grow in sun or part-sun, and hummingbirds love it.

Put a variety of annuals that are known hummingbird magnets into containers on your deck, porch, or patio. While sitting near these pots you'll hear the buzz of hummingbird wings and watch them "sword fight" with their beaks as they defend their territories.

Sharing the wealth:

  • If you love hummingbirds plant a wide variety of plants. Use annuals and perennials.
  • Be sure to place pots of hummingbird favorites on decks and patios near where you sit. These containers will bring these colorful, tiny birds closer to you! Hanging baskets on brackets near a window allows for hummingbird viewing from the indoors.
  • Try planting Nicotiana mutibillis among perennials. This annual not only blooms all summer and attracts hummingbirds then, but is frost tolerant and available to migrating hummers in the fall.

Agastache 'Blue Fortune' (left) and Phlox paniculata (right: 'Blue Paradise') draw hummingbirds to the garden.

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