Discover 5 great plants for hummingbirds | TribLIVE.com
Jessica Walliser, Columnist

Discover 5 great plants for hummingbirds

Jessica Walliser
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Jessica Walliser | for the Tribune-Review
Pineapple sage is a favorite, late-season nectar source for hummingbirds.

As you plan your garden for the coming season, consider including some annuals, perennials, and vines that attract and support hummingbirds. These tiny little birds are summer residents of Pennsylvania, and they require particular flowering plants from which they can access nectar.

If you’re lucky, a family of hummers will make a home in your garden, and you’ll spy them regularly sipping from flowers and bathing in birdbaths.

The most common species of hummingbirds here in Western Pennsylvania is the ruby-throated hummingbird, though we may see other species from time to time. Hummingbirds tend to return to the same area year after year, so the one you spotted in your garden last year may return again for the coming season.

Hummingbird-friendly plant species are a must, if you’d like to see these birds in your garden. They’re attracted to the color red and much prefer flowers with a long, tubular form. It’s important to have these types of flowers in bloom from the time the birds migrate into the area in April until they head back south in the autumn.

Here are five of my favorite red-flowered plants that hummingbirds adore in my own garden. Most are easy to find at local nurseries and require little extra care.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is a native of South and Central America and is a favorite of hummingbirds, especially toward the end of the growing season. With pineapple scented foliage and tubular, scarlet-colored flowers, this sage can grow up to 5 feet tall in one season. Pineapple sage is very late to bloom, providing pre-migration energy for the little birds. In its native range, pineapple sage is perennial, but here in Pennsylvania, it’s grown as an annual.

Red hot pokers (Kniphofia species), also called torch lilies, hail from Africa. They are interesting garden perennials and are fully hardy here in Western Pennsylvania. The strap-like leaves are reminiscent of daylily foliage, though they are certainly coarser and more upright. Red hot pokers can grow 2 feet or more in height. The small tubular flowers are organized bottlebrush-fashion in a spike that rises a foot or more above the plant tops. The newest flowers open at the top of the spike as it grows, and the blooms are very attractive to hummingbirds. Flower color can range from bright red to orange, peach and sunny yellow, depending on the cultivar and maturity of the bloom. Hummingbirds will visit all colors of Kniphofia, but they much prefer the red variety I grow in my garden to the yellow ones I have nearby.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is a native of North America and is a terrific plant for gardens here in Western Pennsylvania. It reaches about a foot and a half in height and bears spires of bright red flowers that are extremely attractive to hummingbirds. Cardinal flower is very easy to grow, preferring afternoon shade and average garden soil. This perennial does very well in damp, poorly drained soils and is also deer resistant. There are numerous named cultivars of this plant that are common in the nursery trade, but I like the straight species for its ease of care and reliable bloom.

Annual cypress vine (Ipomea quamoclit), also called lipstick vine and cardinal climber, is a favorite of the hummingbirds in my garden. This climbing vine has dark green, fern-like foliage and bright red, tubular flowers. I plant seeds of this annual in the early spring, just after the last spring frost, directly into the garden at the base of my teepee trellis. The plants are quick to sprout and require very little care aside from needing a structure to climb. They produce the most flowers during the hottest part of the summer.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) is another North American native perennial the hummingbirds adore. Though the blooms come in many different colors, depending on the variety, the bright red selections will send the hummers into a tizzy when the plants are in flower. Bee balm blooms for weeks, starting in late summer and continuing into the autumn, if the plant is trimmed back after the initial bloom. As an added bonus, bee balm is deer and rabbit resistant. A spreading perennial, bee balm is also drought tolerant and its hollow stems are perfect overwintering sites for pollinators. The pineapple-shaped flower clusters are perched atop 3- to 4-foot-tall stems that do not require staking.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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