by David Salman
Flowers and hummingbirds have a natural attraction for each other. Flowers provide these tiny birds with nectar and in turn they pollinate the flowers so the plants can set seed. Gardeners throughout the country can enjoy planting flowers to attract them. Many hummingbirds travel long distances on their migratory journeys in spring and fall and benefit greatly when we plant to provide them with nectar.
Here in New Mexico, the hummingbirds move north very quickly in the early spring. But as they move south in late summer on their way to their wintering habitats in Mexico, they stay around for several months. So I like to plant a lot of late summer and fall blooming perennials to bring these little birds into my gardens. And there are an amazing number of plant choices that fit the bill.
The Penstemon (Beardtongue) are some of our showiest native wildflowers and many species, with their brightly colored tubular flowers, are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Penstemon barbatus ‘Rubycunda’ is a new, very cold hardy hybrid variety with large, spectacular red and white flowers. The flowers are huge and rival some of the cold tender English hybrids in size and showiness. ‘Rubycunda’ is zone 4 cold hardy, so it can be planted throughout much of the northern US and Intermountain West.
Another hummingbird favorite is a native Lamb’s Ear, Stachys coccineus (Scarlet Hedgenettle). We are introducing a new selection ‘Mountain Red,’ grown from seed collected at over 7,000 ft. elevation in eastern Arizona. Coming from this high elevation gives ‘Mountain Red’ extra cold hardiness so it reliably overwinter in zone 5 winter climates. This rabbit and deer resistant perennial is very long blooming, with deep red flowers, and thrives in partial shade with a little extra irrigation.
And at the top of the list of hummingbird favorites is a new hybrid Agastache (Hummingbird Mint). Desert Solstice’ is a superb cross with Agastache cana ‘Rosita,’ one of its parent plants. Like ‘Rosita’, ‘Desert Solstice’ has about 50% more flowers than is typical for these Southwestern native species. A mix of orange and pink individual flowers on the flower spike, this showy hybrid blooms for up to three months and is an amazing garden performer.