Mention wildlife these days, and people immediately speak up in an exasperated tone about their problems with deer feeding on prized hostas and other plants.
But there is another form of wildlife so welcome that gardeners plant to attract it: hummingbirds. These delightful darlings show up where suitable food awaits. That means flowers shaped like a funnel or tube that suits their long, thin beak as it reaches deeply into the bloom for nectar.
Some garden flowers, notably many kinds of sages, have proved themselves more adept at attracting hummingbirds as well as being lovely, long-blooming residents of sunny flower beds.
The following varieties all grow best in full sun.
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is certainly one of the finest and reasonably easy to find in the marketplace. Its assets for humans and hummingbirds: It grows rapidly after planting in spring, producing an attractive plant. A bruised leaf bears the scent of pineapple. The bright red flowers, shaped like tubes, draw hummingbirds, in late summer and early autumn. This is especially valuable to feed the waves of migrating hummingbirds at that time. Pineapple sage looks lovely in beds and can rise three feet or more eventually. It is rated a Zone 8 plant meaning gardeners in Southern Mecklenburg County and eastern Gaston County can probably count on the roots of a pineapple sage surviving winter.
And while red is often called essential to attract hummingbirds, gardeners have found success with blue salvias, notably the variety of Salvia guarantica named Black and Blue, which is sold widely in the Piedmont.
This is a pretty garden flower with deep blue flowers, a color that is not so common in garden flowers. It grows pretty rapidly and can reach 4 or 5 feet after a few years of root growth. Another good sage is Texas sage (Salvia coccinea), which bears red or pink flowers all summer on good-looking plants.
Lady in Red is a popular one, bearing red flowers on 16- to 18-inch plants. The contrast of the red flowers and deep green leaves is gorgeous. Lady In Red is suited for setting out as a bedding plant for summer into autumn bloom but will not survive winter in the Piedmont because its parentage is from tropical areas of South America.
There are good choices beyond the various sages. Bee balm of course likes bees. But hummingbirds also like its strangely shaped array of tubular shaped flowers. Cambridge Scarlet is a red to consider for a hummingbird garden. It starts blooming about midsummer and grows a couple of feet tall over time. It is hardy in the Piedmont but prone to powdery mildew. Spraying with a protective fungicide may be required.
A quick look at lantana would not leave you with the impression of funnel flowers. Take a closer look and you will see clusters of individual flowers, each shaped like a little funnel. And because lantana comes in varieties with bright red colors such as American Red, Texas Red and more, you can use them as well in your hummingbird garden.