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"Salvias – Mother Nature’s Hummingbird Magnet," by the Whistling Gardener

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There are lots (and I mean lots) of choices for summer blooming perennials that will attract hummers into our gardens, but one genus really stands out in my mind as a “can’t lose” choice: Salvia. Salvias are mother nature’s hummingbird magnet.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

There are lots (and I mean lots) of choices for summer blooming perennials that will attract hummers into our gardens, but one genus really stands out in my mind as a “can’t lose” choice: Salvia.

Known as sages in common language, salvias come in many forms that include both annuals and perennials. To quote Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery of North Carolina: “Few plant genera offer the amazing diversity and ornamental potential found in the genus Salvia. These members of the Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family are first cousins to Nepeta (Catmint), Mentha (true mint), and Monarda (bee balm). Salvias are native to virtually every continent and are known for their fragrant foliage and subsequent deer-resistance.

In the northwest, salvias will perform their best if planted in full sun with good draining soil. Here are a few of my choices that are especially attractive to hummers, as well as butterflies and bees.

Black and Blue — Grows three feet tall, sporting deep blue flowers with a black throat and shiny green leaves. I have a clump that has spread to over six feet around, even though some gardeners say they can’t get it to overwinter. It is just getting ready to bloom in my garden.

Amistad — Related to the above species, this flavor came out a couple of years ago, has drop dead gorgeous deep purple flowers and grows to about two to three feet tall. With a little protection I have had this flavor bloom well into December, but sadly it will not survive our winters, so just treat it as an annual.

Wendy’s Wish — Similar to Amistad but with vivid magenta flowers and also not hardy for us.

Grandstand Red Lipstick and Salmon — A recent introduction, these two colors of the Grandstand series are an improvement on the old standard “Red Hot Sally” that has been planted for decades in mass as a bedding plant. Grandstand will grow to 18 inches tall and bloom constantly until frost, but should also be treated as an annual.

Victoria — I grew up with this annual (a perennial in the San Diego area) where it bloomed all summer long in my garden with its spires of blue flowers. You can usually find it at the garden centers in packs early in the season and then in four inch or gallon pots this time of year. It makes a great thriller in a container and will draw hummers from far and wide.

Hotlips — This selection was all the rage the last couple of years but has been hard for us to keep in stock this season due, I guess, to shortages from the growers. We sell it in our perennial section, but it is iffy at best when it comes to coming back the next spring. Just the same, its red and white flowers bloom all summer long so you get a lot of bang for your buck. If you can find it, go ahead and plant it for the summer, but plan on replacing it the next spring.

East Freisland and May Night — Both of these selections are true perennials (hardy to -40 degrees) and will come back year after year, assuming they do not rot over the winter. They have dark blue flowers on compact plants reaching 12 to 18 inches tall. Like most perennials, they only bloom for about five weeks, but if cut back will often rebloom in the fall.

So if you are looking for plants to attract hummers into the garden look no further than the genus Salvia. You won’t be disappointed.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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