Seeing red isn't always a bad thing. If you're a hummingbird, red is a welcome sight, an appetizing come-on to a delicious meal of nectar. While hummingbirds will feed from flowers of all colors, they are inordinately tempted by the red and the tubular. Try a combination of annuals, perennials, and vines to create a well-rounded hummingbird garden.
Beardtongues (Penstemon species and hybrids, zone 4/5) come in many colors (pink, red, yellow, blue) and all attract hummingbirds. They grow best in full sun and are drought tolerant once established. Heights range from 1-3 feet tall. Well-drained soil is a must.
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, zone 3) is another North American native perennial, perfect for a sunny to part sunny spot with moist soil. This stately perennial (to 4 feet tall) has deeply saturated red flowers and new hybrids come in many shades of pink and burgundy.
Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) is a fast-growing annual vine for full sun. One of its other common names, hummingbird vine, attests to it attraction for hummers. Small, trumpet-shaped flowers are a vibrant red, and leaves are small, finely cut and quite delicate. This is a lovely plant for a vertical accent.
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, zone 4) is a native North American perennial that grows best in part to full sun. Delicate red and yellow flowers perch above deeply lobed, gray green foliage. Hybrid columbines in many other colors (yellow, blue, purple) are also attractive to hummingbirds.
Fuchsias (Fuchsia hybrids) are frost-tender perennials that prefer cool weather and grow best in part shade with good air circulation. They come in many shades of orange, red, and pink, and grow well in containers, hanging baskets, or in the ground.
Giant hyssop (Agastache species and hybrids, hardiness varies from zones 4-6) comes in many colors (orange, pink, purple). All are fragrant perennials with flowers that appeal to hummingbirds. In fact, giant hyssop is sometimes called hummingbird mint. These plants require excellent drainage; flowers will be most abundant in full sun.
Mexican catchfly (Silene laciniata, zone 5) is a wildflower for dry, infertile soil; it grows best when kept thirsty and hungry. Native to the southwestern U.S. from California to Texas, it's a full sun plant with deep orange blooms and fringed petals that's as irresistible to humans as it is to hummingbirds, although we tend not to drink from them.
Red beebalm (Monarda didyma, zone 4) might as well be called red hummingbird balm. Hummingbirds can't get enough of this plant and will visit each slender red tube in succession. Grow bee balm in full sun to part shade.
Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora, zone 5) is a classic xeric plant with a stiff, architectural rosette of foliage. This Texas native grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Its strap-like, evergreen leaves are 2-3 feet tall, with the multi-flowered, red bloom spikes rising up to 4-5 feet above the foliage.
Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans, zone 4) is a fast growing, drought tolerant vine for full sun. The orange-red flowered varieties are generally more floriferous than yellow and are more appealing to hummingbirds. This is a vigorous grower that can get as much as 40 feet long at maturity. It needs a very sturdy trellis or arbor to support its growth and it can grow rampantly, so be sure to place this vine where it will not quickly grow out of bounds.
These are just a small sampling to whet your appetite and the appetites of your local hummingbird population. Consider the salvias, red hot poker, Indian paintbrush. Think tubular, think reddish, and you're well on your way to creating a little piece of hummingbird heaven.
Ellen Zachos is the owner of Acme Plant Stuff (www.acmeplant.com), a garden design, installation, and maintenance company in NYC specializing in rooftop gardens and indoor plants. She is the author of numerous magazine articles and six books and also blogs at www.downanddirtygardening.com. Ellen is a Harvard graduate and an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden. She lectures at garden shows and events across the country.