Q: I love hummingbirds. Which flowers will draw them to my yard?
A: Rufous, calliope and black-chinned hummingbirds are the ones most often seen in this area. These high-speed acrobats visit here from July through September and occasionally as late as October.
In general, they prefer brightly colored, odorless, trumpet-shaped or tubular flowers. Hummers eat half their body weight daily in nectar and the tiny insects that are drawn to it. It takes a lot of energy to be a hummingbird!
There are many plants suitable for this region, which are attractive to hummers. You might try columbine (Aquilegia formosa), a spring bloomer that often flowers again in late summer. Hummingbird’s mint or Mexican hyssop (Agastache sp.) blooms from June through September, has aromatic leaves and small tubular flowers in a variety of colors. Sweet hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is also a good choice. Several species of delphinium are popular with hummingbirds; these 3- to 6-foot plants typically flower in pastel shades. Coral bells (Heuchera sp.) bloom much of the summer, their 1- to 2-foot flower stalks rising above the low-growing foliage. Bee balm (Monarda didyma), which blooms midsummer to fall, is equally attractive to hummers, especially “Cambridge Scarlet” and “Marshall’s Delight.” Montbretia (Crocosmia crocosmiiflora) with its bright orange-red flowers on 3-foot stalks is a perennial favorite of hummingbirds and it will spread readily. Blanket flower (Gallardia grandiflora) is another good choice, with flowers in warm yellow and orange tones.
Hummingbirds love many of the salvia species as well, along with the honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.). Red and pink monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis and M. lewisii) are other favorites and they grow to 2 to 3 feet tall. Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) also attract hummers to their bright yellow and brown, nectar-rich flowers. A variety of lupines (Lupinus sp.) will draw hummingbirds to your yard, too.
Although one usually thinks of flower and shrubs, several trees will attract these bright, fast-moving birds as well. Try silk tree (Albizia julibrissin), madrone (Arbutus menzeisii), flowering crabapple (Malus sp.) or tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Enjoy the show!!
Q: Are there some January or February blooming perennials that I can plant?
A: There is nothing like taking a late winter walk through your garden and finding blooms peeking out from the snow cover. An excellent perennial choice is the Lenten rose or the helleborus. It is a member of the Ranunculaceae family. This is a long-living plant that will bloom for many months in the winter and spring. There are several species that will grow nicely in our zones in the Yakima Valley. Hellebores are evergreen. Their leaves are long-stalked and grow in substantial clumps. They do not like to be moved around and take time to re-establish themselves, so pick carefully a long-term planting site. They like shade or partial shade, though there are some species that will grow well in sun. Planting one under a long branch of a large tree would be a good choice.
There are many varieties of hellebores to choose from. Here are some selections that will work in our zones: Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius, H lividus, H. corsicus). This is a native of Sardinia and Corsica. It is one of the largest hellebores. It has large racemes (elongated flower clusters) of light green color while the plant is a light gray-green or blue-green. It grows to a height of 3 feet and will tolerate sun. It takes a neutral soil and will require less water than other species.
The Christmas rose, H. niger, is a smaller plant growing 11/2 feet. It will bloom from December through April. Its leaflets are dark green and the flowers are white to greenish white and will later fade to a purplish hue. The leaflets have few large teeth. This variety needs plenty of water.
Lenten rose, H. orientalis, is similar in growth habit to the H. niger. It is quite easy to transplant, blooms a little later (beginning in March) but you may be surprised to see it blooming earlier than that date. It is often confused with the H. niger but this variety has many small teeth on the leaflets. Its color varies from white, greenish white, purplish or rose. It is often splashed or spotted with deep purple. It, too, likes lots of water.
Warning: Once you discover this beautiful plant, you will quickly succumb to the desire to have more. Fortunately, there are many hybrids available now, mostly of the H. orientalis. They come in so many colors now that it may be hard to decide just which one to plant. Once they are planted and you discover them blooming in your yard, you will be hooked.
• Washington State University Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. Questions about gardening, landscaping or this program can be directed to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1600 or visit the WSU Extension office, at 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100, in Union Gap. New volunteers are welcome.