Annuals or perennials, salvia is Mother Nature’s hummingbird magnet

Rufous hummingbird (Sue Misao / The Herald)

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, there are lots — and I mean lots — of summer-blooming perennials to choose from. But one genus really stands out in my mind as a can’t-lose choice: Salvia.

Known as sages in common language, the utilitarian herb plants come in many forms that include both annuals and perennials.

“Few plants in general offer the amazing diversity and ornamental potential found in the genus salvia,” said Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery of North Carolina. “These members of the Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family are first cousins to mepeta (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 3 feet tall, sporting deep blue flowers with a black throat and shiny green leaves. I have a clump that has spread to over 6 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. It has drop-dead gorgeous, deep purple flowers and grows to about 2 to 3 feet tall. With a little protection, I have had this salvia 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. It’s 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 en 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 garden centers in packs early in the season and then in 4-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 past couple of years. It has been hard for the garden center to keep in stock this season due, I guess, to shortages from the growers. I treat it as a perennial, but it is iffy at best when it comes to reblooming the next spring. Even so, 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 friesland 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 and can be reached at

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Attend a free class all about shade gardening at 10 a.m. July 15 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, go to www.sunny

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