Hummingbirds will flock to this flowering plant all day

If you want a hummingbird and butterfly magnet in your garden, try planting perennial lobelias.

Nothing about gardening can be considered “one and done.” Many tasks repeat themselves throughout the seasons.

You’ll need to prune multiple times, as well as do some weeding, but the best task of all that you get to do almost year-round is planting.

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t find some new treasure on the benches in the nursery that I have to take home and try out in my garden. No matter how crowded my garden may seem, I can always find room for one more plant. It just so happens that this week that plant was a perennial lobelia.

For most of us, the name “lobelia” conjures up an image of a frilly, trailing annual with blue or white flowers that we typically stuff into our baskets or patio planters. That isn’t the type of flower I’m talking about here.

Perennial lobelia — more specifically Lobelia cardinalis or the cardinal flower — is a hardy perennial and American native that grows in moist areas in either full sun or partial shade.

Its lipstick-red flower spikes usually show up in late summer or early fall on stems that can reach 3 to 4 feet tall. Over the years, breeders have improved on this native and produced several hybrids — the most recognized one being “Queen Victoria.”

The “Queen” has dark-purple foliage and bright-red flowers that emerge a little sooner in the summer than other varieties. The flowers also are on a shorter and sturdier plant that can have multiple stems, rather than just a few, like others in the species.

Hummingbirds will flock around this perennial all day long, and the only trick to keeping it happy is to not let it dry out or be consumed by slugs.

In the last decade or so, breeders have continued to upgrade the cardinal flower, crossing it with yet another species — Lobelia siphilitica — a blue flowering American native, producing what is now called a fan flower. Fan flowers look just like the red cardinal flower only they are bigger and also come in shades of coral, pink or even blue, all with green or bronze foliage (rather than red foliage like the “Queen”).

Depending on the grower, you might find varieties labeled “Starship Deep Rose” or “Vulcan Red,” just to name a few of the choices that are out there. They are all super performers and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

For a completely different take on perennial lobelia, try Lobelia tupa, a Chile native called tobaco del diablo or devil’s tobacco. This plant prefers droughty conditions, just the opposite of the cardinal flower. The handsome olive green foliage is topped with 6 to 8 feet tall stems of unusual brick red-orange blooms. Individual clumps can reach 3 to 4 feet across over time.

If you are lucky enough to keep it through the first winter, it will usually establish itself very well and even throw out some seedlings from time to time.

Bloom time is late summer, when a lot of other perennials have finished up, and, of course, it is a hummingbird and butterfly magnet. If you have the space, it is well worth the effort.

You can find these perennial lobelias for sale this time of year, but they might not be blooming just yet, so watch for the picture tags that come with most plants these days.

Take a couple of colors home now, and you will be richly rewarded later this summer — as will the hummers.

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

Two gardening classes

Attend two classes next weekend at Sunnyside Nursery: One free class covering Gardening 101 (part 1) is 10 a.m. June 23, while a class on making living wreaths is 11 a.m. June 24. That class has a registration fee. The garden center is at 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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