Hummingbirds are amazing little creatures. It is mesmerizing to watch them hover at garden flowers retrieving the sweet nectar inside. If you want to invite hummingbirds into your garden, try planting Kniphofia and Agastache. They are hummingbird magnets. Kniphofia: This plant’s name is hard to pronounce which is no doubt why most people know it as the Red-Hot Poker plant. Kniphofia, pronounced nee-foef-ee-a, is a herbaceous perennial hardy to USDA Zone 5.
A native of South Africa, Kniphofia grows 3 to 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. Its many drooping tubular flowers are borne in succession on a tall, leafless flower spike. The flowers emerge a bright red, orange, or yellow color and typically fade to a lighter shade, giving the poker a two-toned appearance and attracting both hummingbirds and gardeners. The swordshaped leaves are grayish green with rough edges.
Most Kniphofia are propagated via rhizomes, but they can also be grown from seed. The plants do best with full sun and a well-drained soil. They are both heat and drought tolerant. Most cultivars produce their long-lasting flower spikes in spring or early summer. Once the flower spikes fade, they should be removed. The plants will grow into large clumps that can be divided every 3 to 5 years.
There are a number of beautiful and unique Kniphofia hybrids available for sale at local nurseries or on-line. Check out plantdelights.com and bluestoneperennials.com.
Agastache: Also known as hummingbird mint or hyssop, Agastache (ah-gah-stah-key) is another garden perennial that hummingbirds love to visit. Like its culinary cousins in the mint family, it has fragrant leaves and flowers. Its delightful fragrance is compared to anise or licorice.
Most Agastache species are native to North America, but it is the southwestern species and their hybrids that local gardeners prize. Their colorful spikes of tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Thanks to the efforts of breeders, there a number of newer beautiful Agastache hybrids that produce long-lasting flower spikes in gorgeous soft shades of pink, rose, orange, salmon, lavender, and purple in mid to late summer. The typically narrow, gray-green leaves of these southwestern Agastache perfectly offset the subdued flower colors.
Agastache is easy to grow. They like it hot and should be planted in a very sunny spot. They must have a well-drained soil and grow poorly in wet or very fertile soils. After they become established, they are drought tolerant and do not need or want much fertilization. Depending on the species or cultivar, plants grow from 1.5 to 2 feet wide and 2 to 4 feet tall and most are hardy to USDA Zone 5.
Agastache blooms from summer to fall. Gardeners may be underwhelmed when the blooms first emerge, but over a period of several weeks the flower spikes will elongate and widen. Refrain from deadheading and leave the faded spikes over the winter to aid in winter hardiness and allow for self-seeding. In spring, cut back the old stems to 4 to 5 inches from the ground.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.