Many gardens are a jumbly mix of natives and non-native plants. Here are some garden stalwarts, plants that are easy to grow in most parts of the continent, that repay the slight effort of planting them with gifts for both people and birds. It’s always a good idea to check to see if certain non-natives prove invasive in your area before planting.
Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea. Purple coneflower is a popular addition to any bird-friendly garden. This big, robust prairie native feeds nectaring butterflies while the flowers are young, and goldfinches and sparrows after the seed heads mature. As a plus, it throws seed children all around, so plant it where it can make a family, and prepare to give plants away.
Zinnia Zinnia elegans. It’s hard to beat old-fashioned zinnias for ease of growing, color impact, and bird appeal. This annual takes off planted directly in the ground or started in flats. Hummingbirds constantly probe the tiny yellow true flowers inside the gaudy sepals, and goldfinches often tear the sepals away to get the seeds before they’re even dry. If you plant masses, you won’t mind trading a few flowers for brilliant yellow goldfinches.
Sunflower Helianthus annuus. Annual sunflowers are hot property in garden design of late. Goldfinches, cardinals, and woodpeckers have always known their charms. A row of giant sunflowers, grown from seed, can make a fast-growing, 12-foot-high property screen, and a black-oil sunflower plant can produce dozens of seed-heavy heads, festooned with birds. Only the pollenless (and seedless) cutting sunflowers should be avoided if you wish to attract birds. The Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia, has smaller, blaze-orange flowers and tasty seeds as well.
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta. This native wildflower and its cultivars, the gloriosa daisies, are terrific perennials that can grow to the size of a bushel basket and bloom hard through heat and drought. Finches and winter sparrows and juncos appreciate the seeds in their black, conelike heads.
Bee balm Monarda didyma. If you want to watch natural hummingbird territoriality at work, plant bee balm. Its whorled heads of scarlet or pink flowers ooze with tangy nectar and drive hummingbirds crazy as each bird tries to keep it all to itself. This perennial, like other mints, likes to crawl, so plan to give it some room. Newer cultivars like Cambridge Scarlet are more resistant to mildew.
Larkspurs and delphiniums Delphinium ajacus, D. belladonna, and others. Though some, such as scarlet larkspur, come in red, the predominant shades of delphiniums are lovely, cool blues. Their upright spikes form a gorgeous backdrop for lower-growing plants. This, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t stop the hummingbirds from visiting. Annual larkspurs self-sow freely, and germinate in the fall and overwinter.
Fuchsia Fuchsia cultivars. If you’re trying to hang out the welcome sign for hummingbirds, try hanging a basket of fuchsia in a shady spot. Avoid the double, ruffled varieties—all those extra petals get in the way of birds seeking nectar. My favorite fuchsia of all is the annual Gartenmeister Bonstedt, an erect, bronze-leaved plant with elegant masses of coral-red tubes that looks great in planters and pots. Hummingbirds hover beneath the pendant clusters, probing upward, and visit many times daily. Warning: Rabbits adore them, hence the planters!
Salvia Salvia splendens, S. farinosa, and others. Drought-resistant and willing, salvias are usually grown as annuals. They offer the tubular flowers hummingbirds prefer, abundant nectar, and great color, in every shade from splendens’ hot red, wine, purple, and peach, to farinosa’s true blue.
Coral bells Heuchera sanguinea. A modest mound of gray-green foliage bursts forth with a summer-long display of foamy, pink bells on wiry stems, which will buzz with hummingbirds as long as they bloom. This hardy perennial likes partial shade and plenty of moisture.