Cardinal Flowers – To Attract Hummingbirds

This is a guest blog by Tom McKusick of the Northern Gardener.


Last summer, I was visiting a friend whose backyard garden slopes down to meet the reedy shore of a small lake. Not far from the water’s edge were large, nearly 4-foot tall bronze-green stems grouped in clusters of a half dozen or so. About two-thirds of the way up the stem brilliant scarlet blooms tipped skyward.

“If you want to grow one of the best plants for attracting hummingbirds,” he mentioned, “this is it: Lobelia cardinalis–cardinal flower”

According to most hummingbird experts, he’s correct.  L. cardinalis  is usually found in lists of essential plants for attracting hummers. And, as if to prove my friend’s point, a couple of the tiny creatures suddenly appeared on the scene and busied themselves extracting nectar from the crimson flowers while we watched from a few feet away.

A short-lived perennial that rarely endures beyond four or five years, cardinal flower readily reseeds, so if situated in the right spot in your garden it should ensure a steady supply of new plants for many years. But what’s the right spot? I’ve tried growing it a couple of times, with no success in getting it to winter over or reseed. Plant guides suggest it grows well in full sun, part sun or light shade, so that’s an easy requirement for most gardens to fulfill. It also prefers fertile, slightly acidic soil, so no big deal there. But they also say it requires moist soilso as I stood in my friend’s garden and looked at his stands of cardinal flower with the backdrop of the marshy lake behind them, it dawned on me why his were thriving while I had no luck with them; my sandy loam soil was simply too dry to easily grow this plant, even with extra irrigation. In fact, most guides suggest they do best in a bog or pond site.

So while it may not work for me in my home garden, in this land of 10,000 lakes (and even more ponds) cardinal flower is one of the great plants for northern gardens — at least some northern gardens. If you have the right site, you will be  rewarded by its dramatically colored flowers that bloom from summer into fall, and its qualities as an outstanding hummingbird magnet.


Thanks to Tom McKusick of the Northern Gardener for these tips on attracting hummingbirds. If you would like to read more from the Northern Gardener follow the link below:

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
Sign up for our Email Newsletter

For Email Newsletters you can trust

One Minute Video Recipes

About Tom McKusick 30 Articles
It is the mission of MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide. MSHS was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the Minnesota Legislature approved an act providing for the publication and distribution of 2000 copies of all the transactions of the society. 1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.