Ten Thumbs, All Brown
December 7, 2013 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Perennial, beautiful flowers that attract hummingbirds, in hanging baskets, that would thrive in Los Angeles, California, Southern exposure, full sun 5-6 hours - is there such a thing in the plant kingdom?

Unfortunately, I'm all thumbs and all brown, when it comes to plants, as is my wife. It is not for lack of effort or scientific inquiry, just a metaphysical incompatibility. Try hard as we might - very, very hard - plants die, except a few military grade cactuses.

Like Hannibal launching yet another doomed expedition against Rome, we're making another attempt growing something. This time, not even for ourselves, but in service of the greater good of the animal kingdom.

We've had hummingbird feeders hanging from our windows for close to 10 years now - a very successful program. However, we feel another war coming - we'd like to hang some baskets with flowers next to the feeders. Location: Los Angeles, CA, Southern exposure - full sun, 5-6 hours.

I've done some googling about suitable plants, but nothing seems to hit the spot as far as fulfilling all the conditions - there is always something that's missing. So I'm appealing to the greatest gardenign strategists and plant warriors for advice. What plant can we get that:

1)Has flowers that attract hummingbirds - if beautiful to the human eye, that's a fabulous bonus.

2)Perennial - it would be grand if it kept growing ever more as time passes; it's a drag to keep having to plant something new, especially in view of the brown thumb problem.

3)Hanging basket - it's welcome to overflow the basket, or however else it wants to grow, but it must be in a hanging basket

4)Southern exposure Los Angeles California - full sun, 5-6 hours

5)Feasible to obtain in Los Angeles California or neighboring counties - nothing I need to machete my way through the jungles of Java for.

6)Reasonably hardy - a plant that can survive our tender mercies - we are good at following directions about frequency of watering and adding nutrients, but... metaphysics and the inexplicable happens. So something that is strong against the evil spirits of The League of the Brown Thumbs.

Our hummingbirds are eagerly awaiting everyone's answers - and we join them in the background, expectantly.
posted by VikingSword to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I think you might have to give up on the idea of perennials in your hanging baskets. They tend to be larger, and it'll be hard to find a hanging basket big enough for them to thrive. You'll have to keep pruning and dividing them anyway. You might have better luck with self-sowing annuals. Annuals also tend to have a longer blooming season for you and your avian friends to enjoy. Perhaps floss flower or petunias?

You can also consult your local extension office or local nursery and look for drought-tolerant natives. Containers are going to dry out faster than plants in the ground, so these will be lower maintenance than the alternatives.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, there's a lot of varieties of hibiscus out there, hummingbirds love them, they're perennials, they love sun, they're easy to obtain in San Diego so I'm sure LA nurseries have them, they are very easy to grow, and in theory they'll grow in a container.

The last point is the stickiest--but it does seem that they're easygoing enough to make containers work (there's multiple google results for hibiscus containers, and a few even seem to be hanging). You might need to go hunt for a qualified nursery and ask for some advice on the container part, but hibiscus does seem to check off all your boxes.
posted by librarylis at 4:45 PM on December 7, 2013

Bergamot might serve. Hummingbirds certainly love the flowers.
posted by Abinadab at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2013

I've moved to the US, zone 5 Northern Indiana. I find that they love love love my Petunia hanging baskets, I know you can get get them to basically act like a perennial in some milder climates and they love the sun.

A more out there suggestion might be to try Fuchsias, they are pretty hardy. I've only grown them in South Australia, which has a similar Mediterranean style climate to parts of California, but they grew with no problem for me and are easy to grow from cuttings. I've grown them in pots, the only thing is they are not super great with a lot of sun, but it is mostly the roots that don't like them. I had good luck growing them in Australia in a place that got about 4 hours of sun in a hanging basket that was thickly layered (I actually put a pot in a pot and stuffed the gap with cocoa fibre stuff around. I watered every morning. They are heavy feeders. We don't have humming birds in Australia, but a quick Google shows that apparently they particularly like red fuchsias.
posted by wwax at 5:50 PM on December 7, 2013

If you're in Southern California, fuchsias! When I was a little kid in Palo Alto, we had fuchsias in hanging baskets and planters all around our courtyard. The hummingbirds loved them. And as far as I know, although both my parents had various gardens and houseplants over the years, neither one of them went for finicky high-maintenance things, which makes me think fuchsias must be reasonably hardy plants.
posted by Lexica at 7:38 PM on December 7, 2013

Lantana. Look for ones that grow to 24" or less.

Fuchsias are great for this, but I worry about the full sun (more in the summer and fall than spring and winter).

Dianthus is pretty much a perennial here in LA, especially with deadheading.

Begonias (sun tolerant varieties) are also more perennial here with care.

Short varieties of Salvia.
posted by cecic at 7:43 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re: Fuschia - apparently they have a reputation for being very hard to take care of, and are only recommended for experienced gardeners with green thumbs. Even if we ignore that, the problem is that they can't take FULL hot sun, which is what I have.

Again, I can easily come up with a plant that fulfills one or two conditions. My question was posted, because I couldn't find one that checked off all 6 conditions.

I think you might have to give up on the idea of perennials in your hanging baskets.

Which is why I asked if a plant that fulfills the 6 conditions exists in the plant kingdom - it's depressing to think it doesn't... didn't think I was asking for something extreme...

Thank you everybody so far, I'm really looking for plants that fulfill my 6 conditions.
posted by VikingSword at 8:16 PM on December 7, 2013

Came to recommend Lantana. Also Scaveola.

The problem is that you're asking for something that lives for years and years (perennial) and consequently grows continuously, that is also containerized. This is a little like asking for a bottle of universal solvent: if it works, you can't bottle it.

The two recommended above are good, but the simple fact of the matter is that you either will start out with hanging baskets that are too small after a year or two, and find yourself stuck repotting into progressively larger containers, or starting with containers that are impractically massive. You will have to compromise somewhere. You can probably get any number of plants that satisfy criterion 2 or 3, but not, in the long run, both.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:43 PM on December 7, 2013

I think Lantana is a good choice. You can also try Epilobium canum. Both plants will want to get much larger than the average hanging basket, but you could probably keep thiem in a basket for a year or two with some occasional hard pruning. If you can find Maurandya antirrhinifolia that may also work, though I've never grow this plant.

I agree that Fuchsias would be a very poor choice for a southern exposure.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:38 PM on December 8, 2013

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