Few plants are more attractive to hummingbirds than Crocosmia. Sometimes known as Montbretia, these South African perennials are easy to grow and can be planted as bulbs or purchased as potted plants. The sword-like leaves create a vertical effect, but it’s the vividly colored tubular flowers that stand out in the mixed border.
Crocosmia blooms come in fiery shades of orange, red, and yellow. The flowers appear in June or July depending on the variety and are produced on slender stems of two feet or more in length with buds that open one-by-one from the bottom up. The gorgeous display usually lasts for about a month. The blooms make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers.
One of the most popular is Crocosmia 'Lucifer.' It produces brilliant, scarlet-red flowers on an arching stem that can sometimes reach four feet tall. It's a reliable bloomer but requires staking, and it spreads so rapidly it can take over if you don't divide it to keep it in bounds.
Much slower spreading with bigger and showier flowers is 'Hellfire.' Growing only to three feet tall, the burning red flowers held on stout arching stems are sinfully gorgeous.
Another stunner is 'Fern Hill.' This variety has three-foot tall pleated leaves and arching stems closely packed with bright orange flowers that create a divine combination arching over the crimson foliage of a dwarf 'Crimson Pygmy' barberry. There are estimated to be about 400 varieties to choose from, so keep an eye out for new exciting introductions at your local nursery.
Although rarely bothered by pests, in hot dry weather, spider mites can prove to be the Achilles heel of Crocosmia. In high numbers, mites can cause the foliage to turn brown and dry up early in the season and if left unchecked, will prevent flowering. Mites thrive in dry conditions, but they hate moisture.
Usually, all that is required to prevent the problem is to mist the leaves regularly, but if you notice the leaves are yellowing or becoming stippled, up the ante on the hose nozzle, and while supporting the leaves in one hand, blast the little rascals off the foliage. By the way, it’s a good idea to wear a swimming suit while performing this procedure.
Crocosmias generally perform best in full sun and require dividing in spring every few years if flowering diminishes. Avoid the ubiquitous, orange flowering Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora known as Montbretia. It's an over-rambunctious spreader that tends to be invasive and stops blooming unless it is divided at least every other year.