We saw our first hummingbird of the summer – oh, it is always a glorious sight! We love the little guys so much and want to keep them coming around. One year we had a Rufous hummer who over wintered with us. She was a juvenile who apparently knew she wasn’t up to the long trip across the Gulf, and she appreciated our willingness to thaw the feeder on the few days it got cold enough to freeze the sugar water. Her appreciation was so great that the next year she came back and brought her baby. At least, we think it was her. This is Ruby Red Throat country, so seeing another Rufous seemed unusual.
The point is – if you feed them, they will come. But what to feed them? Of course, you can feed them sugar water. But plants are the preferred method of feeding hummers. When they come to the coast they want to hang around a while and fatten up so that they can make the trip across the Gulf. This is their time to eat, drink, and be merry! If you’re lucky, you’ll get several of them dive bombing each other – and perhaps you – in your yard. Ahhh, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a hummer hover in front of your face looking at you in wonder as if trying to figure out where to insert his tongue to get his dinner. (Warning: don’t wear red in your yard if you’re frightened of small birds!) No, while supplementing the little guys’ diet with sugar water is fine, to get them into your garden in the first place they’re going to have to see that flash of flowers as they fly from overhead.
Most gardening books will list various plant suggestions for enticing hummers, and their suggestions are accurate for the earlier summer months or for other parts of the country. But if you live on the Gulf Coast, you know that the trumpet vine has already finished blooming by the time the hummers have returned in late August or early September. Knowing that the honeysuckle is considered a tasty treat to the hummingbird does you absolutely no good if you are a coastal gardener because your honeysuckle finished blooming months ago.
One flower that you can plant is the salvia. There are several hundred varieties of salvia, and the hummingbird likes virtually all of them. Naturally, the annual red variety is the one that will most attract the bird to your garden, but some of the perennial types will help keep him there. Plant both – that will keep you having to replant so much each year and will give both your garden and your birds’ diet some variety.
Lantana is used everywhere as a bedding plant, but it is also a useful plant in enticing hummingbirds. While the more vivid plants are better at getting the bird’s attention, don’t be afraid to plant the white lantana. It is pretty, will blend well with the rest of your garden, and it when the bird finds it he will appreciate it.
Cuphe ignea, aka “cigar plant” aka “firecracker plant” is a fantastic choice for drawing hummingbirds to your yard. The tubular flowers are perfect for the little birds’ beaks, and the ferny foliage will add some variety to your own garden. It may die back to the ground if it is a very cold winter, but it should come back fine unless the temperatures are unreasonably cold.
The Mandevilla vine, while hot pink, not red, will bring the birds to you in droves. Suggestion: put this plant in a pot with an obelisk. Not only will this allow you to move the plant to a spot in the yard where you can best watch the birds, but you might want to move this plant inside if the weather goes below freezing. We lost our Mandevilla last year when the weather became unseasonably cold. It will, under most circumstances, die back to the ground, but don’t worry; it will come back unless you allow it to freeze. All other years all we did was cover it when it got excessively cold, so it must be a very hard freeze to hurt it.
Some people say to grow the cypress vine, but I am against it. The cypress vine is a close relative of the morning glory, and even if you grow it in a pot it will still spread seeds far and wide. You will be plucking out seedlings all next year and for the next several years. At first this may seem okay – the foliage on this plant is quite lovely after all – but when it begins to choke out your other, more desirable plants, then you’re realize that this plant was a mistake. I’ve been plucking out seedlings for 5 years now with no end in sight.
Don’t be afraid to simply put a few red ribbons here and there in your yard. If you have a flower which you know or suspect has sweet nectar but simply isn’t colorful, put a few red ribbons around it.
A bird will stake his claim once he finds and likes your yard. Once that happens another bird will think, “hmmm…maybe there is something to that place,” and he will challenge him for it. Soon you’ll have tag teams going on. Set up a sprinkler system and watch them dance through the water – it is almost magical.
And while you watch, take a few notes on what plants the birds seem to enjoy the most so that next year you can plant more of those. If you plant them, they will come.