Late summer in the garden is all about the hummingbirds. They are everywhere, whizzing about with fury, dive bombing each other vying for the nectar plants.
If your garden has been planned with hummers in mind, this time of year might be most entertaining. Did you know that a hummingbird will feed five to 10 times per hour? And they really don’t sip nectar. Their long, little tongues absorb moisture like a paper towel soaks up water.
As autumn sneaks in, our local hummingbird is the Anna’s. You might see several birds buzzing about if you have planted salvias, especially Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha. This particular sage blooms abundantly from now until the first hard frost of winter hits. The long wands of fuzzy purple and white flowers smother mounds of gray/green foliage. Hummingbirds love this salvia best of all. Plants are bold, making mounds 4-feet tall and equally as wide. Mexican sage is hardy to 30F. Don’t worry if frost smacks it back. Plants usually come back in spring when the soil warms up.
If you want to feed hummers with a top-notch native perennial, consider Epilobium canam, California fuchsia. From late summer through autumn, this low-growing perennial is smothered by hummingbirds feeding on the bright coral/orange tubular flowers loaded with nectar. Hummers cannot resist those neon-hued flowers. This native perennial is a wonderful natural source of nectar for hummers migrating south each fall.
In the garden, Epilobium likes full sun, well-drained soil and just a bit of summer water. It grows up to 3-feet wide and 2- to 3-feet tall while in bloom.
Winter comes soon enough and when the frosts blanket our gardens, fall-flowering perennials wither and die. But still there is another wonderful nectar source for the sturdy Anna’s hummingbirds. Consider adding Arbutus ‘Marina’ to your garden. The drooping clusters of urn-shaped flowers of this evergreen shrub will feed the tiny birds throughout the winter. Even on a clear day in January you might get dive bombed by a feisty little hummer.
Terry Kramer is a trained horticulturist and journalist. She has been writing a garden column for the Times-Standard since 1982.