Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2008
Regional Report

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Lots of red flowers at different heights really draws in the hummingbirds.

Grow a Haven for Hummingbirds

A good measure of garden health is hummingbirds hanging nose-deep in fresh flowers. These tiny birds are an important part of garden ecology. Hummingbirds don't live on nectar alone. A diet of nothing but sugar couldn't possibly prepare them for 20 hours of flight across the Gulf of Mexico, much less the longer overland route through Mexico. They meet their protein needs by eating tiny insects and spiders. When you watch one darting back and forth to a plant, says thanks. He or she (females are larger) is snatching bugs out of the air, even if you can't see their prey. There are no hummingbirds in Europe, except as caged birds, since none of the 339 species of these western hemisphere natives can fly that far. Lucky for us, our region hosts hummers almost all year long.

Welcome Home
Red, tubular flowers are the classic attractant for hummingbirds, for good reason. As you add plants to your garden that will make it a regular stop on their routes, consider their needs. At least 150 plants native to North America have what it takes, and many are grown across our region. Look for plants that bloom at different heights, that have long, tubular flowers whose length and thick petals deter other birds. Perchless and relatively widely spaced, the flowers allow hummingbirds to hover without impeding their wings. In return, the birds heads bump the other flower parts, enabling pollination to occur.

Those flowers that are not hummer-friendly have thin corollas, closely packed flowers, and a natural perch for bees and other nonflyers.

Remarkable Relationships
It does not matter what kind of plant it is, if one suits the hummingbirds, they'll show up. Trumpet vine cannot be pollinated by anything else, coral honeysuckle vine sustains the winter crowd. Blooming aloes offer tall stalks of orange tubes, and purple trumpet plants get attention all summer. Hummingbirds favor long-blooming plants since they often feed and nest within shouting distance and so return to the same flowers frequently. The flowers successfully pollinated by hummingbirds can develop longer bloom times in response. Indeed, there is fossil evidence to suggest that hummingbirds and their nectar plants evolved together.

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