Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
June, 2009
Regional Report

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The color and shape of Penstemon eatonii blossoms invite this hummingbird to dinner.

Surefire Hummingbird Gardens

There's nothing mysterious or difficult about attracting hummingbirds. It is one of the easiest and most rewarding gardening endeavors. Simply provide the flowers they prefer and these tiny flying gems will visit soon and often. Even a handful of well-chosen plants will guide them to your landscape.

Plant Selection Tips
-- Hummingbirds' long bills are adapted to insert into long, narrow, tubular, or trumpet-shaped flowers. They are particularly drawn to red (which is why so many commercial feeders are red), but also reliably visit orange, yellow, and pink blossoms.

-- Choose plants native or well-adapted to your region. The birds recognize them, and these plants are typically easier to grow and maintain.

-- Add a variety of plants that bloom at different seasons to offer a year around source of nectar. Make a list of when your current plants flower, then add from the list below to fill in any gaps. Low desert gardeners probably want to plan their additions and wait until fall to transplant. Higher elevation gardeners can plant successfully during the monsoon season.

Hummingbird Plant Choices for Year Around Blooms
The following low-water-use plants are well-adapted to many regions in the Southwest and offer extended bloom times.
(Plant common name: bloom season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Aloe: Sp, W
Red eremophila: Sp, W
Chuparosa: Sp, F, W
Penstemon: Sp
Flame honeysuckle: S, F
Hummingbird trumpet: S, F
Desert willow: Sp, S, F
Red yucca: Sp, S, F
Orange bells: Sp, S, F, W
Baja red fairy duster: Sp, S, F, W

Nest Building
Some hummingbirds build nests in the strangest places, at least to human eyes. I've never enjoyed one in my yard, but a number of gardeners over the years have been proud to show me their resident hummingbird nest, which more often than not is parked precariously in a hanging basket on the patio, or atop a light fixture on the wall or some similar odd choice. According to their human observers, the offspring do fine, so the parents must know their business!

You can help with web construction by ignoring exterior clean-up chores, at least a bit. Hummingbirds use sticky spider webbing to construct their nests. Leave some spider webs hanging in the upper corners of your windows and patio doors. Hummers will fly by to harvest it, and you can observe them from indoors as they hover and dart, collecting the material.

Finally, don't use pesticides. Insects are an important food source for hummers. Not only do pesticides limit their food choices, but the toxic chemical itself can harm these tiny birds. If you fear a pest invasion, realize that Mother Nature strikes a pretty amazing balance between predators and prey. If your yard has been maintained with pesticides for many years, it may take a year or so to achieve balance, but it will happen!

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