Late summer is the peak of hummingbird activity in north Florida. Young birds of the year are off the nest and on their own. Adults and youngsters from as far north as Canada are streaming through on their southerly migration.
Many of us see a hummingbird in our yard daily and we think of it as “our” resident friend. This is probably far from fact. Fred Dietrich, Tallahassee resident and licensed bird bander for the Hummingbird Study Group, decided to study hummingbirds in his yard during the summer of 2010. He banded 72 hummingbirds through September 25. Only two of these were recaptures. This means he had a different hummingbird every two or three days!
By the end of June the southward migration of mature males is already in full swing. Mature females and young of the season may stay into the fall or are passing through north Florida from farther north as late as mid October.
Feeders are an easy way to attract hummingbirds, but plants add interest and beauty to your yard. Of the many hummingbird plants to choose from, I have four favorites. They vary in size and sunlight requirements. Two are Florida natives.
Firebush becomes a large shrub each year, up to six feet in height and width. A south Florida native, it is covered with slender, inch long orange flowers June through October. Plant firebush in sun to light-shade and give it room to grow. Butterflies, particularly zebra longwings, also use these flowers.
Pentas is much smaller at around three feet tall by two feet wide. Colors range from white to several shades of pink to red. It blooms June until frost. Pentas, though a perennial in south Florida, does not always survive our colder winters. Protect the roots with an extra six inches of pine straw or leaf mulch over winter. Pentas likes lots of sun, but will still bloom in considerable shade. It is a favorite of butterflies as well.
For shady locations, two terrific perennials are Indian pink and cardinal guard. Indian pink is a north Florida native wildflower and grows to just two feet tall by two feet wide. It blooms every April and May with erect, red trumpets topped by a bright yellow star – a lovely addition to a woodland garden.
The other shade perennial is cardinal guard, sometimes called firespike. It has beautiful lush foliage and reaches four to six feet tall with an overall vertical form. It blooms in late summer to fall, the prime time for migrating hummingbirds. The tips of the multitude of stems sport bright red “salvia like” flower spikes. I like to plant cardinal guard near a window to watch the hummingbird activity up close.
All four of these plants die back to the ground after the first frost. At that time, you may prune off the dead stalks and compost them. An insulating layer of pine straw or leaves keeps the roots a little warmer for the pentas and firebush. Be sure to pull back the mulch in early spring so sunlight can warm the soil.
These four are my favorites but certainly aren’t your only choices for hummingbirds. Perennial blue salvias, several of the Cupheas, porterweed, the old standby shrimp plant and many others will attract hungry hummingbirds. Give your migrating hummers a dependable stopover feeding station by planting some of these beautiful plants.