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Weekly Express-News Article
“Plants for the Patio and Garden to Attract Hummingbirds”
We are just entering the best time for viewing hummingbirds in San Antonio. In late summer the year’s hatch of black-chinned hummingbirds visit our gardens and sugar-water feeders. In a few weeks the migrating ruby-throats, black-chins and rufous hummingbirds also move through in waves. Some years a few rufous hummingbirds will decide to stay all winter.
Sugar-water feeders bring the birds onto the patio and near the windows for close observation, but it is not too late to enhance the landscape with blooming plants that will increase the likelihood and the number of hummingbirds that will visit your landscape.
Relatively new on the market this year is esperanza in hanging baskets. The yellow bell-shaped flowers are among the hummingbird’s favorite. Hang the basket from the eaves of the house or from an arbor in full sun. In the garden, one-to-three of the baskets could be hung from a carousel-type wrought-iron pole built for the job, or even a wood post with metal or wooden pieces attached like bicycle spokes around the top on which to hang the esperanza baskets.
After the bloom period ends when cold weather arrives, plant the esperanza in full sun in the garden. The tops freeze back most winters, but in late spring they re-emerge to be a deer-proof, drought-proof, summer-blooming shrub.
Cape honeysuckle foliage resembles trumpet creeper foliage. The tubular flowers are the same color but are miniature versions of those of the aggressive vine. Cape honeysuckle evolved in Southern Africa, so its bloom period is backwards from what we would expect. It is blooming right now and will bloom well into the winter providing nectar for the hummingbirds. Cape honeysuckle is available at area nurseries trained as a small shrub or on trellises in containers. It can be planted directly into the garden in full sun or placed on the patio to attract the migrating hummingbirds.
Zinnias are featured as a potted plant in late summer because they are available in many colors and will brighten up the patio or flower garden until cold weather arrives. Zinnias are also a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies.
I am convinced that the all-time favorite hummingbird plant is firebush (Hamelia patens). Use it for the small, tubular, red blooms in the shrub border or use it in a container to attract hummingbirds from now until November. In the garden, firebush is a drought tolerant plant. In a container, the fibrous root system is not as efficient; it requires watering every other day. The attention is worth it. The toughest hummingbird on the block will lay claim to your firebush and will protect the claim by aggressive dogfights with interlopers.
For shady patios, firespike (Odontonema strictum) is a good substitute for firebush. The plant has very attractive, shiny, green foliage and the bright red flower spikes will be produced in deep shade. Turks cap is another good hummingbird plant for the shade. The plant in full bloom in one-gallon containers is on sale at area nurseries now. It can be planted directly into the landscape to provide red blooms and hummingbird food, or you can leave a few plants in the containers on the patio in the shade or sun to attract the fast-flying dynamos.