Few things add beauty and excitement to a garden the way a hummingbird can. These birds are wonders of nature – so tiny, with feathers that can sparkle like jewels in the sun, with wings that move in a blur and that can perform maneuvers unlike any other bird.
The only species of hummingbird to breed in Georgia is the ruby-throated hummingbird, although other species from the West visit our state in fall and winter. I am envious of Georgians that have hummingbirds all spring and summer and especially of those with rare visitors from afar. I usually don’t have any until July but I try to have something in bloom or a feeder up for them whenever they may visit.
Because hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowers, I plant plenty of their favorites. The top three plants they visit in my garden are the hybrid erythrina, also known as hybrid coral bean (Erythrina x bidwillii), flame anisacanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) and anise-scented salvia (Salvia guaranitica).
The erythrina (pronounced (er-ith-RY-na) dies to the ground in the winter but sprouts back to form a large shrub six feet tall and an equal or greater spread. It is covered with spikes of glorious red flowers that will have people stopping in the street and hummingbirds fighting over feeding rights. It likes full sun and average soil.
Flame anisacanthus (pronounced a-NIS-a-CAN-thus) is a shrubby plant, reaches five to six feet tall if there is no winter dieback and is a cloud of reddish orange flowers in mid to late summer. It likes well-drained soil and full sun and is very drought tolerant.
Anise-scented salvia has violet blue flowers and fragrant foliage. It is a perennial and reaches four feet tall. It blooms all summer and likes full sun to partial shade.
Other hummingbird favorites are Texas sage (Salvia coccinea), pineapple sage, Mexican bush sage, firecracker vine (Manettia inflata), coral honeysuckle, spigelia, monarda, red-hot poker, columbine, cow-itch vine or trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, jewelweed, impatiens, fuchsia, red buckeye, cigar plant, hyacinth bean, Mexican sunflower or tithonia, Turk’s cap mallow, tulip poplar, pinckneya, azalea and zinnia.
If you put up a hummingbird feeder, remember the formula is 4 to 5 parts water to 1 part granulated (table) sugar. Do NOT use honey or any other sweetener! Also, do not add food coloring. Clean the feeder at least once a week.
Anyone seriously interested in hummingbirds should become a member of the Georgia Hummer Study Group (P.O. Box 323, Newborn, GA 30056). Their website is www.gahummer.org and membership dues are $10 for individuals, $15 for a family.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.