Hummingbirds & flowers

dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)November 11, 2013

Do the flowers that are still blooming at this time of year have any nectar for the hummingbirds? I still have flowers on my Hot Lips Salvia, their favorite flower this past summer, but I don't see them working it over the way they have done in the past. I wonder if we need more sunshine to make useful nectar for them.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Presumably planting of flowering trees, shrubs and other plants here that bloom during the winter and other times when native flowers are absent or scarce is what brought the Anna's Hummingbird north - or maybe it was mostly the putting out of feeders. Anyway, this species is around all the time wherever enough food is present. It is said to go for Mahonia media (coming on now) although I do not see it much on this cross myself; it definitely does like Grevillea victoriae, to the point of fighting over it. This one apparently never made the transition in hemispheres and still thinks it's where this time of the year is spring - unless it gets too cold it should be in bloom for months; at least once I have had it start in August and than not take a break until around May.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 3:41PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

Thanks bboy, I always appreciate your well-thought out answers. I just saw the Annas working over the Hot Lips Salvia so there must be good nutrition in those flowers still. I was going to cut it back but will leave it alone as long as the flowers are providing nectar for my feathered friends.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 4:11PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

You are welcome.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 10:54PM
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George Three LLC

its a good question, if the nectar content is as high... i would imagine the MORE SUN = MORE SUGAR rule for berries might hold for flowers, but i have no idea.

another vote for mahonia media being a great winter feeder for the local hummers. i had 3 at the old place, and would enjoy watching the battles.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 11:11PM
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You will also find them feeding at Arbutus at this time of year, especially the strawberry tree (A. unedo) or A. 'Marina', both of which tend to have flowers quite late into the fall. And the hardy fuchsias, which for me bloom until the temps drop well past freezing.

I also have a cluster of scarlet river lily, Hesperantha coccinea, which is a very late season bloomer and one they love. They've been working that plant hard recently!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 4:45PM
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Salvia elegans (Pineapple sage) is also good for hummers at this time of the year. IIRC, they begin blooming in October. Their flowering is triggered by the shorter (forgot the botanical term for that) and they don't seem to mind our overcast winter skies.

My wife planted a couple at our previous residence and they were promptly frozen dead at the beginning of the December, 2009 freeze. They're supposedly hardy in USDA Zone 8, but I don't believe that. Ours burned to the ground in the low 20's, and that sounds more like Zone 9a to me. It's a really nice, easy plant but expect them to be annual if you're not right on the coast.

This post was edited by OregonGrape on Tue, Nov 12, 13 at 23:49

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 11:41PM
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George Three LLC

pineapple sage is decently root hardy and is very vigorous. i've had mine survive the 2009 freeze, but under almost a foot of straw.

totally worth fussing with the plant during cold spells because otherwise it barely needs any attention and is one of the best flowers right now.

on overcast days, the red is electric.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 1:18PM
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You must be in a warmer microclimate. Our thermometer showed consecutive overnight lows of 15, 12, and 9 that week. All the mulch in the world wouldn't have saved it here.

I might try one in a container in the spring, as the flowers are indeed awesome at this time of the year.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:10PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

What happens with the USDA zone temperature ranges is that people misapply the average annual minimum temperatures of the zones to the minimum temperature tolerances of plants. Doubtless pineapple sage is being depicted as hardy to Zone 8 because it is known to fail somewhere between 10 and 20 degrees F. Since Zone 8 sometimes gets colder than this then, yes, it adds up to the sage actually being a Zone 9 plant.

There is also the matter of how the phrase "hardy to" is looked at; if it is thought as meaning the point where a plant starts to fail, then again we are back to the plant actually needing to be in the next warmer zone to be reliable.

I get the impression that in commercial literature the hardiness zone assignments are routinely fudged, with for instance a plant that goes down at ~20 degrees F. being rated Zone 8, and so on - the plant not even having to be hardy to somewhere in the mid range of average lows attributed to a zone to be offered as hardy to that zone.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:24PM
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A 10-degree range is pretty broad, and I imagine that this is why the zones are split up into "a" and "b" categories. Sunset zones are said to be a little more reliable, but they're both still approximations. When I was in college in Iowa in the mid-1990s, we had a day or two with -30 F temps, -70 wind chills, and not much snowpack to protect roots. Those temps are about a USDA zone and a half lower than predicted, and I imagine that a lot of people were re-planting a few months later.

The best thing that one can do is live in a place for a while, talk to people who have lived there longer, be aware of the 20- and 50-year low temps and, as you mentioned, try to plant a zone lower than you're listed as. And when you do get those rare freezes, mulch the heck out of your at-risk plants and hope for the best.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 6:06PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The Sunset zones are climate zones that are based on multiple factors. The USDA zones only address average annual minimum temperatures.

Those temps are about a USDA zone and a half lower than predicted

Other than in a general way, there are no temperatures specific to any particular zone. The USDA zones are not based on minimum temperatures, they are determined using average annual minimum temperatures - that is why each zone is identified with a range of temperatures. Splitting each into a and b levels just cuts it a little finer, but still does not make it so that a cold snap outside of the average range changes things - unless it is enough to change the average for the period of time being analyzed.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 6:18PM
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"The Sunset zones are climate zones that are based on multiple factors. The USDA zones only address average annual minimum temperatures...

Other than in a general way, there are no temperatures specific to any particular zone. The USDA zones are not based on minimum temperatures, they are determined using average annual minimum temperatures"

I'm aware of all of this.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 7:46PM
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George Three LLC

my old house was pretty close to downtown portland, the lowest low i experienced in 2009 was 12, which can explain the survival.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 11:06PM
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ressurecting an old thread... *grin*

so when this was written, I had several of the species mentioned working quite well-

Salvia 'Hotlips', elegans and a few others
Arbutus unedo 'compacta'
various Fuchsias
Grevillea victoriae

all of which attract hummers quite well.

Recently I've seen a number of local nurseries in the greater Seattle area about Camelias for hummers, but I still am a little hesitant to recommend specific varieties. I know 'Yuletide' is one that keeps getting mentioned, and its dark red color is certainly going to catch their attention, but I don't have it (yet!) so can't say for sure. I do have a Camelia sinensis 'Blushing Maiden' that did attract them some. But my large, very old C. japonica 'Kumasaka' with its classic double flowers gets absolutely no attention at the flowers. They do sit in it regularly though, lol.

Mahonia x media (hybrids of the tender M. lomariifolia, if you have a warm spot, and the much hardier M. japonica/beallii which blooms in later winter) are the mainstays for most of the winter here. This and the Grevillea victoriae are the two best winter nectar plants I can recommend. One grevillea will bloom from October or November, pretty reliably through till April, but the Mahonia cultivars in general only bloom for a month or maybe two for each cultivar. However, there are lots of cultivars, some of which start blooming in fall (Charity, Lionel Fortescue), others like the classic 'Arthur Menzies' bloom midwinter, and still others like 'Hibernant' and the straight species Mahonia japonica/ M. beallii (which may or may not be synonyms...) bloom later in winter and bleed into the first flowers of the native Mahonia aquifolium (which also will attract Anna's, though it seems more of a bee plant than the winter flowering ones.)

Another good late winter flower is Lonicera fragrantissima. It's starting to bloom now as it usually does in early January, and will keep blooming usually through till March or April. If you can find it, either L. standishii or the hybrid between them, L x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' are pretty much the same, only differing in how much they are likely to hold onto their leaves in winter. As the specific name implies, these are extremely fragrant, which is an ice plus in late winter.

Some people report Chaenomeles, the flowering quince, will also attract them. I have a very old hybrid with peach flowers, that they sit in constantly, but I rarely see them visit the flowers in that. Usually about the time it is in full flower though, the red flowering currants are starting up, and those are always a favorite.

A late winter herb you may want to try is one or another of the Pulmonarias. They are low to the ground, so perhaps best if these are in a tallish pot or rockery or something, but I've seen them visit a white cultivar i used to have (Sissinghurst White? not sure), and also seen them use P. sacharata, the taller one that tends to change color from pink to blue.

And if you like Iris, last year I watched a hummer quickly check out a pot of Iris reticulata I had just brought home in late January. I never saw it on the flower again, but it might work. Other Iris species do attract them, especially Iris fulva.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 7:09PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

People tell me hummingbirds are visiting. I have seen one in my yard. I don't know what it's eating - not much in bloom here.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 8:37AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

'Hivernant' is a very long-blooming Mahonia japonica selection. One I planted beneath a corkscrew hazel on Camano Island (on a site where eucalypts, fatsia, nandina etc. freeze down) is now maybe 3' high, after not many years. A botanically trained friend who points out home language pronunciations of plant names just about every time time alternative pronunciations are used in casual conversation calls this cultivar something like "ee-ver-na".

If the quince is low-growing and double-flowered it is almost certainly 'Cameo'.

This post was edited by bboy on Wed, Jan 1, 14 at 15:35

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 3:23PM
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Anna's Hummingbirds primarily feed on small insects (mites, leaf hoppers, etc.) in the winter. They're spreading north (and are even breeding east of the Cascades now) in large part because more people are putting up sugar-water feeders and planting perennials and shrubs that flower in the fall/winter.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 5:01PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

After that freeze I wonder how many insects are out there! Maybe one of the neighbors has a feeder out. I should do that too.

We have Helleborus in bloom. I don't know if hummingbirds use those, and there isn't much. Our Quince is not blooming yet.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 6:52PM
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I had a midge in one of my feeders yesterday when I replenished the nectar in it. I think one of the reasons they do well here on the coast is that we DO have various insects in midwinter, many of which like the midge I found, are winter hatching aquatic insects. This would be a good reason to ditch the koi in your pond and go for a more natural type of pond, lol... I suspect smaller mayflies and cadis are also fairly important for them. In the garden though, a good compost pile will still produce fungus gnats and fruit flies and similar little bitty insects that the hummers prefer all winter long. The conifers tend to produce a nice hatching of mealybug and other kinds of little aphid type bugs this time of year too, and I do see the hummers chasing after them during one of their mating flights, or whatever it is when they decide to start flying all over.

But there are quite a few winter flowers the hummers rely on, and they will defend them aggressively this time of year. Just come over to my house and watch for a while. The males especially are getting into their full formal breeding garb now, since they will be starting the breeding season soon, in the next month or so. The feeders are important too, and definitely defended by the more dominant birds, but I think the natural shrubs allow the sub-dominant and more vagrant birds who don't have a fixed territory here to sneak in more easily and get a little nectar when the bully birds are otherwise occupied. Still, chases are common here, sometimes right around your head if you dare to go out in their territory!

My quince is I believe the old hybrid C. x superba, but an old "standard" variety, easily topping out at 10-12 feet tall now, and a little broader than that. Mind you, its around 50 years old at this point, planted when my parents moved into the house years ago. It was a house warming gift when they moved in here, and likely one of those "pass along" plants that had lost its name generations before my parents received it. Beautiful coral pink flowers, and no spines. I am still surprised each time I get pricked by a thorn on the more "normal" ones, since this is the one I grew up with, so I never think of them as being thorny, lol. The flowers are beautiful, and bees and other insects like them, I just don't see the hummer's do more than poke them curiously. Not like the red flowering currant, that gets constant and dedicated attention to every flower open. Mine isn't blooming yet either, but usually starts in "late winter", in maybe another month and a half or so? I'd have to check my records, but it's generally pretty early.

Hellebores, sadly, are among the winter flowers I have never seen the hummers pay the slightest attention to. Their colors usually aren't even bright enough to get a curious probe or two, and ditto, rarely see bees on them either, so there is little to attract the hummers to them. Mine are late this year, I only have one even starting to show buds yet.

One I keep meaning to watch a little closer is the winter box- Sarcacocca. They should be starting to bloom soon, and flower heavily enough to attract some attention if there is any nectar there. Mine just got moved however, and is sulking. No sign of flowers this year.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 3:25AM
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