The Hummingbirds Are Back! Part I


In just the past two weeks, the hummingbirds have suddenly made their summer appearance in my gardens. And they will be staying around until moving south in October. At first it was one bird, and now there are 3 or 4 hanging out, sipping, fussing, and moving deliberately from flower to flower on their favorite perennials.

Being an avid hummingbird gardener, my garden is bursting with "natural nectar." By choosing summer and early fall blooming plants (listed below), my garden will provide the hummingbirds a continuous supply of nectar well into fall.

I've spread out the plants over a wide area so that all the hummingbirds can fan out across the garden to feed, and the Rufous hummingbird can't keep chasing the other birds from the garden. Hummingbirds prefer "natural nectar" from flowers over sugar water from a feeder (it's like a person choosing between a glass of natural fruit nectar or a Pepsi). If there are enough flowers in the garden to support them, the feeder is often ignored.

I have a mature Yucca rostrata outside of my front walled garden that bloomed last summer. The top of this tree-form Yucca is about 6' tall. Sticking up above its blue, strap-like foliage, I've left one of the bare flowering stems from last summer on the plant, where it is used as a favorite perching spot. My little Rufous (the "Terrier" hummingbird species of the garden) oversees all of the beds in my front yard. Hummingbirds love a bare branch devoid of foliage on which to sit. Remember not be too quick to clean up dead branches on the tops of shrubs or lower branches of trees.

Text by David Salman

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  • Luminous Pineleaf Beardtongue Penstemon pinifolius Luminous

    Starting at $10.99

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Straight Up Red Texas Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora Straight Up Red PPAF

    Starting at $11.99

    Sale: $10.19

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Elfin Pink Beardtongue Penstemon barbatus Elfin Pink


    Sale: $8.99

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

  • Amistad Friendship Sage Salvia Amistad


    Sale: $10.79

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot

8 thoughts on “The Hummingbirds Are Back! Part I”

  • gene solyntjes
    gene solyntjes 08/07/09 at 3:08 am

    Hello David,
    As A Master Gardener recently moved here from Seattle, The hummingbirds here in Las Vegas are a bonus. A feeder hung yesterday has had as many as seven birds attempting to feed simultaneously with almost constant activity.

    I am finding the soil here a challenge. The 8.5 PH tests mean IMPROVEMENTS to me , but the hardpan and its' methods of removal will be daunting. I shall be converting a large corral into a terraced beds since its slanted to the east.Drip irrigation is on the list and when we sell our home in Seattle at some point when the market turns up there will be adequate funds for installing the water catchment system on our 5,000 sq. ft. roof.

    In talking with Dr. John Harrington of the Dept. of Forestry seedling program, I performed the "coke can" test to see how long it takes a cup of water to soak into my soil. =2:21. Now I can see the dilemma. When rain falls here the surface clay is turned to a sort of goo and prevents permeation of the rainfall so it runs off my east facing slope.

    My two years in the MG program have been spent at Chavez gardens in Seattle in the heart of the Seattles' Spanish community. Those thirty yr. old raised vegetable beds are so fertile that fertilizer frequently is not used for years despite the fact they produce a remarkable crop of rotated vegetables for the community kitchens.

    John told me the hardpan is a part of the clay that is condensed and that there is nothing to stop it from reforming again. I would like your insights as to modifying this soil so it closer resembles the soil I am used to dealing with.

    We have a raw lumber mill here using sawdust as a base for their compost. Would a ratio of 1 sand, 1 compost, and 1 native soil make a soil that would be rich and suitable for holding moisture and not allow the clay to reunite into hardpan?

    Thank you for your work in xeric gardening. Logic dictates that if you can locate xeric plants that can survive in hot, dry areas with little water and a cold winter, might they not benefit from some increased moisture soil amendments and moisture also? The cactus garden I built at Chavez( 400 square
    feet) in Seattle had the Oppuntias and cylindropuntias double in size in two years.
    It is a pleasure to state that nearly everyone of my ten dozen Dahlias I have brought with me has survived the trip!
    Thank you for your attention in this matter.

    Gene Solyntjes

    • David Salman

      Gene, welcome to the world of alkaline clay. This is the most common soil type here in New Mexico. While it is possible to amend the soil for flower beds and vegetable gardens, it is not practical to do so for larger growing woody shrubs and trees because their roots go so far out into their planting area . With woody plants it is essential that you choose species that grow successfully in high pH clay (and there are some great choices).

      When planting annuals, perennials and vegetables, we have more flexibility. Amendment with organic mater is the first, most important step toward improving water percolation and moderating the pH. I typically don't recommend removing the native soil but prefere to change it's character over time by a congoing addition of amendments and natural/organic fertilizers. However, when you want to grow plants that refuse to grow in a heavier soil (like cacti or sand loving perennials), then berming with an ammended mix like you mention is an excellent option.

      As a general rule I mix 1 cu. yd of high quality compost or composted bark plus soft rock phosphate and Planters II trace minerals ("rock dust") at recommend rates per 100 ft. sq. of bed area. Rototill it in to a depth of 10-12". As I plant I inoculate the plant roots with micorrhiza (Earth Magic and Protein Crumblies are my prefered inoculant products). Keep the soil well mulched with a coarse texted compost or bark and fertilize every spring and fall with Yum Yum Mix (a natural fertilizer formulated for western soils).

      To prevent nitrogen deficiencies, don't use fresh sawdust or bark chips unless you do it now (Aug.) and plant the next spring.

  • Linda Harris
    Linda Harris 08/07/09 at 4:37 am

    I have what seems like a flock of hummers. There are a lot of the Rufous hummers around. They have a great time "chasing" each other and making a lot of noise for such a little bird.

  • Kathy Dye

    Hello, David

    Since I first saw this part of the Xeric Gardener, I have been trying to find a source of plants or seeds for the penstemon shown in the picture.....Rowe Mesa Giants.

    First, of course, I called High Country Gardens, and the gal I talked to said you didn't have them and refered me to Plants of the Southwest. They sell seed for penstemon barbatus, but no named variety, such as the "rowe mesa". So, if the picture was taken in your gardens and you might direct me to a source for this beautiful form of penstemon, I would very much appreciate it.

    One other comment; when you did the Spring Gardening Conference here in Casper Wy several years ago, I told you I had some "redbirds in a tree" plants that had survived a number of winters that had temps -30 and -35 degrees., and you asked for seeds of those plants. I sent them that fall and was just curious if your staff had propogated them. My plants are still going strong in that location, but other scropholaria macrantha that I have bought since then have not survived. Those original ones from eight years ago have reseeded themseves around a little, but not far from the parent plants.

    • David Salman

      THe Penstemon barbatus (Rowe Mesa Giants) shown in my garden photo is a new strain of the species on which I'm do some selection work. I habitat collected the original seed about 4 years ago and got it into my garden and other test beds for evaluation last fall. I hope to have plants available for spring of 2011.

      I'm sorry to say that I didn't receive your cold hardy Scrophularia (Red Birds in a Tree) last fall. Our mail service in Santa Fe is beyond bad. I'm recollecting seeds of the Red Birds because I ran out a few years ago and have been propagating the plants from cuttings.

  • Marilyn Grua

    Hello David,

    "A. rupestris ‘Glowing Embers’ (a new cultivar I’ve yet to release"

    I've been interested in this Agastache. I love Agastaches! What can you tell about it? When are you going to introduce it? What color is it? Hopefully, it isn't for Western gardens only.


    Hebron, KY

  • Jackie Rhodes

    We live in Las Vegas and have been leaving the hummingbird feeder out all winter. Some hummingbirds eat from it, but we are concerned that we are keeping them here when they should be migrating. Do you know whether that could be true? We hate to see them shiver in the cold and do not want to interfere with their migration, if they would naturally go to a warmer place for the winter. Please respond ASAP, it is now 10/31/10, so I need to know whether to bring in the feeder for the winter.

    • High Country Gardens

      This information was told to me by Ross Hawkins, President of the Hummingbird Society. The late season use of hummingbird feeders is OK. Having feeders in the fall as a food source doesn't prevent them from migrating and can sometimes help late stragglers re-fuel on their way south.

      Just be sure to check the sugar/water mix every few days to make sure it doesn't ferment from less frequent use.


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