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Appropriate plants can attract hummingbirds all year long


Many people believe attracting hummingbirds is an activity that is at its best in the spring and summer.

If you have a hummingbird garden that does a great job until the end of summer, then falls down on the job, here are some great plants that will extend the season.

One of the best reasons to do that is to attract the glorious hummingbird that shimmers like a newly minted penny – the Rufous Hummingbird. In the Sonoran Desert, we get to see this beauty mostly in the spring as it travels through to higher elevations and in the fall as it moves back down from Mount Lemmon and lingers here before making its winter trek south.

There seems to be no end to the delightful plants that grace the desert, both naturally and as cultivated additions, that signal colorfully to the winged jewels of the avian world. Though hummingbirds actually visit and obtain nectar from all colors of flowers that have the right shape, we seem to have a psychological propensity to use the brightest of orange, red and hot pink as our bait. As summer passes its peak and the monsoons join in to spur on the flowering – nature delivers a wealth of appropriate plants to draw hummingbirds to us.

Several of native choices include Anisacanthus quadrifidous wrightii, or Mexican Fire hummingbird bush, Stachys coccinea, or Texas betony, and Zauschnaria californica, commonly called hummingbird bush. All three of these plants sport blossoms of orange-red shades, yet each plant has its own look, shape and manner of presenting its flowers.

The Anisacanthus is a stately, upright shrub with its scarlet tubes adorning the top 12 inches of the stems. The Stachys is a small mounding plant with its coral red tubes on the very tips of each of its many short branches. The Zauschnaria is a medium-sized shrub that puts on a flush of the brightest green monsoon foliage that is covered with spectacular bright orange flared trumpets.

The desert floor is certainly not the only area that holds late treats for hummers. Native to higher elevations, but exceptionally comfortable in our landscapes is Salvia regla, known as mountain or regal sage, and, from the Chihuahuan Desert, Salvia roemeriana, or cedar sage.

And, if we step away from the orange and red flowers, the late summer garden wouldn’t be complete without the velvety royal purple spires of Salvia leucantha, or Mexican sage.

For those with a water garden or a water feature with space for shallow plants, one of the most gorgeous is Lobelia cardinalis, or scarlet lobelia, an upright herbaceous perennial with burgundy foliage topped with clusters of the brightest red flowers the hummingbirds could hope for.

These suggestions just scratch the surface of the possibilities. There are many plants that are just beginning the season of their greatest glory. So don’t allow your garden to be dull and listless after a few hot months – the best is yet to come.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.

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