Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Plants for Summer Hummers

Thanks to Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica), hummingbirds are a daily delight in my California native garden.  They entertain me outside my kitchen window during breakfast.  Alas, I have not managed to photograph them, just the Fairy Duster.  Those little suckers are fast!

While hummingbirds will visit almost any blooming native plant, they prefer red flowers like the Fairy Duster. 

Summer and early fall are the dormant time for most California natives, but Baja Fairy Duster, a native of central to southern Baja, blooms almost all year round without supplemental water.  It is a wonderful addition to a dryer spot in a traditional garden, as it will tolerate a little summer water better than many natives.  It's hard to kill.  So what are you waiting for?  Plant one!
After many trimmings, my Fairy Duster is as wide as it is tall.
Baja Fairy Duster has lacy grey-green leaves, like mimosa.  It can be easily trimmed and trained to a more dense and round hedge. Yours will probably come from the nursery with three upright stems and nothing else. Lop those long vertical stems short, repeatedly if necessary, till you convince it not to shoot for the sky.  No special precautions required.  It would like at least a half day of full sun.
For small gardens, the upright shape is handy, but can look gawky.

Its relative Calliandra eriophylla is found north to San Diego.  Eriophylla has abundant but pale pink flowers, a shorter bloom season, and, sorry to say, just doesn't make the same statement.

Another summer/fall-flowering hummingbird treat is California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum).  This little gem (not a true fuchsia) grows all over California. It presents a variety of sizes and shapes (formerly listed as several different species), but virtually all have the long-necked red flower hummers prefer.
California Fuchsia was in full bloom at UC Santa Cruz Botanic Garden at the end of September.  

These are unpredictable in their growing habit; their silver foliage is often sparse, and not evergreen.  So, not a centerpiece.  I have taken to planting them among evergreen natives.  Their foliage is almost invisible, but even a few blooms peeking out make a vivid impression. And if they fail to thrive, they don't leave a hole. For a few months in summer or early fall, their accent catches the eye in the grey-green of a summer-dormant native garden.
California Fuchsia (a tall Epilobium 'Catalina', or a hybrid thereof) grows through California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) in my front yard.

Hummingbirds also love Lobelia laxiflora, a Mexico/Arizona native compatible with the California native summer-dry garden.  This Lobelia is another good transition plant for the low-water garden in progress, as it tolerates moderate water or zero summer water.  Mine received no supplemental water this year, no problem (though fewer blooms).  Its floppy habit fills in under a Lemonadeberry.
Thanks to Sandrine Biziaux Scherson for catching this little hummer drinking up the Lobelia nectar,  head covered with pollen. 

You can have hummers in your garden all summer, without the hassle or nutritional issues of hummingbird feeders, with the crowd-pleasing Baja Fairy Duster.  The more finicky California Fuchsia and the indestructible Lobelia laxiflora could round out your collection, and a tree(toyon in my case) for high perches will allow very territorial hummers to guard their ruby treasures.

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