Hummingbird Garden Plants

 

Native plants for hummingbirds can provide moisture, food, cover for protection and nesting sites.

Selecting a combination of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that flower at different times of the year will ensure that local hummingbirds have enough food and liquids year-round. In particular, fall and winter flowering plants can be very important for survival.

 

The list below focuses on food (nectar) plants.

 

 

 

Name

Common Name

Family

Growth Form

Flowering Season

Abutilon palmeri Indian Mallow Mallow Shrub Spring to summer
Achillea millefolium Common Yarrow Sunflower Perennial Spring to summer
Agave deserti Desert Century Plant Lily Succulent Spring
Agave shawii Shaw’s Century Plant Lily Succulent Spring
Aquilegia formosa Western Columbine Buttercup Perennial Late spring
Arctostaphylos spp. and cultivars Manzanita Heath Shrub Winter
Calliandra eriophylla Fairy Duster Pea Shrub Spring to summer
Ceanothus spp. and cultivars Wild Lilac Buckthorn Shrub Spring
Chilopsis linearis and cultivars Desert Willow Bignonia Tree Summer
Comarostaphylis diversifolia Summer Holly Heath Shrub Late spring
Dudleya spp. Live Forever Stonecrop Succulent Spring to summer
Fallugia paradoxa Apache Plume Rose Shrub Spring to summer
Galvezia speciosa Bush Snapdragon Figwort Shrub Summer
Heuchera spp. and cultivars Coral Bells Saxifrage Perennial Spring
Hyptis emoryi Desert Lavender Mint Shrub Spring to summer
Ipomopsis spp. Scarlet Gilia Phlox Perennial Spring to summer
Justicia californica Belloperone Acanthus Shrub Spring to summer
Keckiellespp. Keckiella Figwort Shrub Summer
Lavatera spp. and cultivars Tree Mallow Mallow Shrub, small tree Spring to summer
Lilim (some species) Lily Lily Perennial Late spring
Mahonia (Berberis) spp. and cultivars Barberry Barberry Shrub Spring
Malacothamnus spp. and cultivars Bush Mallow Mallow Perennials, shrub Spring to summer
Mimulus (Diplacus) spp. and cultivars Monkey Flower Figwort Annulas, perennials, shrubs Spring
Mirabilis californica spp. Wishbone Bush Four O'Clock Perennial Spring
Monardella spp. and cultivars Mints, Balms Mint Perennial Spring
Nolina parryi Beargrass Lily Shrub-like Spring
Penstemon spp. and cultivars Snapdragons Figwort Perennials, shrubs Spring, summer
Rhododendron occidentale spp. Western Azalea Heath Shrub Spring, fall
Rhus integrifolia Lemonade Berry Sumac, Cashew Shrub Spring
Rhus ovata Sugar Bush Sumac, Cashew Shrub Spring
Ribes spp. and cultivars Wild Currant Gooseberry Shrub Late fall, winter, spring
Salvia spp. and cultivars Sages Mints Annuals, perennials, shrubs Spring, fall
Sphaeralcea ambigua Desert Mallow Mallow Shrub Spring, summer, fall
Trichostema lanatum and cultivars Woolly Blue Curls Mint Shrub Spring and summer
Yucca spp. Yucca Lilly Shrub-like Spring
Zauschneria (Epilobium) spp. California Fuchsia Evening-Primrose Perennial Summer and fall

California Native Bulbs

Bulbs are often one of the most conspicuously absent elements in a native garden: geophytes (bulbs, corms, tubers). While some species can colonize and make impressive displays in time, most bulbs are better used as accents or highlights in the garden. Flowering time for a given species is often brief and so inter-planting with other plants, especially annuals, allows native bulbs to be more effectively used. Both the bulbs and seeds of re-seeding annuals require a dry summer and so are good companions. Below are general guidelines for planting and caring for your bulbs. 

In the Garden or in Containers?

In either situation it must be remembered that nearly all California native geophytes require a dry rest period in summer. Among established plantings of perennials (especially grasses) and smaller shrubs that receive no watering or only occasional light watering during summer, Brodiaea, Triteleia, Dichelostemma and Calochortus can be inter-mixed. The two main drawbacks to planting these bulbs in the open garden are a) over-watering in summer, which can rot the bulbs, and b) getting lost amongst larger plants. In the latter case, too much shade may be cast by shrubs or larger perennials, thus resulting in bulbs that are too weak to flower, or the show of flowers can be drowned out by surrounding plants. However, smaller companion plants (1-2 feet tall), from annuals to shrubs, provide some protection from disturbance and support for the flowering stems. Exciting color combinations can also be achieved in this way. Half day sun, preferably morning sun, is ideal for a majority of native bulbs. Many native bulbs are well-adapted to heavy soils and do not need organic amendments. Where raised beds or a slope can be provided, native bulbs will be even happier.

In containers the grower has better control of various factors including soil, watering, light exposure and protection from rodents. Plants in pots are portable and can be moved for enjoyment indoors (briefly) or other sites outdoors. Though many native bulbs can be successfully grown in smaller containers it is generally best to use larger pots, at least 8” deep, for groupings of several bulbs together. A sandy soil mix is suitable for most species. This can be obtained by mixing together approximately 40 percent packaged potting soil for container plants, 40 percent river or concrete sand and 20 percent garden soil (loam). Once the leaves appear allow the surface of the soil to become dry before watering again. In containers, moderate feeding with any commonly available liquid fertilizer is beneficial while the plants are actively growing. Since containerized bulbs should only need re-potting every third year or so, slower-releasing nutrient additives such as bone meal and blood meal are also useful.


How do I Plant my Bulbs?

As a general rule, bulbs in the garden and in containers should be planted as soon as weather cools in the fall (Oct.-Nov.). Plant to a depth approximately three times the length or width of the bulb, whichever is greater. For en masse effect, do not plant closer than about one inch apart. These rules of thumb can be used to gauge how many bulbs can be planted in a single container and also for informal groupings in the garden. Bulbs should be watered-in the same day they are planted and then left to sit until the first rains. If the bulbs sprout as a result of this first watering, before the rains, water weekly or when dry until rains arrive.


What about Maintenance?

In general, our native geophytes are long-lived and if they perform well for you in their first year they can be depended upon to brighten your garden for many years to come. They will not burn-out like many other commonly sold bulbs such as tulips and crocus (most varieties) and other cold-winter species. Varieties in the Brodiaea alliance (Dichelostemma, Triteleia, Brodiaea) are good for naturalizing and will slowly multiply and make clumps or patches over the years. If seed capsules appear they can be harvested and the seed is then planted in the fall. Seed-grown bulbs may be planted-out after about three seasons of growth. Bulbs that have multiplied naturally in the garden can be dug in summer and separated to provide material to plant in other locations.


What about Calochortus?

The mariposa lilies are more challenging to grow and the reward is correspondingly greater, with elegant goblets or globes of white, yellow, pink and other basic colors. Inside the flower are striking patterns of darker colors and complex arrangements of hairs. Recommended for those with some experience growing native bulbs or other dry-climate geophytes. Basic requirements are a sunny position in pots or in the garden and a freely draining soil mix with low amounts of organic matter. A very sandy soil mix is a good starting point, with the addition of pumice (for drainage) and including only a minor component (about 10-15 percent) of organic material such as bagged potting mix for container plants. Once planted in fall the bulbs may take quite a while to sprout, as late as January in some cases. Try to avoid watering as much as possible and let the rain do the work. Do not keep the plants out of the rain! During the growing season a few applications of low-strength orchid fertilizer (high in nitrates, low in ammonia or urea) are beneficial. Keep pots or beds completely dry once the leaves have turned mostly yellow. Greatest success can be expected in containers and in raised beds. Wooden containers (1’ x 1’ x 1’) are good for mariposa lilies and other bulbs. Transplanting should be needed only occasionally, every 3-4 years, since the lean soil mix will not degrade very much over this time.

Extending Wildflower Blooms

To extend the bloom period for wildflower gardens, sow seeds over a longer period of time, from October through February to extend the exuberance of the wildflower season into late spring and summer. You might even reseed in March and April.

Include late blooming annuals in the mix. The pretty pinks of clarkias (Clarkia amoena, C. unguiculata) will adorn your garden in May and June. Madias (Madia elegans), tarweeds (Hemizonia spp.) and sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) provide cheerful yellow flowers into the summer. Cut back poppies (Eschscholzia californica) after their first bloom period and they will return for a second, and possibly third bloom, brightening your summer garden with their brash orange flowers.

As the season progresses selectively remove and cut back the wildflowers, leaving some seed for the birds. If you do not water your wildflower beds during the summer, they will reseed themselves. If the garden receives summer water, collect the seed and sow it next fall and winter.

Winter Garden Maintenance

Winter is an excellent time of the year to add new shrubs, trees and perennials in your native garden.

If it has rained heavily wait until the soil has dried a bit before you plant, dig or walk in your garden. Working wet soil leads to compaction and compromises soil structure. Remember to water you chaparral and scrub plants if rainfall is light and the soil is very dry. Do not allow newly germinated wildflower seeds to dry out.

Water

Improper watering is one of the biggest reasons for plant failure. In fact, overwatering, especially while native plants are not actively growing during the hot summer months, is a major problem. On the other hand, we often forget that many California native plants do most of their growing during the cooler, damper winter weather. A slight misting or a little drizzle will not provide enough water. This is especially true for young, unestablished plants, but even mature plants benefit from infrequent, deep watering during dry winters. If we do not get a good soaking rain for more than a couple of weeks, you may need to provide supplemental irrigation.

After planting natives during the winter season - the best time to plant in Southern California - it is important to water your new plants thoroughly to make sure that they settle in and their roots are completely wet. Through the first season your plants should not be allowed to dry out totally. Water well and then allow them to dry partially. If the plant is drooping and the soil is dry be sure to water immediately.

The roots of plants absorb water in the form of vapor from pockets in the soil. For this reason it is best for the soil to be watered thoroughly and then allowed to dry. A thorough watering ensures that the entire root ball receives water. Allowing the soil to dry creates good conditions for the absorption of water by the root hairs, and it reduces the likelihood of root rots from soil pathogens.

Get to know your plants and your garden conditions by checking your garden often. Dig down a few inches and feel the soil to determine whether your plants need water. Observe your plants so that you can tell when they are thirsty before they become too stressed. Gardening is not a passive sport, you must get down and dirty to be successful!

Dry winter?

When winter rains fail to materialize, drag out the hose and give your plants a good soaking. Many California native plants are adapted to our dry, hot summers and typically cool, wet winters. Although established native plants will usually make it through these dry years, those that have been in your garden for less than three rainy seasons, may need help. Until mother nature cooperates, be sure to water approximately once a week. You may need to water more often if you have well-drained soil, new plants and the humidity remains low. Those of you with heavier soils, especially if there is mulch in your garden, may get away with less frequent watering. The only way to know is to check to see if the soil is damp a few inches down and to watch your plants. If the soil is dry and the plants are drooping, be sure to water. Extended drought will prevent new plants from developing the strong root systems needed to get through the summer months.

Vines

Winter is a good time to prune and tidy native vines.

Most vines benefit from a good trim this time of year. Vines can offer solutions to difficult landscape problems. They can be used to obscure chainlink fences or cinderblock walls. They can also be trained to grow over trellises, quickly providing privacy screens in narrow spaces. Native vines include desert, wild and cultivar grape, (Vitis girdiana, V. californica, V. ‘Roger’s Red’), clematis (Clematis lasiantha, C. ligusticifolia), California morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia), heart-leaf penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia), honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), and others.

Fuchsia

Most California fuchsia (Epilobium or Zauschneria) have finished blooming and are about to start their winter growth period. With cooler, wetter, winter weather (a bit of a tongue twister), other plants, such as the sages (Salvia) and bush sunflowers (Encelia californica) are also ready to start growing again. This is a good time to cut back many of these, but be aware that this horticultural practice is not appropriate for all native plants. Some do not appreciate a hard pruning, and others, like the warm season grasses, do not put on new growth in the winter. Many flowering shrubs, like the California lilac (Ceanothus) should be pruned in the spring after they finish blooming.

Planting Annuals

Sow wildflower seeds of poppies, phacelias, gilias, baby-blue eyes and tidy tips to brightened up your yard. Add sunflowers, madias and clarkias to extend the wildflower season into the late spring and summer.

Other Winter Gardening Chores

Transplant
Plant your shrubs, trees and perennials during the winter for the best results.

Weed
It is a good time to weed your garden. Stay on top of the task so that you remove the weeds before they spread new seed.

Mulch
Although there is debate about the desirability of mulch in native gardens, I find that for most plants it is helpful. Scrub, chaparral and desert plants prefer inorganic mulch, such as pebbles, decomposed granite, or gravel. Woodland plants do well with organic mulch. Keep the mulch away from the stems of the plants where it can contribute to fungal diseases.

Prune and pinch
For salvias, monkeyflowers and other new plants that are putting on rapid new growth, pinch back the tips to encourage bushier plants. Do not prune or pinch Ceanothus or you will reduce this year’s flowering, rather wait until after they bloom.

Remove
Aphids love succulent, new growth on plants. Salvias are especially susceptible to aphids. Hose down your plants to wash off many of these insects. Trim and remove the heavily infested tips, both encouraging denser growth and removing the aphids. Once the hotter weather arrives and the stems harden off, the aphids diminish and are not usually a serious problem.

Visit Us
Come stroll through the Garden to see manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species), California lilacs (Ceanothus species), currants and gooseberries (Ribes species) in bloom. From now until late spring the floral display is building by the day.

For more information on when to prune, consult Care and Maintenance of Southern California Native Plant Gardens by Bart O'Brien, Betsey Landis and Ellen Mackey (available for sale in RSABG's California Garden Gift Shop).