"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Salvias are a magnet for migrating hummingbirds

A female hummingbird feeds on a salvia plant in Silverado Canyon.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

In case you missed my column in today's Orange County Register, you can read it here:
            Many migrating hummingbirds have begun their fall trek south to their wintering grounds. With wings flapping up to 80 times a second, some species such as the Rufus hummingbird, will travel thousands of miles from Alaska to southern Mexico.
            Because these tiny birds need to eat twice their weight in insects and nectar each day, they rely on a chain of rest stops to refuel along the way.  
            Nectar feeders can provide a valuable energy drink for these long-distance flyers, but only if properly maintained. Feeders need to be cleaned and replenished every few days depending on the temperature. When they’re not, the bacteria and fungus that develop can prove deadly to the birds. 
There’s a simpler way to help: Plant fall-blooming salvias.
            Many types of salvia plants bloom in fall and continue for a significant part of the season, says avid birder and nursery pro Patrick Fesler of Green Thumb in Lake Forest.
Salvias, commonly known as sage, is the largest genus of plants in the mint family with approximately 700–900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals.
“They’re my favorite plants because they attract hummingbirds and butterflies,” Fesler says.
Salvias can have bright eye-catching flower spikes in pink, scarlet and purple, or subtle tones of yellow and white.  Some varieties have two-color blooms such as the red and white Hot Lips.  Although the tubular flowers can differ in shape, the dark purple bloom on the Amistad salvia allows a hummingbird to reach its head deep inside.
“There are so many varieties of salvia to choose from,” he says. “There are low-growing and tall ones. You should be able to find a plant that works in your garden.”
Native salvias are good sources of nectar. They are drought tolerant and take full sun. And many types have fragrant foliage.
Salvia plants prefer sunny locations with well-drained soil. To water, give them a good soaking, Fesler says, but avoid sprinkling the foliage.
“Most salvias are perennials,” he says. “Some such as the coral nymph and the hummingbird sage reseed like crazy.”
Leaving the seed heads on salvias, along with black-eyed Susans, coneflowers and ornamental grasses at the end of the blooming cycle will provide food for seeding-eating birds this winter.

Happy Birding!

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