verbenaWE’RE IN THE WANING WEEKS OF DIVE-BOMB SEASON at A Way to Garden. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are in a nearly final frenzy of aerial displays, meeting at high speed in mid-air, then swooping downward into their favorite treats.

The ruby throats, the only species of hummingbird that breeds in Eastern North America, always come back from Central America at the same moment as my bleeding hearts start blooming. No mystical or evolutionary correlation, just a colorful coincidence: two of nature’s most unusual creations having a moment together. They’re in the tall verbena (above) and elsewhere now.

The bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, is hardly the traditional trumpet-shaped flower hummingbirds are said to favor, nor is it red (reportedly their favorite color). It’s just one of the plants in my palette that has proven an unexpected attractant for them, despite not being on “the list” with “hummingbird plants” like honeysuckle, trumpet vine, penstemon, and salvias. It’s not native (an Asian alien), so it certainly doesn’t make the list of best native hummingbird plants, either. (I think the best mail-order selection is at High Country Gardens, by the way.)

nicotianaNeither does the flowering tobacco, hailing from more southerly climates than mine. I always have to stop myself from pulling up too many of the self-sown Nicotiana, prodigious seeders it’s hard to be without once you’ve grown them. A few big patches in a sunny spot are better than any hummingbird feeder you can buy (and cheaper, too).

Another tenacious self-sower, Verbena bonariensis (top photo) is almost equally attractive. Who knew those tiny flowers packed into dome-topped clusters called cymes would be the thing? And anise hyssop, including the showier golden-leaf variety called Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee,’ below, is doing a great job (as well as with the bees).


I always put some tender red salvias at the edge of the vegetable garden for the ruby-throats, including S. coccinea ‘Spanish Dancer,’ below, or any of the many great red choices.  My token gesture, apparently, as the hummingbirds seem perfectly happy with what last year’s garden left behind.

I’ve mentioned it before: I count birds. Do you? And do you see any iridescent little guys out there with their motors really running?

  1. Rachel says:

    I let one corner of my garden go to the blackberries. They build nests in there all the time. It’s almost scary how close they get to my head when I’m working out there!

  2. margaret says:

    @Kass: Some kind of scale insect? See if the scale portion of that entry sounds familiar, or if any of these images (click to enlarge) fit your situation.

    Welcome to Rachel. I love the image of the thicket you have let go becoming a bird sanctuary; that’s the favorite situation for many birds: thorns and twiggy messes where they can tuck in. Nice to “meet” you.

  3. kass says:

    Ive not seen a hummingbird yet this year :( I have so many butterfly bushes- they seem to usually like them. Loads of butterflies though.
    My butterfly bushes are going a little crazy- they are so big- almost too big now!

    One big problem I just noticed- it looks like snow is laying on the trunk of my lilac bush-looking closer they are a fine bunch of skinny objects- about the size of a lower case l it must be some sort of egg.Any thoughts??

  4. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    We have hummingbirds here, and also those moths that look like hummingbirds out of the corner of your eye. Both seem to really appreciate the Phlox paniculata. Or maybe it’s just that the phlox is close to the window I look out most frequently, and they are all over the flowering tobacco, too.

  5. Nancy Bond says:

    Our hummers have dwindled in numbers from a dozen or so at the feeder, to about 3-4. Another certain sign that Summer really is waning.

  6. c says:

    In my garden, Agastache “dessert sunrise” and salvia (red/white) do the best for attracting hummingbird so far… It seems I don’t see them earlier the season even though I have load of penstemon in my front yard…

    I’ve started seeing them late summer, and now!!

    Speaking of birds, I’ve started seeing 3 flickers in my back yard. They are beautiful, even thought eating thru my suet feed so quickly! ;)

  7. joyce says:

    There are always hummingbirds around the monarda, verbena, and ivy geraniums, but usually only the females. I’ve only seen the ruby-throat once this summer, but what a treat! And have you heard their sweet little songs when they stop to rest on a nearby branch?

    The catbirds have forbidden me from trimming the wisteria that is quickly overtaking my universe. There used to be a 4′ walkway between it and the mophead hydrangeas, but now it is reduced to about an inch. They sound more like cats when they are annoyed, angry, and distressed, and they swoop!

  8. Sarah O says:

    It’s true that Dicentra spectabilis is not native, but there are some that are, such as Dicentra formosa and D. canadensis, and I know the hummingbirds sample from both the native and non-native bleeding hearts just outside our basement windows. Wild Flora’s Wild gardening wrote a blog post about bleeding hearts last year, and I committed some of it to memory. :) (The post is here, in case you would like a bit more info.)

    I’m not looking forward to the annual hummingbird exodus this year, they are such wonderful garden neighbours. We had 4 females sharing the feeder this year (more or less peacefully, too! What a shocker). The male was hardly ever seen, and then only at the monarda! I wonder if he was mantaining a harem?

  9. genata says:

    Yes! First sighting yesterday- all too brief. There’s a salvia, (guardiensis? something like that,) which they always like, and a bright red cardinal flower. We gave up on feeders, after the ants swarmed them.

  10. Kassie says:

    I’ve seen hummers, but always females–go figure! Right now my phoebes are gone, but I’m rich with goldfinches, whose wings sing when they fly…what a joy!
    By the way, weirdly, I am “Kassie,” and upthread we have “Kass.” Wow, two of us! Where are you from, Kass?

  11. kass says:

    Im from Westchester County in New York.Saw that you’re Kassie too.I also love the goldfinches- Ill have to notice their wings singing from now on.

    I’ll have to tackle this “scale” on the French lilac- thanks for the heads up.

  12. lucia says:

    I’m just over the border in CT, so my climate is very like yours. I always have the hummers –they are one of the joys of my gardening life. Brash things — they don’t care if I’m too near the plants they like, and they love to loop-de-loop the phlox paniculata as we sit watching on the porch. Their favorites, absolutely: red monarda (ick). I’m not really one for red flowers — I love the pinks and purples, but I’ll do anything for my hummers, so I’ve made my peace with the red. My guys don’t follow form either: I keep trying new things that they are supposed to like, but not one visitor has come to the black and blue salvia or the penstemum, or the pentas. They stock up on the eupatorium and the sugar water before finally flying off. I give them another three weeks here. How I love them.

    Diane Ackerman has some wonderful passages about them in her NATURAL HISTORY OF MY GARDEN.

  13. Sandy says:

    We have hummingbirds every year starting in early April. They usually stay until near the end of September. We have a wonderful feeder just outside the kitchen window where we can see them easily. This time of year they are super busy and are very interested in some tomatoes on the deck! This summer several of the young ones are puzzled by the moonflower vine — they spend the day trying to get into the flowers that won’t be open until the evening — you can almost hear them saying, “I know there is a way to get into this flower!”

    I just found your blog and am really enjoying it!

  14. Brian G. says:

    I saw one this morning sipping on a big red Dahlia. They also like the Abyssinian glads that are still blooming with their purple throats. Very fragrant and apparently delicious, too.

  15. Peggy says:

    I saw a hummingbird on my butterfly bush this weekend and a small brown bird(don’t know what kind) plucking seeds from a sunflower in a pot next to the butterfly bush. They’d finally come to a truce about close quarters after a couple of chases.

  16. Johanna says:

    Around here, hummies seem to be attracted to the comfrey a friend gave me a few years ago. Unfortunately, I have found that I have to be vigilant about cutting the flowers from the plant to avoid invasion (my friend sort of failed to mention what a pig the plant is!), so it’s a back and forth thing.

    This past week we had a hummingbird get trapped inside our art gallery (where I work) twice. The first time I was quite certain it would die of exhaustion, trying to find a way out. A handyman with a tall ladder finally shooed it to the door for an escape. The second time it didn’t linger as long. I’ve never before had one come inside.

    “Up north” in Michigan I’ve seen kind of flocks of hummies — five or six at a time visiting feeders or swarming a plant.

    They are amazing!

  17. Karen says:

    My daughter saw a hummingbird out the window this morning before we left to go meet her kindergarten teacher. That must be considered good luck in some culture, right? We have hummingbirds that seem to stay year-round – I haven’t ever put out a feeder and don’t know where their next is, but they love the rosemary and jasmine in the spring, the butterfly bush and salvias in the late summer, and seem to find enough to eat at other times of year. One came up on my ear really frighteningly once, I was worried it was going to poke its beak in! Luckily, it flew away.
    – Karen

  18. margaret says:

    I dared to go out this afternoon and even waited till after supper to log back on and oh, my, guess I won’t take any more breaks away from the computer! Welcome, all of you…and such great, informative comments about hummingbirds.

    Among you are some new friends: Welcome Peggy and Sandy, Lucia, and Sarah. I love the tales you all tell of loop-de-loops and hummingbird truces and the inquisitive attempt at moonflowers and of the native Dicentra cousins. I know everyone hopes that you will all come back soon again.

  19. margaret says:

    Welcome, Tamra. Pineapple sage is one of my favorite plants…but many years it barely gets to blooming here before frost. You are making me jealous! Come back soon with more Tennessee tales.

  20. Tamra says:

    I have at least 5 hummers hanging around my Tennessee garden this year. They really like the red flowered salvias (Pineapple, Texas Hummingbird, and Fire Cracker). They also like Gold Flame Honeysuckle. The Gold Flame is great because it starts blooming early, about the time the hummers show up. And it keeps going until after they leave. But best of all it smells amazing.

  21. Melanie says:

    My hummingbird likes ‘hearts and honey’ morning glory, black and blue salvia, Gartenmeister fuchsia, plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, abutilon, ruellia, cigar plant. I’ve even seen it at my ‘Bonfire’ begonia.

  22. Fern says:

    The garden surrounding my apartment building includes several red salvias. The hummingbirds fight over them and have even tried to chase me out of the garden to protect their beloved salvias.

  23. joco says:

    That red Salvia is so eye-catching. I have coveted that for years, but somehow it always disappears, whether store-bought plants or from seed, I never get to see the flowers.

    Know what? I wonder why we don’t have hummingbirds over here in the UK. Winters are nothing compared to NY state, where I did see them. Thought they were huge insects at first, everything else seeming so big to us then, from cars and restaurant dinner-plates to icecreams. ;-)

    I am so naive: they probably migrate, don’t they?

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