By B.J. Jarvis
October is the heart of the fall hummingbird-watching season in central Florida. While there are more than 300 different hummingbirds in the United States, there is only a handful common in Florida. But that’s okay, because the ones that do fly through are abundant and fascinating to watch.
While some will winter in Florida, many are just passing through, migrating as “snow birds” to points in South America and Mexico. So enjoy them now and augment gardens with plants that will attract them year-round.
Gardeners can increase the numbers of these winged wonders by selecting plants with flowers that are large, tubular and may droop down. It is often reported that the flowers must be red, but hummingbirds will visit flowers in a wide range of colors. Bloom time should be spread over a large period of time so that hummingbirds will keep visiting your garden.
Spacing out the plants throughout the garden is also helpful as males are especially territorial protecting their nectar sources. Given a distance of at least 15-20 inches between plantings should reduce the competition while increasing your viewing pleasure.
Fire bush, red swamp hibiscus and fire spike are three good shrubs for fall blooming. Don’t overlook vines as a source of nectar. Cross vine and trumpet vine with their large flowers will make a fence or trellis stand out and will be a great bird attractor. I have also seen hummingbirds visiting my annual cypress vine.
Although technically an annual, cypress vine will readily self-seed and may be a bit aggressive. Additional layers of nectar sources include cigar plant, or the Cuphea; flowering tobacco, or Nicotiana; lantana, either the native or exotic species; and occasionally a petunia. Beebalm, wishbone flower, or Torenia; and even nasturiums are great fall bloomers that are full of nectar and sure to bring the small birds to your garden.
To assure bird-watching nirvana, garden so that there is a fairly continuous bloom. Just remember some plants produce abundant blooms but little nectar, such as roses. While hummingbirds may not be attracted to rose flowers for nectar, they will build their inconspicuous nest on stems of thorny rosebushes. I wonder if the thorns are more protective to their young than an obstacle to avoid.
Gardeners are often roped in by artificial feeders, which are filled with sugar water or manufactured nectar, thinking this will attract hummingbirds. Sugar water is not really a great food, rather more like dessert. Dessert does taste good, but is not a great staple of the daily diet. Planting natural sources of nectar that contain all the complex nutrients and carbohydrates helps make up a more balanced diet.
Finally, to truly enjoy these amazing acrobatic birds be cautious about what you apply in the garden. Broad-spectrum pesticides sprayed every time there’s a little bug will also reduce the population of watchable wildlife, including hummingbirds, butterflies and songbirds. Employ the least-toxic method first and only when pest populations are large enough to warrant intervention.
For more information about hummingbirds of Florida, visit the University of Florida’s website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05900.pdf or contact your Pasco Extension Service at www.Pasco.ifas.ufl.edu.
-B.J. Jarvis is Horticulture Agent and Extension Director for Pasco Cooperative Extension Service, a free service of Pasco County and the University of Florida. She can be reached at .