Living in New York City, I rarely came across a hummingbird. I had never given them much thought, so when one showed up in my yard during my first North Carolina summer, for one horrifying moment I mistook it for an enormous flying insect. Once I realized it was a hummingbird, though, I was thrilled - this North Carolina thing might work out after all. My garden was non-existent back then, but I was already envisioning creating a haven for birds, bees, and butterflies. So I set about trying to create the perfect hummingbird habitat.
Only after I became an experienced gardener and a naturalized southerner did I realize that those ubiquitous "Plants that Attract Hummingbirds" lists should be heavily annotated. Take ajuga. I don't know about you, but I have never had a hummingbird in my Cary garden in March, when ajuga blooms. The earliest I have seen one is April, and then it was merely the briefest of sightings. On the other end of the seasonal spectrum, we have pineapple sage, which I put in pots on my deck to maximize my hummingbird viewing pleasure. Pineapple sage is sometimes billed as a September bloomer, but in my yard it starts blooming in mid-October. The bees are delighted, but the hummingbirds have already left town.
I loaded up my garden with plants that are reportedly hummingbird favorites: Louisiana Iris, bee balm, hibiscus, agastache, torch lilies, turtlehead, and tons of different kinds of sage. Nevertheless, the only months in which I regularly spot hummers are May, July, and August. In mid-May, when the Louisiana Iris blooms, I see primarily males (distinguishable by their red throat). However, in late May and June, I see nary a one, despite my ostentatiously blooming bee balm and Rose of Sharon. From mid-July through August, we're back in business, with regular sightings of the all-green female hummingbirds. Interestingly, the males now are nowhere to be found.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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