Eco-Answers from the Pros: Fall Food for Hummingbirds

Do you have suggestions for late-season blooming native plants in the Northeast for humming birds? The hummingbirds in my gardens have been very active on the early and mid-season monarda and annual salvias, but they will be gone in the next couple of weeks and I want to ensure a sufficient nectar source.

My mondarda is trailing off too – I keep meaning to get out and deadhead some of the most vigorous ones, as they sometimes will put out additional blooms, as will Salvias. I’m loving my Mondarda didyma ‘Raspberry Wine’ this summer.

Annuals: hummingbirds really go for zinnias, agastaches (called hummingbird mints for a good reason), petunias, cleome, and fuchsias, all of which are probably marked down by now.

Native perennals: Physostegia virginiana is just beginning to bloom for me. They last a really long time and support all sorts of pollinators, including hummingbirds. Give them lots of room to spread. Once upon a time I pulled them out of the garden because they were pink and aggressive; now I edit them out of a client’s garden to give other plants a little space by yanking them out, cutting them back and sticking them everywhere in my yard. They’re best if placed where they pick a fair fight or you want to just cover ground.

The other really good hummingbird plant is phlox – all of them, from P. stolonifera and P. subulata to the garden phlox blooming now (if you can keep the deer away). Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is also great.

If planted in enough sun, native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) often puts out a second flush of bloom and is an important larval food plant for butterflies too.

And blooming now, trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), if you have room for a big rambunctious vine.

Jewelweed is also really important, although it may be pretty much past for you, also butterfly weed.

Hibiscus-family flowers are also good hummingbird plants; I think there are some native to the New England.

We tend to focus on nectar plants, but hummingbirds vacuum up small insects too. They’re known to hover over Ceonothus, so it’s worth paying attention to other plants that attract small insects. You’ve prompted me to keep a really close eye on the Joe Pye weed that’s blooming now.

Since it’s about more than just the late season, I’ll add a note that people often plant cardinal flowers for the hummingbirds, and I point out that they don’t bloom until July, so what are they supposed to eat until then? In my yard, the very day that Phlox stolonifera blooms, the hummingbirds show up. They’re a really great nectar source in late April/Early May, when hummingbirds first arrive. And I learned on Cape Cod last year that the stragglers are still heading south sometimes into mid-December, so people are encouraged to leave their hummingbird feeders out – not much in the way of flowers that time of year.

     Karen Bussolini, Garden Arts, LLC., South Kent, CT