If a hummingbird could talk, he or she would tell you it's hard work packing for a long journey. Consuming mightily from dawn to dusk, day after day, hummingbirds double their weight before migration. They can't afford to run out of fuel before their next meal.
To help hummingbirds, particularly on their northward journey, home gardeners can celebrate the arrival of spring by planting gardens filled with early blooming Salvias. Many of these sages are excellent bedding plants in areas where winters are too chilly for survival as perennials.
Add in Salvia companions that hummingbirds love and which grow rapidly -- such as Agastaches, Cupheas and Kniphofias -- and you have a nutritious wildlife café. But leave insecticides off the menu. Or to put it another way, just say no to pesticide use in your garden. It kills the tiny creatures that provide hummingbirds with protein and can also pollute nectar.
Helping Mighty Travelers Survive
This article focuses on the planting early blooming Salvias as annuals providing spring nutrition for hummingbirds. For a more comprehensive look at how to invite these fascinating flying jewels into your backyard, please also read:
Hummingbirds refuel countless times before arriving at their nesting grounds, which vary depending on species. For example, the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufous) travels roughly 6,000 miles from its tropical winter home to Alaska, then wings the same distance home in autumn. That translates to countless visits to backyard gardens and wildflower patches.
Among the 22 species that summer in North America, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the most famous due to its roughly 500-mile, nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year. As Audubon notes, that is about a 20-hour trip for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
By adding fast-growing annuals to your garden as soon as threat of frost is over, you provide nutrition for northward migration.
Serving Up a Spring Feast
Some top spring-blooming annuals to add to your hummingbird garden include:
It's time for some quick planning, because hungry birds are waiting. Here are some details about these spring bloomers to guide your choices.
One of the most important and widely planted species of annual Salvias for hummingbirds is Scarlet Sage (S. splendens), which comes in so many cultivars that we can neither keep track nor offer all of them.
Scarlet Sage has been popular since 1822 when it was introduced to horticulture at the world's first garden center. Aside from being floriferous, it's valued for being easy to grow and blooming from spring until autumn frost. Hummingbirds access its nectar on both north and south migrations.
Despite its name, not all Scarlet Sages are red. They come in a wide range of colors and sizes ranging from less than a foot to more than six feet tall. One of our current favorites is Lighthouse Purple Scarlet Sage. For more information, please read Bedding Plant Royalty: Splendid Salvia Splendens.
Sometimes Tropical Sage (S. coccinea) is also called Scarlet Sage. It's also a species that can serve hummingbird migration going both ways due to blooming spring to fall.
However, unlike S. splendens, which is from Brazil, Tropical Sage is native to the American South as well as Central and South America. North of the Deep South, Tropical Sages are grown as annuals and tender perennials that may survive from year to year in areas with moderate winters.
Compared to S. splendens, this species has airier flower spikes and is mostly available in reds, pinks and whites. Surprises sometimes pop up, such as the accidental Australian hybrid Lavender Sprite Tropical Sage, which is taller than the average 2-foot height of most S. coccinea cultivars.
For more information, please read Sacred Sage: Salvia coccinea -- An American Subtropical Treasure.
Wish Collection Sages
The magenta flowered Wendy's Wish Sage (S. x 'Wendy's Wish') was an accidental hybrid that became the basis for a trio of world-famous hummingbird sages, including Ember's Wish Sage (S. x 'Ember's Wish').
The scarlet flowered Ember's Wish was discovered as a sport on a Wendy's Wish plant. A sport is a naturally occurring plant part that looks different from the rest of the plant. The third member of the trio is the purple flowered hybrid Love & Wishes Sage (S. x Love & Wishes).
The trio became famous, in part, for their spring-to-autumn bloom, rapid growth, abundant blossoms and great appeal to long-beaked birds such as the Western Hemisphere's hummingbirds and Australia's honeyeaters.
These sages are also popular, because a percentage of the sale of each plant is donated to the Australian Make-A-Wish Foundation, which benefits seriously ill children. For more information about the Wish Sages, please read New at FBTS: Ember's Wish & Love and Wishes Salvias.
Large Orange Sages
As we've already indicated, red isn't the only flower color that hummingbirds visit. However, hot colored tubular flowers, such as reds and oranges, are star attractions. Hummingbirds have a weak sense of smell and primarily select flowers based on color and their memory regarding good sources of nectar.
You could say that hummingbirds have the recall of elephants. The process of banding and tracking hummingbirds has shown that the same birds often return year after year to gardens where they have found plentiful food.
Our article Big Orange Bedding Plant Beauties for Hummingbirds describes five large Salvias that we recently added to the FBTS catalog and which are excellent additions to wildlife gardens. By including tall Salvias in your landscape, you decrease the vulnerability of hummingbirds to predation by cats.
Other Early Bloomers
An efficient ways to seek pollinator plants at FBTS is through the thick green menu band at the top of each web page, which includes the category button Hummingbird Plants.
One of the most popular plants we sell that is grown widely both as an annual and perennial is the purple-flowered Friendship Sage (S. 'Amistad') discovered in Argentina by Professor Rolando Uria.
Friendship Sage looks a bit like the Anise-Scented Sages (S. guaranitica spp.), but blooms in spring as well as summer and fall.
Spring-blooming Salvia companions that are hummingbird magnets include many of our Cupheas, which are lush, middle-height perennials that are heavily flowered with barrel-shaped blooms.
FBTS also grows a number of spring-blooming hummingbird favorites from Oregon's Terra Nova Nurseries including Kudos Series Agastaches and Popsicle Series Kniphofias. Once again, these are plants that fuel hummingbirds at both ends of the migration season.
Answering Your Questions
Flowers by the Sea works hard to provide wildlife gardeners with many choices of annuals and perennials for bees and butterflies as well as hummingbirds. We want to help you help pollinators.
If you have questions about any of our plants or need advice about wildlife gardening, please call or send us and email. We're ready to help you get ready for winged visitors to your garden cafe.