Episode 27 – How to Help Hummingbirds and the Age of the Brussels Sprouts

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

As spring advances, sunlight increases and a host of natural events are set in motion. Temperatures rise, ice melts, soil warms, plants grow, flowers bloom, and hummingbirds return.

No other bird in the world flies like a hummingbird. Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward and even, briefly, upside-down. They are the smallest migrating bird. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.

Ruby-throated: Eastern U.S. and Canada

When Ruby-throats return to their breeding grounds, they will have completed a remarkable journey back from Mexico and Central America. Rick says they fly north in spring because it’s too far to walk. The red and green Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found across the eastern half of the U.S. and ranging from Canada to Mexico during migration. This species is attracted to hummingbird feeders or “tubular” flowers.

Stacey and Rick discuss the hummingbird’s nature to despite their size, be aggressive and territorial and fight for their space and nectar source.

Insects are an important part of a hummingbird’s diet also (protein).

A flock of hummingbirds can be referred to as a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer, or a tune.

Unusual warm spring weather in the southeast this year. There have been ruby throat sightings in Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana in February.

Stacey shares how hummingbirds need spiders. They use the webbing of spider webs to help construct their nests.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, explains why these magnificent birds are always on the hunt. “Hummingbirds need to eat constantly because they use up energy very quickly. If we had their metabolic rate, we’d need to eat 300 hamburgers a day to survive!”

Here are some favorite plants to attract hummingbirds. Having almost no sense of smell, a hummingbird uses vision to find nectar-rich flowers. (It’s all about color) And being fast flyers, they depend on bright colors to alert them to a nectar source.

  • Canna Lily Red
  • Bouvardia Firecracker Bush
  • Trumpet vine
  • Nicotiana
  • Salvia Rockin’ series: Blue Suede shoes, Fuchsia, Deep Purple, Playin the Blues
  • Weigela
  • Snapdragons
  • Buddleia
  • Nepeta
  • Coral Bells
  • Honeysuckle
  • Agastache
  • Hosta
  • Bee Balm
  • Lobelia Cardinal flower
  • Mandevilla
  • Crocosmia
  • Oso Easy Urban Legend could be a billboard of red to get them to slow down and stop in!

The length of the flower tube (the corolla if you want to be scientific) The long flower tube helps to ensure that competition for nectar from other pollinators is limited. Example: Weigela

Use some hanging baskets to attract hummingbirds! I recommend Fuchsia and Calibrachoa

Stacey shares how she has seen hummingbirds as early as April and scrambled to get the hummingbird feeders out. Visit journeynorth.org to track their progression north. The perfect time for a bird to arrive on its breeding grounds is a balance of two pressures. On one hand, it needs to arrive early to claim prime territory. On the other hand, if it moves north too far or too fast, it might freeze or starve.

Cornell hummingbird food recipe:

The most common solution is 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water. The sugar solution should be boiled after mixing to drive off chlorine and kill yeast and bacteria, then cooled. This can then be put in a feeder. Feeders should be red or have red trim, because red is the best color for attracting hummingbirds.

Smithsonian hummingbird food recipe:

  • Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water (for example, 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water) until the sugar is dissolved
  • Do not add red dye
  • Fill your hummingbird feeders with the sugar water and place outside
  • Extra sugar water can be stored in a refrigerator

Change feeders every other day and thoroughly clean them each time to prevent harmful mold growth.

Even if you have no idea what a bouvardia looks like you can probably guess that the reason I chose this particular plant for today’s plants on trial is because it attracts hummingbirds. And indeed, Estrellita Little Star firecracker bush, known botanically as Bouvardia, does just that. It’s a compact little shrub that is covered in clusters of tubular, star-shaped flowers all summer that have the most incredible color. It’s actually a bit hard to accurately describe that color – it’s a mix of red, pink, and orange is just insanely vivid. You’ve really never seen anything like it before!

The other reason I’ve selected Estrellita Little Star bouvardia for today’s plant is because one of our YouTube viewers asked us to cover more plants suitable for USDA zone 10, and that definitely is bouvardia! This heat-loving shrub is heat tolerant through USDA zone 10, probably 11 (though most of USDA zone11 is not in the continental US – more like Puerto Rico and US Territories in the tropics), and is hardy down to USDA zone 8. So, if you live in a hot climate and have been yearning for something new and unusual to jazz up your landscape or garden, you’ve found it! And if you are in a cold climate, sitting there thinking, well, shoot, this plant sounds pretty awesome but guess I can’t grow it? Well, fortunately, you’re wrong! Estrellita Little Star bouvardia makes an awesome summer container plant that will grow quickly, even starting from a small quart-sized plant, and bloom non-stop all summer. I have grown it myself this way to great delight, as the hummingbirds in my yard loved to stop in for a taste and often browsed it even as we sat just a few feet away from it.

This plant is actually a North American native, growing wild through the Southwest and into Mexico. It grows well in both arid and humid climates and while it might take a brief rest if temperatures really heat up, you can count on a steady display of those amazing flowers all season long. It also has a nice, compact habit, reaching just 1.5-2’ tall and wide, so it’s easy to incorporate into a whole host of landscape and garden settings.

Who: Bouvardia has long been a popular plant for commercial cut flower growers, especially in white, as it is commonly used in weddings. It has not traditionally been widely grown as a landscape or garden plant – perhaps because in nature, it’s not a very attractive plant, with a scrubby, open habit. So what the breeder wanted to do was to take that incredible color and beautiful flower form and work to give it a habit that works better in a landscape. And that’s how we got Estrellita Little Star.

How to grow: The most important thing to know about growing Estrellita Little Star bouvardia is that it will not tolerate cold temperatures, and even in zones 8-10 where it can grow, it should be protected if a frost or freeze threatens. However, where it does grow, it blooms essentially non-stop, all year round, which is one of the reasons why it is so popular as a cut flower – there’s always something to harvest! It is a sun-loving plant but can grow with just half a day of sun as well. It is drought tolerant once it  is established, but if it gets very stressed, it will take a break from blooming, so that’s best avoided. Regular fertilizer is recommended, especially if you are growing it in a container, to keep the blooms abundant and vivid. When I grew it during the summer here in West Michigan, it was completely unbothered by deer.

If you do grow it in a container as a patio plant, you can certainly try to bring it indoors, though it is likely to be a bit tricky to grow. Only truly tropical plants seem to withstand the dim light and low air circulation of the indoors; plants from more arid regions like bouvardia tend to struggle. Still, it’s worth a try!

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Definitely nothing to worry about here! This is totally normal for hellebores at this time of year, and in fact, they might even be doing this under snow,  if we had any, and you wouldn’t even know it. Some plants, like hellebores, crocus, and daffodils, seem to have antifreeze in their proverbial veins and can withstand cold without damage. 


Juniper with deer damage Juniper with deer damage Juniper with deer damage Juniper with deer damage

So sorry to hear this, Jin! Though junipers are generally deer resistant, they may eat newer ones that still have more tender growth from their stint at the nursery. Your plants have definitely been severely damaged, but I think they can recover with a little TLC (fertilizer, especially) and provided they do not get eaten again. So definitely protect them with a spray repellent like Liquid Fence or Plantskydd, or with deer netting, so they can recover. And if you do decide you just prefer to replace them, that’s perfectly fine and understandable. Life is too short to live with plant stubs, and junipers are on the slower-growing side so their recovery may be lengthy. Just be sure you protect the replacements for the next two or so winters to prevent another setback.

We have two main suggestions for you: one, as Rick always recommends, mow high. Yes, this may mean mowing a bit more often, but the higher mower deck allows the grass itself to shade its crown and roots, conserving moisture and reducing stress. Second, if you are adding new seed to your lawn, look for one of the many eco-mixtures of grass seed. There has been so much innovation in turfgrass that it’s now possible to select mixes that stay green while needing less water and mowing. Another idea along those lines is to add some clover seed to your lawn. Not only does it stay green all summer, simply by mowing it and leaving the clippings in place, you add nitrogen to your lawn for greener, healthier growth. 

Branching News - Rick

  • We discuss the invention of the feeder that attracted the attention of the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was a blown-glass sugar water feeder devised by Laurence Webster, who made it to feed hummingbirds in his New England gardens. National Geographic readers were immediately transfixed by the concept of feeding hummingbirds and wanted feeders of their own. In 1950 Audubon Novelty Company released the first commercially available hummingbird feeder and called it “the Webster Hanging Feeder.” It was designed by Laurence J. Webster of Boston for his wife, who had read a 1928 National Geographic story about feeding hummers from small glass bottles. We discuss the importance of cleaning feeders frequently.
  • Brussels sprouts are a kind of cruciferous vegetable, a family of veggies that’s known for its bitter flavors, and not everyone loves their green flavor.

    However, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables are undeniably good for your health. It now seems like every trendy restaurant has Brussels sprouts on the menu. Rick’s favorite: caramelized and roasted drizzled with maple syrup! In the early ‘90s, Dutch scientists experimenting with the vegetable discovered why Brussels sprouts tasted so bitter: It’s all thanks to compounds called glucosinolates. These compounds actually serve as a defense mechanism for the plant, as insects are less likely to snack on the plants if they have a strong, unpleasant taste. Once these compounds were discovered, though, scientists were able to selectively breed the plants to have less of those markedly bitter compounds and the new age of Brussels sprouts was born.
  • Cambridgeshire UK (just north of London) Financial Times article on rare Snowdrops: “Galanthophiles” snowdrop lovers — collectors are prepared to fork out four-figure sums for a single rare bulb. Poachers abound. The King of Snowdrops. A painstaking crossbreeding hobby they say is akin to writing poetry or a novel.
  • The demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is currently no place for people – which is exactly why, 70 years after the Korean War armistice, rare flora and fauna have flourished on the untouched strip of The DMZ. It is home to plants and animals “completely unique to Korea”. Released images show a wildlife haven in the 160-mile-long (257 kilometers) buffer zone between the two countries surrounded by fences and landmines. There is high-level biodiversity in a 560-square-mile stretch of land that has remained undisturbed for several decades.”After the Korean War, the DMZ had minimal human interference for over 70 years, and the damaged nature recovered on its own.
  • If you want to build a skateboard ramp over 6 feet tall in your yard/landscape, you might want to check with the city first. The City of Vista has unanimously passed a new ordinance to fine skaters $3,400 if they have a backyard ramp over 6 feet tall. The fee is for a permit regulated by the city. The ordinance was passed as residents complained of ramps making a lot of noise. Skating will also be curtailed from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Orland Maine. We typically only encounter weasels in the wild. Rarely do they actually make it inside a house. Valerie Hill and her husband Earl came into the living room of a friend’s home to find the chair tipped over on its side, with the animal scurrying about inside. She brought her arm-length bite-proof gloves, and eradicated the weasel from the living room chair. It scurried to the bathroom where they cornered it in the bathtub. They bought it to the car and moved it to the woods. It was then they learned the hard way that weasels, like most of their cousins including skunks and fishers, have a very odorous musk.
A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

Regrets? We’ve had a few, and maybe you have too, which is why we’re dedicating this episode to the things we wish we had – and hadn’t – done in the garden. Featured shrub: Let’s Dance Arriba reblooming hydrangea.

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