Feed the Migration

Mar 17, 2023

Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate through Tennessee twice a year — between late March and mid-May, and between early July and October. Although some birds may live in the state year-round, the spring and fall seasons are when their numbers are likely to peak.
The timing of the spring migration means that you should have your hummingbird food source set up by April 1. While hummingbird feeders have their role in the garden, nectar-rich wildflowers are often the preferred choice of nutrition. So, which types of flowers should you offer in which seasons?
Early spring
Perennials such as wild columbine and wild blue phlox are early springtime favorites. Columbine often thrives best in a rock garden or semi-shaded area, while blue phlox looks lovely when spread throughout a shaded garden. Early blooming crossvines and yellow Carolina jessamine are an ideal addition to a trellis, arbor, or post, while flowering quince and azaleas are also an attractive treat for hummingbirds. Although it is still too early to plant annuals due to the danger of frost, hanging baskets full of red fuchsia or red petunia-shaped million bells will still draw in your feathered passerby. Just remember to bring the baskets indoors when the temperature drops too low.
Late spring to early summer
As late April rolls around, you can plant a variety of ornamental annuals to support hummingbirds through the summer. Because hummingbirds seem to associate red with nectar-rich food sources, choose flowers that burst with shades of red, coral, pink, and orange. An Indian pink is a great option for shady areas, while lantana is a favorite for sunny areas. Continue to hang baskets filled with brightly colored petunias, fuchsias, and geraniums. Hummingbirds are especially fond of the star-clustered flowers of pentas, as well as the tubular trumpets of coral honeysuckle.
            Summer is the season for vines. Cypress vine, cardinal climber, and orange trumpet creeper can be planted in a hanging basket or on a trellis or let the red flowers cascade over the railing of a deck or wall. Bee balm and lilies thrive in open, sunny areas and are full of sweet nectar for hummingbirds. Butterfly bush is also a favorite of gardeners due to its long-lasting flowers, and as the name implies, this plant also attracts butterflies which may be a welcome addition to your backyard view.
Late summer and fall
            During this time is when you will most likely observe the greatest number of hummingbirds as they stop to feed in preparation for their flight across the Gulf of Mexico to wintering grounds. Cardinal flowers, butterfly weeds, and salvias are among the most favored wildflowers for late summer. Drought-tolerant species such as lantana and marigolds are often persisting during this time as well despite the Tennessee heat. Autumn sage and pineapple sage bloom in the spring and fall, and their scented leaves not only draw in hummingbirds but also add a sweet aroma to your garden space.
            Your local Co-op is stocked with all the gardening tools and supplies you need to ensure hummingbirds have access to nectar-rich flowers throughout their spring and fall migrations. If your wildflower offering is slim, however, hummingbird feeders from your local Co-op are a great supplement to support your birds until they depart. Find the nearest location here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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