Quinta-Mazatlan-WBC Larry-Ditto 70K6120Our recent piece on Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen (May 2015) described how the beautiful and tranquil hummingbird garden on the mansion’s grounds inspired the author’s family to start their own hummingbird garden.

Our recent piece on Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen (May 2015) described how the beautiful and tranquil hummingbird garden on the mansion’s grounds inspired the author’s family to start their own hummingbird garden.

Excited by the possibility of beautiful birds in our own backyard, we met up with Texas butterfly and bird gardening expert Geyata Ajilvsgi (her Cherokee names are pronounced gey-yah-taw ah-gee-lusk) at The Natural Gardener in Austin. Geyata, who has authored such wonderful books as Wildflowers of Texas and Butterfly Gardening for Texas, convinced us that with the right plants and care, even beginners have a shot of bringing—and keeping—the lovely birds in their yard. —Sofia Sokolove

TH: First things first—location. When choosing a spot for your hummingbird garden, what should you keep in mind?

Geyata: Absolutely full sun. You need the plants to be in the sun for the simple reason that the sun makes more and richer nectar. So your plants naturally need to be in the sun. Also, don’t have the spot so crowded that the hummingbirds will have a problem getting there.

TH: So the big question—the plants. Which ones are best, and how do you choose?

Geyata: Practically any red trumpet/long-tubular shaped flower works well for attracting hummingbirds. Coral honeysuckle is excellent. So is the standing cypress. The ocotillo plant is good, and the red yucca is excellent. And old-fashioned petunias—that’s a good one.

TH: Old-fashioned?

Geyata: Yes—the old-fashioned petunias are still rich in nectar. The new ones are totally worthless for nectar because they’re hybridized—when you start hybridizing plants, the first things to go is fragrance and nectar.

TH: Those are the best things!

Geyata: Right! Cardinal flower is excellent for hummingbirds too. The cigar plant is a good one too. Also, hummingbird mint and scarlet beebalm.

TH: So it sounds like red is really important.

Geyata: Yes—anything red. You want red flowers, trumpet shaped flowers—something with a long tube on it.

TH: Why is that?

Geyata: Well, the hummingbird’s beaks are long and slender and then there’s their tongues—which are really, really long, and so they are simply are drawn to a long-tubed flower.

TH: So look for red flowers with long tubes. Got it. Is there a season or time of year that’s best for attracting hummingbirds?

Geyata: Here’s something about hummingbirds—we can have hummingbirds over the winter here in Texas. My neighbors have a pair of hummingbirds that stick around. They kept their feeders up all winter, and the hummingbirds stayed. Typically, though, they come in from the middle of March on and leave in August—well, most of them do.

TH: It sounds like some, like your neighbors’, don’t! So planting in the spring should work well, then?

Geyata: Yes, although here’s another thing to point out. Once the plants start bringing the birds into the yard, they need to have a continuous blooming for the birds. Supplementary feeding is fine, but during the breeding season especially, they need to have a continuous bloom. And if one species of plant doesn’t bloom, then they need another one that is.

TH: Speaking of feeding, you mentioned water feeders—what should we know about using them?

Geyata: It’s a good thing to have, as a supplementary thing. For instance I didn’t have many flowers flowering this year when my hummingbirds showed up. Sometimes they come too early for a whole bunch of flowers, so you need to have those feeders out at the expected arrival time.

TH: It’s like being a good host—you should always be prepared for company!

Geyata: Right! And of course if they stay for winter, the feeder is all they’re going to have.

TH: Anything not to do—any common mistakes?

Geyata: If you bring hummingbirds into the yard, you’ve taken on the responsibility of their welfare. And if you have feeders out, you need to be sure that the water is fresh and hasn’t been overrun by ants. And just be sure that the feeders are always clean and full—they depend on that.

From the May 2015 issue

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