Salvias for Fall-Migrating Hummingbirds

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

Hummingbirds rely on the nectar of many fall-blooming salvias to assist in their late-season migration. The striking beauty, bright colors, and architectural statures of these plants also make them great for the garden. Most cultivated salvias are from Mexico and the Southwest United States, which is why pollinators migrating south are attracted to them. Their relationship is mutually beneficial; the flowers feed the birds and the birds pollinate the flowers.

Fall Salvias

Nonstop flowers of red, pink, or white appear on Salvia coccinea (Texas sage, 1-3′ tall, zones 8-10) starting in midsummer. These will continue well into frost and draw lots of hummingbirds. Deadheading old flower stalks will keep plants looking clean and attractive.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

The Brazilian red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora, 4-6′ tall, zones 9-11) blooms with delicate spikes of tiny velvety red flowers. It is also bushy and large, reaching 4 to 5’ in height. Though its flowers feed tropical hummingbirds, they are also perfect for migrating North American species. They bloom from midsummer to season’s end. Just be sure give this plant lots of space.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, 3-4′ tall, zones 8-10) is an enormous, bushy sage best known for its aromatic leaves that smell of sweet pineapple. Its scarlet fall flowers make a spectacular show starting in early fall. The popular cultivar ‘Golden Delicious’ boasts outstanding golden leaf color all season long.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii, 1-3′ tall, zones 6-9) blooms for much of the season but offers a strong fall flush of red, orange-red, white, pink, and purple flowers. Native to South Texas and Mexico, it is an essential wildflower for migrating hummingbirds. In its native form, it also looks nice in the garden. Cut late-summer stems back to keep this open but bushy perennial looking great.

Salvia leucantha 'All Purple' JaKMPM
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’) (Image by Jessie Keith)

Height and elegance make Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage, 2-3′ tall, zones 8-10) one of the most outstanding fall salvias for large spaces. Streamers of soft, velvety flowers in shades of pink, purple, magenta, and white emerge on stems lined with silvery leaves in late summer and continue through fall. When not in bloom, its leaves still add visual flair.

Unique primrose-yellow flower color and long floral stems make forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis, 6-8’ tall, zones 7-11) a true architectural gem for the fall border. The enormous plant requires lots of room but looks great when well-placed in the landscape. Blooming starts in mid-fall and continues up until frost.

Growing Fall Salvias

All of these salvias are sun-loving and can take the heat, though they really shine in the cool of autumn. Plant them in spring for full effect, but also keep an eye out for large potted specimens to fit into late-summer beds. Before planting, amend the ground with Black Gold Garden Soil. Its mix of peat moss and compost makes for rich soil to support good growth.

Most of these salvias are tender, meaning they should be grown as annuals, but some are perennial where winters are mild. Fall-migrating hummingbirds and other pollinators will thank you for planting these gorgeous fall flowers, and your gardens will be none worse for the wear.

Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’ appears in the background of a fall annual border, which also contains Lantana camara and Petunia Supertunia® Royal Magenta. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Mulching Gardens With Black Gold Amendments

When the drought is long, soils are poor, and money is short, one way to revitalize struggling garden plants is to protect their roots with mulch. Good mulches help to retain moisture, cool the root zone, and discourage weeds. The conventional wisdom is to mulch with wood chips or ground up bark, but both are very slow to decompose and can bind needed soil nutrients. The better option is to protect small beds and containers with organic-rich amendments that give back.

Garden Mulches for Soil Enrichment

Rich compost, peat moss, coir, or Black Gold Earthworm Castings are all amendments that double as mulches–alone or as home-mixed blends–in small ornamental gardens or vegetable gardens.  All offer needed organic matter, which helps soils better retain water and maintain porosity. They also offer structural and water-holding benefits.  For example, Black Gold Garden Compost Blend contains peat moss for water retention and compost give poor soils better aeration for easier establishment and performance.

Amendment mulching is often most effective in shaded areas because it helps to simulate conditions on the forest floor.  If you take a cross section of this “duff” layer, you’ll see that it’s mostly leaves or needles with a fine, dark layer that sits right on top of the earth.  It’s rich in decomposing organic matter, which is why shade plants are often surface rooted.

Landscape Mulches for Trees and Shrubs

This is also true of acid-loving plants, such as azaleas or camellias, which  develop a wide, shallow root system where the majority of the soil nutrition lies. In fact, without a yearly surface application of organic matter, these plants can suffer. All too often you see the surface roots of azaleas exposed after years without the addition of a mulch layer.  The organic matter is essential to keep their roots moist and cool, especially when drought descends. We recommend mixing a 1:1 of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and Black Gold Peat Moss for acid lovers. Both products offer needed organic matter and peat moss is a little more acid, which benefits these plants.

Assess your favorite plants, planters, individual trees and shrubs to determine if they will benefit from this special treatment.   Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of amendment around the base of the plant.  Always keep it few inches clear of the trunk to prevent bark-to- mulch contact, which can induce stress and rot.  Extend the mulch layer out to the edge of the drip line.

Don’t work the amendment in. Just smooth and pat it with your palm to flatten it out for better soil contact.   Moisten often with just a light spray or collected household water to keep these amazing shrubs and trees happy on minimal rainfall.  For areas with brief drought, mulch provides great short-term protection from an abnormally dry or hot summer.

As landscapes everywhere are being altered to be more efficient, don’t forget that amendment mulch can mean so much more to your plants.  If you already have bark mulch in place, the next best thing is to sprinkle amendments over the bark, so they can filter down and provide support the next deep water day or after a welcome summer cloudburst.

Magical Miniature Daffodils

‘Minnow’ is a common, very pretty miniature daffodil that blooms in mid-spring.
The nodding daffodil ‘Hawara’ with clusiana tulip ‘Cynthia’.

There’s something about miniature anything that draws kids, and every year my mini daffodils, ‘Minnow’, ‘Hawara’, and ‘Baby Moon’, just cry out to be picked by my children. They make the prettiest fairy bouquets and are easy-as-pie to grow, so this bulb-planting season I plan to add more!

What are Miniature Daffodils?

There are lots of daffodils and jonquils that are very tiny, but true miniatures are classified as having flowers smaller than 1.5 inches in diameter. (To learn more visit the American Daffodil Society website.) The cutest have wonderfully small flowers with even teenier coronas (central crowns). My standbys include the delicate ‘Minnow’, with its tiny gold corona and ivory petals, the nodding primrose-yellow ‘Hawara’ and nickel-sized ‘Baby Moon’, which is pure gold. All are easy to find and grow.

The flowers of ‘Baby Moon’ are the size of a nickel.

Miniature Daffodil Varieties

The fall bulb catalogs offer more of these delicate spring flowers. Must-haves include the golden ‘Mite’ with its reflexed petals and elongated corona and the sweet and unusual ‘New Baby’, which has a tiny bright yellow corona and ivory petals edged in yellow. The orange-cupped ‘Bittern’ is another fragrant, tiny beauty offered by the popular Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Those wanting to have lots of different minis all at once might consider a miniature daffodil mix, like the one offered by Eden Brothers, which consists of five different unnamed varieties—all of which are complementary and sweet.

Planting Miniature Daffodils

As with any other spring bulb, plant these daffodils in fall before the ground becomes too cold to work. Small flowering bulbs should be planted closer together, around three to four inches apart in clusters or sweeps, alongside other complimentary plants such as grape hyacinth, crocus or compact species tulips. Just like any other daffodil, there are varieties that bloom in early, mid, and late spring, so be aware of this when planning planting companions to ensure that pairings bloom together.

Colorful bottles make great vases for minis.

Before planting, work the soil and add fertile amendments as needed. OMRI-listed Black Gold Garden Compost, with its rich blend of compost, bark, and Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, will help your bulbs quickly root and grow in spring. Plant each bulb five inches below the surface and fertilize with a food formulated for bulbs. Bulb fertilizer can be added as a light top-dressing when plants begin to bloom in spring.


When your flowers bloom in spring, it is nice to make tiny fairy arrangements in small, brightly colored vases. These little daffodils look beautiful alongside tiny blue scilla and fragrant grape hyacinth as well as small species tulips (the mid-season ‘Lilac Wonder’ is a favorite) and brightly colored violas. Choose any container, small bottles, vases or jars, and fill them up!

Fresh-picked ‘Hawara’ blooms

If you are like me, there’s always an element of surprise when you plant something new in fall for spring. It always seems like magic when they pop up from the ground and bloom perfectly as planned. Miniature daffodils offer an additional element of fun to the surprise, for you and any little ones in your life.


Foxgloves: Bee Plants for Every Garden

The mouth of a foxglove flower is perfectly tailored to attract and accommodate bumblebees.

Everyone is buzzing about bees because these vital pollinators need safe habitats where they can freely live and feed. The problem for many who don’t have space to grow bee plants is how to support these amazing insects. Even if you have just a small apartment or condo balcony, you can do your part to care for bees by growing a few outstanding bee plants. And of these plants, foxgloves (Digitalis spp.) are some of the best early summer bloomers for bees. Grow foxgloves in large pots to see the bees visit the colorful flower spikes while you relax and watch them work.

Continue reading “Foxgloves: Bee Plants for Every Garden”

New Garden Flowers for 2014

Tangerine orange flowers grace Agastache 'Kudos Mandarin' through the hottest summer months.
Tangerine orange flowers grace Agastache ‘Kudos Mandarin’ through the hottest summer months. (photo care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

I do not believe I have ever met a gardener that isn’t always looking for something new to plant in the garden. I am certainly no exception. Each year is like a ‘hunt’ to search and find new plants for my garden. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had some record low temperatures in December, with some areas dipping down to single digits. Needless to say, many plants have suffered and those that are marginally winter hardy may not have survived. On the optimistic side, it creates an opportunity to plant something new!

Continue reading “New Garden Flowers for 2014”

Amazing, Easy, Cheap Perennial Gardening from Seed

Fanfare blanketflower blooms in the forefront of a vibrant perennial border.

Growing your own perennials does not have to be difficult or expensive. Sure, some seeds can be pricey or require a lot of work (chilling, warming, seed coat nicking, soaking) which can take months of effort. But, many others are cheap and nearly effortless to grow, taking little more work than starting annual seeds. Perennial gardening from seed is worth the effort. Continue reading “Amazing, Easy, Cheap Perennial Gardening from Seed”

Brugmansia, Burning Bush, Bulbs and Cleome in the Fall Garden

Burning bush is truly fiery in fall, but be sure it is not an ecological menace in your area.
Burning bush is truly fiery in fall, but be sure it is not an ecological menace in your area.

Last week when I saw my neighbor Janet working in her garden, she wanted me to see her blooming autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). While not actually a crocus, it resembles one and many gardeners know it by that name. Janet told me that whenever she sees the light pink flowers appear, she knows that fall is here.
Continue reading “Brugmansia, Burning Bush, Bulbs and Cleome in the Fall Garden”

Fall Wildflowers for Pollinators

A monarch butterfly perilously drinks from a Monarda didyma flower--a plant typically pollinated by hummingbirds!
A monarch butterfly perilously drinks from a Monarda didyma flower–a plant typically pollinated by hummingbirds!

Late summer and fall are when pollinators prepare to migrate or overwinter, so it’s an essential time to ensure the garden is filled to the brim with good plants for pollinators to eat. And usually the best plants on the pollinator menu are native wildflowers. So, it helps to be privy to the prettiest and best behaved fall wildflowers for pollinators fit for the garden

The pale violet blue flowers of Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' are loved by bees and butterflies.
The pale violet blue flowers of Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ are loved by bees and butterflies.

Fall Composites

Composites, or plants in the daisy family, offer the most late-season bloom options on the menu. And their variety does not disappoint. Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), bright Fireworks goldenrods (Solidago rugosaFireworks), dwarf Low Down sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius Low Down) and reddish-purple meadow blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylis) are all top-notch garden plants enjoyed by butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. Classic annual sunflowers are also easy, much-favored blooms. Then later in the season, when all these composites have gone to seed, they produce food for hungry seed-eating birds, like gold and purple finches.

A monarch favorite, orange butterflyweed can continue blooming into fall and also bears beautiful seedpods.
A monarch favorite, orange butterflyweed can continue blooming into fall and also bears beautiful seedpods.


Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) of all kinds will continue to bloom into fall. And even when not in flower, their foliage provides essential forage for Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars. Those that are showiest in fall include the tangerine-orange flowered butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), both of which can offer flowers and showy seedpods in fall. (The non-native, semi-tropical Mexican bloodflower (A. curassavica) also provides good butterfly food, but be sure not to let it set seed as it can be weedy.) Gardeners are always surprised to see how quickly fluttering groups of butterflies (called ‘kaleidoscopes’) visit their gardens after planting Asclepias. Some may also be dismayed by all the monarch caterpillars eating their milkweed leaves, but let them eat!  Beautiful, essential butterflies are a small price to pay for a few chomped plants.

Glowing hot pink flowers, on a Salvia greggii hybrid, are a sure hummingbird lure.
Glowing hot pink flowers, on a Salvia greggii hybrid, are a sure hummingbird lure.

Salvias and Beebalms

Late-season salvia, hyssop (Agastache spp.) and beebalm (Monarda spp.) blossoms provide essential food for a wide array of pollinators. These fragrant mints come in many beautiful garden-worthy varieties. The annual scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) is one of the best, offering endless bright red flowers until frost; white and pink varieties (‘Snow Nymph’ and ‘Coral Nymph’) are also available. A little deadheading will keep these annuals looking their best. Garden varieties of the Texas and Mexican native autumn sage (S. greggii) will also provide a big show of fall color, to the delight of travelling hummingbirds. Likewise, sunny colored hyssops in shades of orange (Agastache aurantiaca), pink (A. cana), and sunset hues (A. rupestris) lure many butterflies and hummingbirds eager to drink the last of the season’s nectar. The resilient horsemint (Monarda punctata) is another uniquely beautiful mint for late summer and fall that is favored by bees as is the hummingbird favorite, scarlet beebalm (M. didyma).

Swamp milkweed is a colorful long-bloomer that grows well in moist garden soils.
Swamp milkweed is a colorful long-bloomer that grows well in moist garden soils.

Night Bloomers

Gardeners seeking to lure sphinx moths and other charming evening pollinators might consider late-day bloomers like four-o-clocks (Mirabilis spp.) and ornamental angel’s trumpets (Datura spp.). Non-native ornamental tobaccos are also superb, non-invasive plants for moths. Two South American winners are the tall, white-flowered woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) and pinkand whiteflowered jasmine tobacco (N. alata). Both provide wonderful evening fragrance and charming flowers that attract moths of all sorts.

Creating a sumptuous wildflower planting for pollinators is a snap because growing well-adapted, regional plants makes for easier gardening. All mentioned in this article thrive in full to partial sun and appreciate quality soil with good drainage (with the exception of swamp milkweed). Topdressing plantings with a little Black Gold Garden Compost Blend in fall will help maintain soil quality while deterring fall and winter weeds.

When the hard frosts hit, the pollinators will be gone, wintering away somewhere deep and protected or busying themselves somewhere lovely South of The Border. Either way, gardeners that plant wildflowers for pollinators can feel confident that they helped many of these creatures towards good health and survival, which helps us all.

Maintaining the ‘Statice’ Quo

This perennial statice, Limonium perezii is frost tender but tough as nails in salt air and coastal conditions.
This perennial statice, Limonium perezii is frost tender but tough as nails in salt air and coastal conditions.

“Where did you get those flowers?” my mother asked suspiciously when I presented her with a bouquet of papery dry blossoms. They were as deep blue as Egyptian lapis stone. The stems still held their heads high after the long walk home that hot summer day.

The moment she learned they had come from the neighbor’s garden Mom was on the phone. I heard mea culpas flooding the kitchen. Then she hung up to announce we would be taking them back because they were “everlastings”, and the neighbor wanted to dry them for her arrangements.
Continue reading “Maintaining the ‘Statice’ Quo”