Q. I have been feeding the hummingbirds and getting so much enjoyment out of that. I don’t have a lot of room to plant flowers to augment their diets with “natural nectar” blooming plants, but do have a couple of barrels that I want to designate with plants that will offer the hummers a more varied diet. Would you please offer suggestions on a couple of plants that I can grow in the barrels, since space is a major factor in my world? – H.H., Albuquerque
A. Two plants come to mind easily that would grow in your barrels and wear the trumpet-shaped blooms that hummers require to feed from.
First consider an herb called pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). It’s defined in my bible, Sunset magazine’s “Western Garden Book,” as a perennial herb, but I’ve never had mine winter over planted in the pots I have.
The pineapple sage offers long, light-green colored leaves worn on a tightly clumping small bush, that when you stroke or “pet” them emit a strong scent of pineapple. You are supposed to be able to harvest the leaves to use them in cooking or flavoring drinks, but it’s the bloom that I grow them for.
The plant will throw up longish bloom stalks that wear long, bright red-coral trumpet-shaped blooms that “my” hummers seem to really enjoy dipping their beaks into. As soon as the bloom stalk is finished, I cut them cleanly off the mother plant and soon, as long as the conditions are right, it throws up yet another bloom stalk offering the natural nectar you and your hummers are looking for.
Next will be hyssop (Agastache). These perennial lovelies will grow in a barrel-sized environment.
My favorite is a named variety of Agastache, licorice mint hyssop, that I’ve found on High Country Gardens website. I’m confident that you can find several hyssops available at nurseries around town fairly easily.
What I enjoy about the licorice mint variety is the smell of the foliage when you disturb it. Run your hand over a clump of the hyssop and come away with a palm of strong sort of minty licorice smell that will have you smelling your palm for hours.
The blooms are the trumpet shape that hummers covet. The flowers are a nifty orange-coral-grey color that pop in a garden. A healthy licorice mint hyssop will bloom nearly continually from July until late September easily offering lots of feeding stations for your hummers.
Don’t forget the zauschneria, or hummingbird plant, either. A good sized mound of the zauschneria blooming in a barrel will be appreciated by most any hummingbird.
Now I wouldn’t plant the hyssop or the zauschneria in any container smaller than a barrel and expect them to thrive. They do best with ample room to grow.
So there’s a few plants to consider growing in your barrels to help your hummers have a varied and healthy diet. I’m confident that by strolling through a nursery, you could find several additional plants, and perhaps even find a section dedicated to plants that offer you choices galore to choose from. Good on you for making the effort to tend to you hummers.
Q. I always enjoy pots of petunias on my patio planted in patriotic colors, red, white and blue each summer. This year it seems my plants and flower buds are all chewed up! I find small, lumpy black stuff on some of the leaves but don’t find any sort of bug. What’s going on with my usually cheerful pots of petunias? – H.W., Albuquerque
A. It’s your description of “small, lumpy black stuff” that confirms my diagnosis of your plants having a bunch of budworms living happily on your petunias.
The “lumpy” stuff is actually the poop left by the worms as they eat and enjoy the leaves, and especially the buds, of the plants. I doubt that you’ll ever see the creatures as they are great at camouflaging themselves on the plants. If you do find them, they are very small and green-colored (the same color as the leaves), so they are easily missed with visual inspection.
In order to get rid of them I’ll suggest debudding the petunias completely and then, at dusk, spray with a pesticide of insecticidal soap. But you need to spray at dusk because this pesticide degrades very rapidly in sunlight and you want the pesticide “fresh” when the budworms come out to feed at night. Spray every couple of evenings apart, three to four times. That way you’ll get a good hunt, so to speak.
Then when the petunias reset their next set of blooms, they should be worm-free, giving you weeks and weeks of color-filled pots.
You can win the budworm war as long as you debud first and spray to get a good hunt.
Happy Diggin’ In this Fourth of July weekend.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to email@example.com.