Hummingbirds are definitely one of the joys of summer.
Arriving about the time of the last frost, these little dynamos will spend the warm weather zipping about your garden. Even watching these small but fierce birds battle each other for a place at a nectar feeder is great entertainment.
While hummingbirds do appreciate a nectar feeder, the key to keeping these tiny birds happy is by planting flowering shrubs, vines, and annuals that produce tubular flowers loaded with nectar.
Since they’re also extremely decorative, you’ll be doing both your landscape and the hummingbirds a favor!
Trumpet vines, salvia, and petunias are all hummingbird-approved, but another favorite is the native firebush. In fact, one of its common names is hummingbird bush.
While it’s only winter hardy in zones 9 to 11, you can grow it as an annual or potted plant further north.
What Is Firebush?
Firebush (Hamelia patens) is a drought-resistant, fast-growing tender perennial shrub native to Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and much of South America. Its native habitat is dry in winter with a summer rainy season.
For hummingbirds, the narrow, tubular scarlet flowers are the main attraction. They’re borne in clusters at the end of the stems.
In tropical zones, they bloom year-round, while in cooler climates they have a long blooming period from spring to fall. Other nectar eaters such as butterflies will also flock to these flowers.
After the flowers fade, they produce reddish black berries that many songbirds will eagerly consume, making it a great all-around shrub for attracting wildlife to your yard.
In regions without freezing weather, these bushes can get as high as 12 feet. It’s a great choice for a privacy hedge in tropical zones.
Growing Firebush In The South
If you live in the southern United States, you will probably be able to grow firebush outdoors in the ground, as your winters will not be too cold to keep it thriving.
Even if you have a brief period of freezing weather, it may pull through, although it will lose its leaves. Even if it dies back to the ground, it should spring back to life when warmer weather returns in spring.
Plant it in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter such as well-rotted compost, in a spot where it will get plenty of sun.
While it will tolerate some shade, it will flower much more profusely in a sunny location. It’s perfect for coastal gardens, as it is not damaged by salt spray.
Water your firebush well when the top few inches of the soil have dried out until it becomes established. After that, it’s very drought-resistant and can take a few weeks of dry weather.
In fact, the worst thing you can do for a firebush is to keep it in soggy soil. The roots can’t breathe and are likely to develop root rot, a fungal disease that will kill the plant.
You don’t need to fertilize firebush, but if you want to give it an extra boost, an annual application of slow-release fertilizer granules or well-rotted compost in early spring will get its new growing season off to a good start.
Water well after application to make sure the nutrients get down into the soil to feed the roots.
While pruning isn’t necessary, you can give it a light shearing a few times over the growing season to encourage lots of flowering. However, if you don’t have room for a huge shrub, you can cut it back to keep it smaller.
Growing Firebush Farther North
If you garden north of zone 8, you can still cultivate firebush, but you will have to deal with the reality that your winter weather will kill the plant.
Luckily, you have a couple of options.
Because firebush grows quickly, it’s often grown as an annual in northern gardens. While you won’t get the towering height of a firebush grown in a tropical zone, it can easily get to be 5 feet tall with about the same spread.
Because firebush thrives in sun and heat, find a location where it will receive full sun. Plant it in well-draining soil rich in organic matter, and water it regularly.
When the plants die when temperatures drop at the end of the season, simply pull them out and compost them.
You can also grow firebush as a container plant and bring it indoors for the winter months. Choose a large pot with drainage holes, and fill it with a loose, well-draining soil mixture.
Find a sunny spot on your deck or patio to set the pot. You will want to keep it close to where you spend time outside, because that way you can enjoy the sight of the hummingbirds zipping about to feed on the flowers’ nectar!
Water the pot whenever the top 2 or 3 inches have dried out. Soak the soil thoroughly and allow the excess drain to be released before placing the pot back in the saucer.
Feed it once a month with a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength. Feel free to prune it to size if it gets too big.
When temperatures start to drop to about 40°F in the fall, bring the pot indoors for the winter. Either keep it in a cool, dark cellar to go dormant, or find a spot for it near a sunny window. Cut back on watering until fresh growth starts in early spring.
When things warm up, bring it back outdoors, slowly acclimating it to full sun to avoid burning the foliage.
No matter where you garden, firebush is a great addition to your outdoor landscape, both for its striking flowers and the hummingbirds that it will attract!