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Hummingbirds, Hydrangea & Helenium!

July 2, 2012 Blog 2 comments

Ruby-throated Baby Hummingbirds

With summer here, there are plenty of things to post about!  I picked three main topics for this month that I found interesting.  A hummingbird nest discovered on a recent trip to a plant nursery, hydrangea species, their colors and characteristics, and the plant of the month for July, Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’.

I don’t know the statistics, but I do know that not many people have the privilege of seeing a hummingbird nest up close!  At least, I have never seen one until this June, even when I grew up in the outdoors!  On a recent trip to Mountain Springs Nursery in Rheinholds, PA, it was brought to my attention that there was a hummingbird nest located in one of the Southern Magnolia trees in the pot-in-pot nursery location! My day started without any interest in finding baby birds, or their nests.  I rarely find time in the growing season to go bird-watching, as some outdoor activists prefer to do.  Most of the time, I find nests in trees that I am pruning, planting or purchasing.  Sometimes I will find them under the porches of family and friends making a muddy mess all over the white vinyl siding!

I usually accumulate several ‘planting’ projects at a time and take a 1.5 hour round-trip to Mountain Springs Nursery, in Rheinholds, PA.  Mountain Springs Nursery has a great wholesale plant collection as well as the most friendly service I have found in the nursery industry in Lancaster County, PA.  With their vast plant availability combined with excellent customer service, I choose to buy 80-90% of my plant material at their nursery.

Anyway… One day I ventured to this nursery to collect my sweet plants!  One of the nursery employees, Linda, insisted that before I left that I see a hummingbird nest that they discovered a few weeks ago.  After collecting my plants, Linda took me to the pot-in-pot section of the nursery [a unique way of growing large, containerized trees that keeps them underground (while in the pots), irrigated and from blowing over from the wind].  She took me to a Magnolia grandiflora, Southern Magnolia tree where a ruby-throated hummingbird decided to make it’s nest!  At first, I didn’t even see the nest because it was so small!  This turned out to be the coolest little bird’s nest I have ever seen.  Check it out!

My hand, better showing the scale of the nest!

A regular-sized pen. Really showing the scale of the nest, now!

This nest was so interesting.  Not your typical bird’s nest made of branches, grasses, leave or hair.  This nest was so different and intricate.

A close-up of the nest material.

The nest appeared to be made up of the following: spider webs, fuzzy material from miscellaneous plants, lichens, and possibly mud  other fluids from the mother hummingbird.  If you have followed our blog in the past, you will remember a post about lichens and how they relate with plants, specifically the bark of trees.

Briefly about Lichens: Lichens are within the fungal kingdom, but instead of invading and scavenging like other fungi (molds, mildews, mushrooms) they cultivate algae within themselves and will photosynthesize to supply their own carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins.  Lichens have a symbiotic relationship with the algae since they provide them within protection from the elements and they do not harm the host trees in which they seem to take over! [See post title: Pennsylvania Raisins for more information on lichens].

So, the hummingbirds used spider webbing as a flexible material to line the nest.  They also used lichens on the outside to hold it all together.  *The crazy thing was that the nest expands with the baby birds, as needed!

Spigelia marilandica

The ruby-throated hummingbird’s Northward migration starts in April and the return South lasts until early October.  It is commonly thought that hummingbirds only like the color, red.  This is false.  They may favor red, or can find it better, but they will work any nectarladen tubular flower with their long bills and tongues.

A hummingbird’s diet consists of 40% nectar and 60% insects.  If you wish to feed and attract hummingbirds, a mixture of four parts water and one part white cane or beet sugar is a near match for flower nectar and is the best thing to offer.  Plants such as the picture above, Spigelia marilandica are known to be great attractors for hummingbirds.  There are many others such as; salvia species, agastache, canna lilies…

Hummingbirds are not everything in a landscape, but we do believe in trying our best to achieve having a well-balanced, ecological landscape in all landscaped areas.  This means, going back to the basics.  Planting native trees, shrubs and perennials that offer value and efficiency to the home as well as bio-diversity/habitat for wildlife!

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea… Everyone knows a hydrangea…Mostly!  This is the season for them.  There are five main types of hydrangeas that we use in the landscape in this area; Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf), Hydrangea querciolia (oakleaf), Hydrangea paniculata (panicle) and Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea vine).

Hydrangea macrophylla is a large leaf hydrangea with blooms that are usually pink or blue that form off of old, second-year growth.  This hydrangea will bloom more blue with an acidic soil and bloom more pink with an alkaline soil.  This hydrangea at our shop blooms both pink and blue, probably because we don’t add any supplemental pH amendments, so it blooms according to the natural soil pH!

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is a white blooming hydrangea that blooms off of new year’s growth.  This means that, unlike the H. macrophylla, you can prune this one in the spring before it blooms and it will still produce flowers that year.

Hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea quercifolia has leaves that resemble oak leaves, has panicle-shaped flowers and has great fall color as well as interesting bark in the winter.  The mature sizes vary from 2-3′ tall and wide, a 5-6′ tall and wide.

Hydrangea paniculata

Hydrangea paniculata has many interesting cultivars that range from white to pink colored blooms, tree-form varieties, dwarf and regular sized varieties.

Hydrangea petiolaris

Hydrangea petiolaris  is a climbing vine-type hydrangea.  It will grow up to 20 feet tall and is easy to train.  Like other hydrangeas, it prefers mostly shade.

That’s a brief overview of the hydrangea group of plants.  **Fact: When it hasn’t rained for awhile, hydrangeas will be the first plants to show wilting/drought stress in the landscape!  This is usually a sign that some of your other important plants may need supplemental watering if it doesn’t rain for a week or more after that!


Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

One of my favorite flower colors combined with the flower texture… This is Helenium sp., commonly known as sneezeweed.  I like the contrast between the petals, from yellow to orange to orangish-red.  The seedhead in the center is also attractive.

My favorite thing about being a landscaper: Enjoying God’s creation and worshiping Him through it!

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Steven C - July 4, 2012 Reply

LOVE the Helenium ‘Mardi gras’ – I must get one !

Gavin - July 4, 2012 Reply

Yeah! It’s pretty attractive! How are you? Missing my classmate at Longwood! 🙂

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