1. Life & Culture

Brandies: With the right plants, you can attract hummingbirds

Last March, just before the hummingbirds started back up north, I wrote about Heather Diaz after learning much from her talk at our local library.

March through May is the best time to see hummingbirds. The second best is now as they return. A few will stay year-round, especially if they like your plants.

Anyone who hears Diaz's excellent talks at the various Hillsborough libraries can't help from wondering what her own garden is like. So I asked to see it.

Who would think that one of the biggest gardens would be planted mostly for the smallest of birds. Diaz's property spreads over 1 1/2 acres.

From front to back, she lures the hummingbirds with plants that provide nectar for them. The best plants are the native red salvia, firecracker, firebush and firespike, all with tubular flowers that bloom from March through October. The hummers like red flowers best, pink and orange next best. Many of the plants they like also attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Diaz's home and garden is in Gibsonton. Right along the driveway there is a long row of blooming red firecracker shrubs, Russelia equisetiformis. Behind them is her orchard. The citrus is gone, but she now has peaches, pears, persimmons, figs, mangoes and avocado.

You can't see the house until the driveway turns. Diaz had the house built to her own plans after living in a smaller 1932 cottage that is still on the property. Both the homes and the landscape are quite impressive. In the front there is no lawn, just ground covers, shrubs and trees with constant color year-round from foliage as well as bloom.

Along the side of the house she has her potting soil, all very neat. The back is even more fantastic, with a view of the Alafia River and wonderful surprises like the lotus in the koi pond. The 16 additional seed pods on the porch table prove there were plenty of lotus flowers in the spring.

Another surprise was the many small white blooms on a sweet autumn clematis. This is seldom seen in Florida, although it does well here. But it can be slightly invasive.

Diaz has large swaths of the hummingbirds' plants, like several colors of shrimp plants. There are also huge shrubs of firebush, Hamelia patens, and both red firespike shrubs, Thyrsacanthus tubaeformis, and the even taller purple ones, Odontonema callistachyum, that blooms later.

Of course, there are many other plants as well. The larger purple ground cover and the small-leaved plants along the edging of the front garden are both cousins of the Wandering Jew plant that I had never seen before.

Just about now she had dozens, maybe even hundreds, of the Billbergia pyramidalis with their pink to red. They are blooming in many gardens and don't last but a few days, though they sure are gorgeous while they bloom.

The bromeliad that I had never seen before was the Portea petropolitana. Even with the arching stems seed pods they were lovely. Beautiful lavender-purple flowers start in spring and early summer and last well. They last very long as a cut flower as well.

Diaz has irrigation where needed, especially in the containers. She feeds with horse manure that she bring home in a trailer and spreads where needed.

She grew up in Florida and came to this area for college at the University of South Florida and has been a Master Gardener since 2009. Don't miss her talks.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener and author of 12 gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture and is an alumni fellow from Temple University. She can be reached at Her website is