Hummingbirds can be lured to shady places

Last week I profiled some sun loving plants that attract hummingbirds. This week I’ll discuss my favorite shade dwellers that hummingbirds adore. There aren’t as many, since producing flowers requires energy. There’s less sunlight, so usually that means less spectacular blooming.

I’ll cover the annuals first. My favorite two flowers are wishbone plant (Torenia fournieri ) and monkey flower, both underused around here in my opinion. Lobelia is another and also a good hummingbird attractor, but its best bloom is in spring or fall, and the birds aren’t as numerous then.

Wishbone plant is often referred to by its Generic name of Torenia. It has tubular tricolored flowers that are usually white, yellow and either red, pink or purple. Some varieties trail and others grow upright. Afternoon shade is critical for this one. Direct hot sun will wipe it out.

Monkey flower (Mimulus sp.) is an impressive bloomer for shady spots. Flowers are generally yellow or orange and showy. They somewhat resemble large snapdragons. Plants are desired by hummingbirds but despised by deer. That’s a desirable trait as deer are a major problem, especially in shade, where they have more cover.

Both wishbone plants and monkey flowers perform well in flowerbeds and pots. People looking for hanging baskets shouldn’t overlook fuchsia. It’s a great hummingbird attracting plant with very unique flowers.

On the perennial side, two plants that immediately come to mind are columbine and coral bells. Both grow well in shady places and both are butterfly and hummingbird magnets.

Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)  comes in different colors. Many are bicolored. Flowers have a distinctive nectar spur, much like nasturtiums do. Foliage is somewhat clover like. Further north these plants tolerate significantly more sunlight. Here in eastern North Carolina they must have afternoon shade.

Gardeners with shady places should have coral bells (Heuchera sp.). These are durable perennials that hold their own but don’t crowd out other plants. Butterflies love them and hummingbirds flock to them.

The funny thing is that coral bell flowers are neither large nor showy. Coral bells are normally grown for their colorful geranium-like foliage, but the flowers are great for attracting pollinators. Plants grow well in shade but also handle sun pretty well.

The variety of shade loving shrubs that attract hummingbirds is thin. Azaleas grow well here and they attract hummingbirds pretty effectively. The problem is that they don’t have a long blooming season. Re-blooming cultivars like the Encore series have lessened this problem, but plants still don’t bloom in summer. Rhododendrons are great hummingbird attractors, but they have the same problem and don’t grow well around here.

Hydrangeas attract hummingbirds and there are many types to choose from. The climbing types have white flowers and do very well in afternoon shade. Oak leaf hydrangea is another white blooming variety. It’s quite drought tolerant and will grow well in sunny spots.

Hummingbirds seek out flowers. Flowers are less prevalent in shady places. Therefore, fewer options are available for hummingbird lovers with shady environments. That probably makes sugar feeders more necessary. It also makes the quest more challenging to stretch out the blooming season.

Mass of Torenia flowers

Pink monkey flower

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Hummingbird attractants for sunny places

People often ask me which plant attracts hummingbirds best. That certainly depends. Sun vs shade is usually my first response. Annual or perennial is the next. For this piece I’ll concentrate on sun loving plants.

My favorite sun loving annuals for hummingbirds are salvia and petunia. Zinnias attract them as well. These plants are all locally available and easy to grow.

Salvia is an upright plant with square stems. The flowers look like they have lips on them and they come in many colors. They are borne on the stems in elongated clusters. Clipping the plants back periodically helps form bushier specimens that tolerate wind better.

Petunias are an old standby. They also come in numerous colors. However, they generally are trailing plants and don’t achieve much height. Flowers are funnel shaped and benefit from deadheading. The wave cultivars are advertised not to require picking off the old flowers, but I’ve found plants still benefit from the practice.

As far as perennials go, lantana and bee balm (Monarda) are great attractants. These are also very available. Daylilies are good too. They are very winter hardy and available at nearly all garden centers. Common colors are yellow and orange, but they also come in peach, red and purple.

There are numerous lantana cultivars to choose from. Some, like ‘Miss Huff’ and ‘New Gold’ are quite winter hardy. ‘Miss Huff’, a multi-color, has an upright growth habit and is tall. ‘New Gold’ is a spreading type and rarely grows taller than your knees. Other varieties are usually less hardy. I’ve found the biggest problem with lantana winter hardiness is wet soil in winter more than extreme cold temperatures.

Bee balm is a hardy upright perennial. Common colors are red and purple. Its biggest problem is powdery mildew and this can affect survival as well as attractiveness.

Probably my favorite hummingbird attracting perennial is Dicliptera, and it is frequently referred to as hummingbird plant or Uruguayan firecracker plant. Dicliptera has grayish colored leaves with a velvety texture. Flowers are bright red. This one is a hummingbird magnet.

If I had to choose a single plant for attracting hummingbirds I’d have to pick the tropical hibiscus. When they are blooming in and around the greenhouses at school the hummingbirds are so thick I feel like I need to wear safety glasses.

I see hummingbirds around rose of Sharon shrubs which are a hardy hibiscus. However, I usually don’t see as many. For some reason the tropical type seems to attract more.

I’m often asked if it’s necessary to artificially feed hummingbirds if there are enough nectar rich plants around. While it doesn’t sound as natural I think supplemental feeding is a good practice. Plants are not always flowering profusely, and supplemental sugar is inexpensive and good insurance for a constant supply of hummingbirds.

There are numerous plants that attract hummingbirds. I’ve merely scratched the surface, and I’ve only included plants adapted to sunny locations. Those with shady garden spots will have to wait until next week to read about my favorites for gardens with limited sunlight.

Hibiscus flower showing the 5-branched stigmas and stamens attached to the style

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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New versions of Never Alone are now available

The eBook version of Never Alone can now be obtained by Kindle and Nook enthusiasts. In the Elizabeth City area it can also be purchased in the gift shop at the Museum of the Albemarle. Please let people know they can get it there if they don’t want to go online. I’m working up a formal book signing at the museum. Tentatively this is scheduled for mid-August. I’ll post details when they are finalized. In the meantime, those wishing to purchase the book can go to or and type in my name (Ted Manzer) and the book will come up. Also, there is a trailer up on youtube (search Ted Manzer).

Thanks to all who have supported me. I hope you enjoy the book.


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Life experiences become an important component of education

We are nearing the end of another school year. One thing teachers always try to do is reflect back upon what worked and what didn’t work. If something wasn’t successful, we always ask ourselves why it wasn’t. How could we fix it?

As teachers we all plan what we want our students to glean from every lesson. However, sometimes it’s the things that just happen in the middle of it all that take hold. Sometimes problem solving and soft skills can override our planned activities.

For example, the class might be studying plant nutrition or other growth requirements and a plant sale customer comes to the door. I send a student out with this member of our community and the student gets grilled about the growing requirements of different plants.

That was a life lesson. Kids must learn to think on their feet. Nobody wants to sound like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I guarantee the next time that kid talks to a customer he’ll be more prepared.

We can plan and teach so students can regurgitate information, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to learning. Sometimes you just have to experience it. I’m a firm believer in applied learning.

I remember one time we were studying the characteristics of water in our Natural Resources class. We were about to move a bunch of tables in the greenhouse and I knew everyone would be tired. It was December and before we went into the greenhouse I put a case of water in the refrigerator and another one in the pond.

The water was about 45 degrees in the pond and 35 degrees in the fridge. I told the kids that and asked them which case of water would be coolest when we came back inside. Nearly everyone said the one in the refrigerator.

Twenty-five minutes later the kids found that the waters in the colder fridge were barely cool. The ones in the pond were cold. They learned a lesson about the high specific heat of water vs air.

I remember another time, again in a fall Natural Resources class. I offered $20 to the first student that could pick up pecan off the ground with an edible seed. They all tried in vain.

Eventually, they realized that we have a huge population of gray squirrels on our campus. These little bushytailed rodents are very adept at plucking the undamaged nuts. Their sense of smell is much better than ours and they rarely miss a good nut. Consequently, nobody got the twenty.

In my 20 years of teaching at Northeastern I could fill up several pages upon pages of similar experiences. Some things you just can’t plan for, but you must take advantage of them when they appear.

As a teacher I think you have to stay positive, no matter how difficult that is sometimes. There are always days that frustrate, but there are good ones too. That holds true for students as well as teachers. They go through the same frustrations that all people do.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Short or tall, Zinnias dazzle in the garden and the vase

I can’t think of an easier flower to grow than zinnia. When I was a kid we always had the old fashioned tall growing types. I think my mom still has some pictures of my sister and I standing next to them and they were taller than either of us.

We never bought plants or seeds. All we did was save seeds from year to year in a paper bag and we had a mixture of every color imaginable. All we needed was an area with plenty of light.

Zinnias thrive in nearly any type of soil. They prefer a well-drained sandy loam with plenty of organic matter, but they tolerate most soil types and moisture regimes. When seeding it is best to wait until soil temperatures get near 60 degrees.

That was a push in Maine, but Mom was never in a hurry. We often didn’t get them in the ground until early July and we still had tons of them. It seldom pays to try to stretch the season.

There’s another thing I always noticed about zinnias. They attract butterflies, lots of them. That’s something that was always cool for a young kid.

It’s nice to have pretty flowerbeds, but zinnias have more attributes than that. Flowers hold in a vase for as much as a week. Proper cutting increases their useful life, sometimes even more than that.

Flowers should be re-cut at an angle under water and placed in tepid water initially. I know people naturally think flowers should be placed in cold water, but when water is cold plants don’t imbibe it as quickly. Therefore they become less hydrated.

Changing the water during the week is helpful also as are floral preservatives. If water gets cloudy it should be changed more often. Cool water is fine for subsequent changings.

Profusion zinnias are the dwarf types, and they emerged on the market in the mid-1990s. They have several advantages over the older types, particularly for flowerbed use. They are profuse bloomers and due to their shorter height they blend better with most other bedding plants. They also are fabulous in mixed pots.

Another advantage at least for garden centers is that they can be established successfully as plants. The taller types have such a short useful shelf life that it’s not worth growing seedlings to transplant. They become too leggy too quickly.

Profusion zinnias make an instant garden. They also are nice for bud vases and other short table arrangements. I know in our house large table arrangements eventually get knocked over.

As if their beauty weren’t enough zinnia flowers are also edible and can be used to garnish a salad. They also make a citrus-like tea. This tea helps with constipation.

Spider mites and aphids are the most common insect pests. Both can be controlled and frequent inspection is the first step. Sometimes all that’s needed to control them is a good bath with dish soap. Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that works good too, but don’t eat the flowers if you spray.

Good selection of profusion zinnias

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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Hard copies of Never Alone are now available on

The book has not been fully released yet. Electronic versions are not yet available and it’s not up on the Barnes and Noble site as of today. I figure within another month all versions will be available.

Well, it’s been a long time coming. I first started this book back in 2004. Since then I’ve broken it  into three books, added stuff, taken things away and generally learned how to write. I’ve also written two more books to the story making it a 5-book family saga. I welcome you to read Never Alone and offer your opinion. If you are so inclined, say a prayer for me.

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Bald cypress has far more uses than swampland conservation

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a great swamp conservation plant. It helps filter sediment so they don’t enter our waterways. Floodwater slows down, causing sediment to settle and not enter the rivers. This majestic tree is one of relatively few species that can even survive such environments.

Cypress trees grow best when soil pH is below neutral. This is rarely a problem in our area. Most swampland soils are well in the acid range which serves these trees well, but extremely acid soils inhibit growth too. Trees grow best at a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.

Trees can attain impressive size. That makes them a great candidate for forestry use. Harvesting can pose problems, but cypress trees can be profitable.

Bald cypress wood is very durable. It is one of the more decay resistant lumbers found anywhere. Because of this bald cypress is often used for fencing and outdoor furniture. Shredded cypress mulch lasts longer than other mulches since it’s slow to break down, so many landscapers like it.

So are there any other uses for this great filter tree? One would assume it would make a fine landscape shade tree for wet places, since that’s where we find them. It certainly does, but it doesn’t end there.

I maintain this tree’s greatest landscape application is to plant it on upland sites. Bald cypress grows well on well drained soils. When given plenty of light, young trees develop broad attractive canopies. Trees usually require little pruning. They also have relatively few insect and disease problems.

One problem bald cypress has in waterlogged places is that it produces distinctive “knees”, which can cause problems for lawn mowers. These knees can be used in crafts and creative furniture, but most of us don’t want to hit them with the mower every week. On drier soils these trees don’t produce these woody appendage-like growths.

Bald cypress is a conifer and has needles like pine and hemlock trees. However, one factor that makes it a great shade tree is that this foliage is deciduous. That means trees are bare in the winter.

Good shade trees shade us from the sun in summer but let the light enter our houses in winter. In my opinion, evergreen trees should be planted on the north facing side of a building and deciduous trees should be planted on the south facing side. To me that’s common sense.

Another attribute shade trees should have is seasonal color. Bald cypress fall color can be attractive. It’s brownish orange and mixes well with other species. One problem you’ll have though is that people will constantly tell you your pine tree is dying.

When I was in the landscape business I got several calls every fall from people who thought their trees were dead. Those trees were a different species of deciduous conifer called tamaracks.

Bald cypress is also a native tree. Using natives is hot right now and there are many reasons for using them. Usually natives are adaptable and they generally don’t become invasive and threaten other wild plants.

Swamp bald cypress showing enlarged fluted trunk

One of many bald cypress knees


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

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