February and March are still very unsettled from a weather perspective. In fact, it may still feel much like winter to us except for the occasional brilliant, sunny and warm day.
Here in Northern California however, the early spring hummingbird migration is underway. While Anna’s hummingbirds reside in our area year-round, Allen’s, Costa’s, Rufous and Calliope hummingbirds overwinter in Mexico and Central America and migrate north to the U.S. and Canada in February and March.
Hummingbirds feed on small insects for protein, but also feed extensively on nectar from plants. Many people put out feeders to aid the migrating species on their travels north in spring and south in fall. Feeders also serve the Anna’s hummingbirds year-round, and provide a stage for the entertaining aerial antics of these tiny creatures.
If you’re interested in following them, there is a good citizen scientist website that tracks migrations of everything from whales and robins to hummingbirds and monarchs at Learner.org (https://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/).
To provide for your little avian visitors there are a number of Grevilleas that are beautiful, long-blooming and very garden-worthy early spring hummingbird plants.
Some grevilleas bloom in summer, while others bloom in spring. The best cultivars bloom almost year-round. Grevilleas are from Australia, and most grow very easily in well-drained and not overly fertile soil.
Australian soils do not have phosphates and therefore many Australian plants are best in soils with low levels. Generally this is not an issue in our area, but very occasionally a grevillea will display yellowing of the leaves that is indicative of phosphate intolerance.
They generally thrive in the same well-drained, infertile soils that many of our native plants need. Most are very drought tolerant. They grow well both in cool coastal areas and hot, inland conditions. Some species or cultivars are frost tolerant and others are killed in temperatures below 25 degrees. Grevilleas are deer-resistant.
One of the most spectacular and easy to grow is Grevillea lavandulacea ‘Penola.’
It is hardy to 20 degrees and has bright gray, dense, wooly foliage much like lavender. It grows eventually to 4 feet tall, and about 6 feet wide.
The growth habit is more spreading than tall, and has a dense, arching shape that is excellent for spilling over a rock wall or down a bank.
Make sure to site it where the morning or afternoon light highlights the blooms. In bud they are a deep, glowing red that is really showy against the bright gray foliage.
As they open, the flowers turn a deep salmon that is exceptional against the gray leaves. The blooms are dense, and the effect is spectacular. Hummingbirds avidly visit the blooms.
Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ blooms late winter into spring. It is a low-growing, compact 1-foot tall to 4-foot wide evergreen that is extremely drought tolerant.
The leaves are densely packed, very soft and gray/green, and the flowers are pinkish-red. Its low stature and arching form makes it a good border, rock garden or ground cover plant. It can take light shade in our climate. G. lanigera ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ is also compact and has clusters of rosy pink and cream colored flowers in late winter.