Hummingbirds in the Winter? And Other Questions Answered

It’s garden question-and-answer time again! You may e-mail me
questions at [email protected] Or you can mail me questions in
care of this newspaper. For a faster, personal response, please
include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
It’s garden question-and-answer time again! You may e-mail me questions at [email protected] Or you can mail me questions in care of this newspaper. For a faster, personal response, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Q: My brother and I are in dispute when it comes to removing hummingbird feeders this time of year. He says I need to remove my feeder in November or early December so that the hummers will migrate. I thought there were some hummers that don’t migrate. I keep my feeder up until the hummers quit using it. So, what’s the real story? Who’s right?

– L.B., Gilroy, via e-mail

A: You are correct. Leaving a sugar-water feeder up in fall and winter will not keep hummingbirds from migrating. Hummer migration is stimulated by photoperiod, so as days become shorter in the fall, local hummingbirds begin to put on fat and soon depart for the tropics. There are some that stay behind. However, those hummers are usually those that are ill or “genetically inferior,” and it’s likely they would die in migration. I would suggest maintaining a hummingbird feeder through the winter. You’ll be helping out those hummers that stay and, at the same time, you won’t be preventing any others from migrating.

Q: Some time ago, you gave the name of a product to spray on liquidambar trees to prevent the prickly seed pods from forming. Can you tell me the name of this product and when I need to spray? I hate those prickly seeds pods.

– M.R., Morgan Hill, via e-mail

A: The product is called Florel. Spray it on the tree when it is in full bloom, about the same time as the leaves emerge in the spring, usually around April. You’ll need to use a hose-end sprayer and probably also stand on the highest ladder you can find, depending on how tall your liquidambar (sweet gum) trees are. Florel is sold at Orchard Supply Hardware and can sometimes be found in the big box stores. Watch for the flowers as they are rather inconspicuous. The bees love them, though, and usually will be buzzing around when the blossoms are there. Florel does not harm bees.

Q: I was wondering if I would have success dividing my fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum). It’s grown quite large over the years, and there seems to be more and more brown growth at its base.

– P.E., Hollister, via e-mail

A: Fountain grass, along with other ornamental grasses, have become extremely popular over the past few years. Although they look great in the summer, they don’t look so good from around December through April. This means this is the ideal time to divide them. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible, and divide using a sharp shovel or garden saw. I usually don’t recommend dividing a large root ball more than two or three ways. You want to make sure enough of the roots remain so it won’t struggle to come back come next spring.

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