Ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in Missouri in mid to late April after migrating hundreds miles from their winter home in Central America.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in Missouri in mid to late April after migrating hundreds miles from their winter home in Central America.

Since flower nectar can be up to 90 percent of the bird’s diet, it is important that gardeners in the Missouri Ozarks plant early blooming plants in their gardens to provide these early migrating birds a food source during a time when other food sources can be scarce.

Woodland gardeners have many early blooming red and pink nursery grown wildflowers to choose from, and below are a few of my suggestions.

These plants all have early blooming tubular flowers, which allow hummingbirds easy access to their flower nectar.

If given space and leaf litter is removed, fire pink and columbine will spread by seed.

All of these plants can be grown successfully in open deciduous woodland garden settings in Rolla.

As an advocate of using nursery grown native plants in landscapes, my three favorites are the following:

Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum): This is Missouri’s only native azalea. It has a diverse native range, stretching from high elevations in the mountains of New England, to cooler north facing slopes of the Southern Ozarks of Arkansas.

Blooming in late April to early May, the flowers are rose to pale pink, and have a faint sent described as “clove like.”

Having grown this Azalea myself, they prefer loose acidic soil with high organic matter content. Growing up to 8 feet in cultivation, to bloom properly they prefer to be in light shade under a high tree canopy.

In Ozark County, Mo., I grow my azaleas in raised beds to provide them with a suitable habitat, where the native soils are heavy with clay and low in organic matter.

Moderate soil moisture content is the key to successfully growing azaleas in Missouri. To accomplish this, drip tape/soaker hoses and mulch can be used to prevent the soil from ever drying out.

Fire Pink (Silene virginica) is another great early blooming red wild flower. Fire pink is at home in a rock crevice within a woodland garden. Plants in the wild can be seen blooming in open savannas to moist woodland slopes throughout the Ozarks from April to June.

A small plant, the thin flowering stems can reach up to 2 feet tall. The star-like flowers are a brilliant deep red. I have had success growing fire pink in woodland rock gardens.

From my experience growing this plant, fire pink can diminish if competition and shading from nearby plants becomes too intense.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a great plant for woodland rock gardens. It is one of the earliest plants to bloom in my garden, and will continue to put on a gorgeous display from April-May.

In the wild they can be seen blooming as late as July.

I have had success growing these in average soil high in organic matter growing between hostas, wild sweet-william and other shade garden perennials; sending up their 2 foot blooming stems high above the woodland floor.

Columbine is not a standalone specimen plant for Missouri gardens, but makes an outstanding accent to a variety of woodland plants during its spring blooming period, and virtually disappears into the surrounding landscape by summer.