Attracting Hummingbirds to your garden

Annette Ipsan
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

I can't imagine a garden without the winged gems. Attracting them is easy with the right plants and feeders.

Here, in the eastern United States, the ruby-throated hummingbird rules. Occasionally, migrating hummingbirds from the West pass through, but our ruby friends are impressive enough with their scarlet neck scarves and diminutive size. Did you know they weigh only as much as a dime?

Hummingbirds are small but mighty. In spite of their size, they need plenty of fuel for their powerhouse metabolism. If you beat your wings 90 times a second, you would need major fuel, too! Hummingbirds need nectar from up to 1,000 blossoms a day. Plus, they consume an incredible number of tiny insects for protein.

To create your own hummingbird garden, start with a sunny location. Plan a continuous display of blooms from April to October so hummingbirds have a steady food source. Look for bright, tubular flowers, custom-made for a long, thin bill. Favor red and orange flowers, but include other blooms heavy with nectar.

Some of the hummingbird's favorite perennials are bee balm (Monarda didyma), coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), bleeding heart (Dicentra) and hollyhock (Alcea). Preferred annuals include fuchsia, petunia, Lantana, morning glory (Ipomoea), larkspur (Consolida ajacis/ ambigua), nasturtium (Tropaeolum) and four


Mimosa
Albizia julibrissin Durazz

Note: Mimosa is considered
an invasive exotic plant

o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa). Both annual and perennial salvia and phlox are good choices as are canna lily and gladiouse grown for bulbs.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) and coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) vines are irresistible to hummingbirds. They are fond of the flowering shrubs weigela, butterfly bush (Buddlei davidii), rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense.) The nectar-rich flowers of mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) trees are impossible for hummingbirds to ignore.


Butterflybush
Buddleja spp. L
Note: Butterfly bush is considered
an invasive exotic plant


Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis


Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Several native plants entice hummingbirds. Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) blooms in concert with their arrival in mid-April. In the summer spy hummingbirds among the perennials beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and jaunty orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis.)

Layering planting low, medium and tall plants in a bed from front to back or edge to middle makes garden beds more appealing to humming-birds and to the human eye. By creating an easily accessible smorgasbord of sizes, shapes, fragrances and colors, entice hummingbirds to linger over a flower feast. It also makes them easier for you to see and enjoy.

Commercial feeders supplement natural nectar sources and give you a chance to observe hummingbirds more closely. The best feeders are sturdy, have multiple ports and perches, and are easy to clean and hang. To make nectar, mix one part white sugar with four parts water, boil for one or two minutes and cool. Do not add dye. Fill your feeder and place it in a shady spot you can see easily. Clean and refill the feeder every few days.

Hummingbirds prefer a shower to the bird bath. Put a mister or drip fountain near your hummingbird garden, and they will fly through the mist, catching water on their feathers to bathe and cool their tiny bodies. I spent a happy hour last summer watching two hummingbirds dance in the fine spray created by a loose hose connection.

By creating a garden habitat with hummingbirds in mind, you will bring beauty on the wing to your back yard and give life-saving sustenance to these petite wonders.

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

Read other articles by Annette Ispan