Create a hummingbird-friendly garden

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  7/1/2008 7:36:15 PM

Get It Growing News For 07/04/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Few sights are more thrilling in the garden than rapidly moving hummingbirds darting among the flowers. So favored are the jewel-colored birds, people put out feeders to entice them into the landscape. Even better are gardens packed with plants that provide flowers full of the nectar hummers crave.

Creating a garden with plants specifically chosen to attract and feed these diminutive bundles of energy is not hard at all. The information needed to plan and plant gardens to successfully attract hummingbirds is presented in an excellent book, “Hummingbird Gardens: Attracting Nature’s Jewels to Your Backyard” by Nancy Newfield and Barbara Nielsen.

For many people, attracting hummers is as easy as hanging a feeder. But that isn’t always successful because many hummingbirds are not accustomed to using feeders. Numerous people have found that planting a garden full of hummingbird-attracting plants, in addition to maintaining feeders, is a more reliable method for successfully attracting hummingbirds.

Feeders

Hummingbirds are powerfully attracted to anything red. Feeders with bright-red parts are especially useful for enticing the fast-flying, tiny birds into the open where they are more easily seen. The sugar syrup dispensed from the feeder supplements the bird’s natural diet of nectar and insects with an unlimited amount of calories to fuel their rapid metabolism.

The best formula for feeders should approximate natural nectar. A good, simple formula can be made at home by dissolving 1 part of cane sugar in 4 parts of boiling water. Allow the sugar syrup to cool before filling feeders. Several commercial nectars or mixes are marketed, but none provides better nourishment than a simple homemade sugar syrup.

Place feeders high enough so that domestic cats cannot attack the birds while they are feeding, and place them near windows for maximum viewing pleasure. Feeders are most effective when located within view of flowers that attract hummers.

Gardens

The most satisfying method of attracting hummingbirds is to plant a hummingbird garden and provide them with their accustomed food – a concept that has proven quite effective in our area. A well-chosen assortment of flowering trees, shrubs, vines, annuals and perennials can produce an excellent supply of nectar over a long period and beautify your landscape at the same time.

Insects living in the plants and nectar from flowers provide hummingbirds with a complete, balanced diet. Since they obtain nearly all of the water they need from their foods, it is not necessary to provide them with drinking water.

Typical hummingbird flowers are red, have a tubular shape and have no strong scent. But there are several notable exceptions to this general rule. Many plants with red flowers don’t contain very much nectar, and not all good nectar producers have red flowers. Roses, petunias, geraniums and zinnias have brilliant colors but little nectar, while Japanese honeysuckle, which has fragrant, white flowers, produces abundant nectar.

Plants that produce an abundance of flowers over an extended period of time and those that require little care are good choices. When several color varieties of a plant are available, choose the brightest red.

Although gardens can be planted with hummingbirds in mind, the abundant flowers and bright colors add a lot of beauty to the landscape. Many people will simply see a beautiful flower garden, but you and the hummingbirds will know better. Oh, and you should also see butterflies because they tend to be attracted to the same flowers as hummingbirds.

Pesticides in these gardens should be used sparingly – and only on nonflowering plants. Stick to pesticides with low toxicity such as oils, insecticidal soaps and Bt. Never use systemic insecticides or rotenone on plants where hummingbirds may feed.

Recommended plants for hummingbird gardens

Trees: Crybaby tree, Japanese plum or loquat, mimosa, citrus.

Shrubs: Turk’s cap, Mexican cigar plant, shrimp plant, firespike, hibiscus, lantana, azalea, pentas, red buckeye.

Vines: Coral honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle, cape honeysuckle, cypress vine, trumpet creeper.

Annuals and perennials: Salvia, pineapple sage, iris, red hot poker, impatiens, coral plant, cardinal flower, ilia or standing cypress, bee balm.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-2263 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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