Gardens aren’t just for plants and people anymore. Gardeners today are far more accepting of toads, frogs, lizards, bees, spiders, squirrels, beneficial insects and other creatures, appreciating the role they play in natural cycles and the interest they can bring to the garden. Indeed, some fortunate creatures, such as birds and butterflies, are actually invited or enticed to the garden with special efforts. Among the favored birds, none creates more delight than the hummingbird.
You can actually fill your flower gardens with plants specifically chosen to attract and feed these diminutive bundles of energy. 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, Chapters Publishing.
For many people attracting hummers is as easy as hanging a feeder. But, that is not always successful because many hummingbirds are not accustomed to using feeders. I know from experience how frustrating it can be to put out a feeder and never see a hummingbird.
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. Be patient if you don’t see them the first year. Remember, a hummingbird garden is an invitation to these delightful creatures, not a command performance. The longer you stick with it the more likely they are to show up.
Hummingbirds are powerfully attracted to anything colored 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. They may travel as far as one mile to use a reliable feeder. 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 currently being 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.
The most satisfying method of attracting hummingbirds is to plant a hummingbird garden and provide them with their accustomed food, a concept has proven quite effective in our area. A well-chosen variety 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 in color, have a tubular shape, and have no strong scent. However, there are several notable exceptions to this general rule. There are many plants with red flowers that do not 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 and can even lure birds from a feeder when it’s in bloom.
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.
Pesticides should generally not be used. If absolutely needed, they should be used sparingly and only on non-flowering plants. Stick to pesticides low toxicity such as horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps and BT (these should not be used if the planting is also for butterflies). Never use systemic insecticides or rotenone on plants where hummingbirds may feed.
SOME RECOMMENDED PLANTS FOR HUMMINGBIRD GARDENS
Trees: Crybaby tree (Erythrina crista-galli), Japanese plum or Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), Citrus
Shrubs: Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Pagoda plant (Clerodendrum speciosissimum), Mexican cigar plant (Cuphea ignea and C. micropetala), Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), Firespike (Odontanema strictum), Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp. and hybrids), Lantana (Lantanacamara), Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), Azalea (Rhododendron spp. and hybrids), Pentas (Pentas lanceolata), Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
Vines: Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), Cypress vine (Quamoclit pinnata), Bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum thompsoniae), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)
Annuals and Perennials: Salvia (Salvia splendens, S. coccinea, S. greggii, S. leucantha and many others), Pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans), Iris (Iris spp. and hybrids), Red hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria), Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana), Coral plant (Russelia equisetiformis), Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Gilia or Standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma)