Hummingbirds Add Grace to the Garden

In a few weeks, they will return; flashes of emerald green winging their way through our gardens. The hummingbirds will be back.

Around April 15, hummingbirds return from their winter digs.  Weighing about the same as a dime, they pack plenty of power in that petite package.   Their wings beat 50 times a second and their aerial acrobatics are second to none. 

Our local hummingbird is the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The males sport a jaunty red handkerchief of feathers they flash to attract females and warn off aggressors.  Hey, baby.  Whoa, bud. 

As they dip their bills into flowers, hummingbirds pick up pollen on their feathers which they transfer to other flowers.  Bees and butterflies get all the press, but hummingbirds also are good pollinators.

Hummingbirds’ powerhouse metabolism needs constant fuel.  One hummingbird needs the nectar from about 1,000 blossoms a day to survive.  As gardeners, there is much we can do to help these flying jewels.

To attract hummingbirds to your garden, plan blooms from April to October to provide them with a steady source of nectar.  They supplement their diet with tiny insects and spiders, but it’s nectar they need most.

A perfect addition to your garden is the native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  It blooms in concert with the hummingbirds’ arrival in April when few flowers are blooming. Plus, it has the tubular form that’s custom-made for a hummingbird’s long, slender beak.

The rumors are true:  hummingbirds favor red and orange flowers.  If they also have a tubular shape, your hummingbirds will be ecstatic.  Think coral honeysuckle, salvia, and bee balm. 

Some plants fool you by having a hidden tubular base.  Look at a petunia, morning glory, lantana, or phlox to see what I mean. 

Nectar-heavy flowers without tubular shapes score big with hummingbirds, too.  Lupines, hollyhocks, and foxglove are all favorites.

Plants provide wonderful natural food sources for hummingbirds, but many people – myself included – like to put up hummingbird feeders.  The best feeders are sturdy, easy to clean and hang, and have multiple ports and perches. 

Skip the pre-made hummingbird food mixes and make your own.  Simply dissolve 1 part sugar in 4 parts water.  I boil a cup of water and add a quarter cup of sugar.  Clean and refill your feeders weekly. 

Hummingbirds prefer showers to baths, so you can make them oh-so-happy by adding a water dripper or mister to your garden.  They will delight you by dancing in the spray.

If you’d like to help your hummingbirds even more, avoid using chemicals in your garden.  Their fast metabolism and tiny size make them especially vulnerable to insecticides and herbicides.  So, use kinder, gentler controls.

I hope you will welcome hummingbirds into your garden this year.  There are few sights more joyful, few birds more charming.   

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