Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Crafts

Planning A Hummingbird Garden

by Bill Thompson III


With their lively chirp, stunning agility, and brilliant colors, hummingbirds have captured our imaginations as no other flyers have. Best of all, most every gardener in North America can expect to play host to at least one hummingbird from late March through September. Because these birds typically feed three to five times per hour, they are easy to attract with flowering plants or strategically placed feeders.

Found only in the Americas, the hummingbird family includes 383 species, but only 16 live in North America. These lightweight, relatively small, and high-metabolism birds feed on insects and flower nectar. They are among the most acrobatic of fliers; strong wing muscles and the ability to beat their wings nearly 80 times per second permit them to fly forward, backward, and upside down; to hover or zoom along at high speed; and to stop on a dime. Because their legs are comparatively underdeveloped, hummers must fly even short distances.

Gardeners are most likely to see a hummingbird hovering near a flower, inserting its needlelike bill and extending its tongue to draw nectar from deep inside the flower. All this activity requires a lot of energy in the form of sucrose, which is precisely what the birds get from nectar. Hummingbirds' lives depend on finding this high-energy fuel almost constantly, which is part of the reason they are so easily attracted to flowers and feeders.

To attract returning migratory hummers in spring, put out feeders and select flowering plants that will bloom in time to appeal to early arrivals, usually males that migrate northward several weeks before females and juveniles. To learn when to expect hummers in your area, check migration maps. Detailed maps are available on the hummingbirds.net Web site.

Natural Attraction: Flowers

Simply by growing a variety of nectar-producing flowering plants, gardeners are already doing a lot to attract hummingbirds. Maximizing the attractiveness of your garden for hummers means choosing plants with brightly colored flowers (especially red, pink, yellow, and orange) that produce ample amounts of nectar. Tubular flowers tend to be the best, producing and retaining nectar even in hot weather or in a rainstorm.

Among popular hummingbird plants are single varieties of trumpet creeper, impatiens, bee balm, and salvia. Native plants are preferable, but many hummer enthusiasts swear by exotics such as single varieties of fuchsia, as well as lantana and red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria). For additional suggestions, see "Best Plants" list at the end of this article.

Plan a garden that is in bloom for as long as possible. To find the best early- and late-blooming species for your area, consult a regional gardening guide, or ask a nursery. Successful gardens feature a mix of annuals and perennials as well as vines, shrubs, and trees with nectar-producing flowers.

In our southeastern Ohio garden (USDA Hardiness Zone 6), the hummers love 'Gartenmeister' fuchsia, lantana, orange trumpet creeper, delphinium, coral bells, and zinnias. To prolong blooming, we regularly deadhead the flowers.

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