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Plant the right flowers and birds will be humming

April 03, 2007|by ANNETTE IPSAN

Who can resist hummingbirds?

I certainly can't.

Whirring, chirping wonders on the wing, they simply make me smile. And gardening to attract them couldn't be simpler.

Our local hummingbird - the ruby-throated hummingbird - is a handsome emerald green. The male sports a bright red neck scarf, while the female opts for a delicate cream. They both weigh about the same as a dime and stretch to just over 3 inches from beak to tail.

Don't let their size fool you. Hummingbirds have a powerhouse metabolism.

To fuel their 50-times-a-second wing beats, they need to eat constantly, sipping from hundreds of flowers a day - and supplementing with tiny bugs and spiders. So any help you can give them in the nectar department is very much appreciated.

To create a hummingbird garden, start with a sunny spot. Most of the plants that hummingbirds favor grow best in full sun.

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Plan for blooms from April to October - their arrival and departure dates here in Western Maryland.

Next, garden in layers from high to low to create a hummingbird smorgasbord and visual feast.

Must the flowers be red and tubular?

No. Hummingbirds do favor bright, tubular flowers suited to their long, skinny bills and tongues. But they are attracted to any flowers heavy with nectar.

So mix it up.

Some of hummingbirds' favorite perennials are bee balm, coral bells, foxglove and bleeding heart. Preferred annuals include fuchsia, petunia, lantana, morning glory, larkspur and nasturtium. Both annual and perennial salvia and phlox are good choices as are canna lily and gladiolus grown from bulbs.

Trumpet creeper and coral honeysuckle vines are irresistible to hummingbirds, as are the flowering shrubs weigela, butterfly bush and rose of Sharon.

Think hummingbirds ignore trees? Think again.

The nectar-rich flowers of the mimosa and red buckeye trees (Aesculus pavia) are impossible to resist.

Several native plants entice hummingbirds. Native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) blooms in concert with their arrival in mid-April. Summer favorites include the native perennials beard tongue (Penstemon digitalis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Add a hummingbird feeder to supplement your garden plants to bring hummingbirds in for an up-close-and-personal view.

Good feeders are sturdy and easy to clean with multiple feeding ports. Hang your feeder several feet off the ground, where you can see and enjoy it. And remember to clean and refill it every few days.

You can make your own hummingbird nectar by boiling one cup of water, stirring in a quarter cup of white sugar and allowing it to cool. Any 4-to-1 ratio is fine.

Don't add red dye. It's not necessary and can be harmful.

Shower, anyone?

Hummingbirds prefer a shower to a bath, so investing in a mister or dripper for your birdbath is a smart move. Hummingbirds love to dance in the fine spray to clean themselves and cool off on hot days.

Hummingbirds are charmers. One regularly "rings" the giant bell-like flowers of my yucca, tucking inside for sip after sip, making the blooms sway. Another likes to slip under my patio umbrella for nose-to-nose chats.

The males have jousting matches with their beaks at my feeder.

And one very special day, I rescued a tired hummingbird and revived it with sugar water as I cradled it in my hand. Wondrous.

Gardening really is for the birds. And when you garden for hummingbirds, the rewards are beauty on the wing.

To receive a free copy of a list of plants that attract hummingbirds, just e-mail or call.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at aipsan@umd.edu

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