Spring teased us with sunny, mild days in March, but the chilly reality of late March reminded us of our planting zone. As usual, Silver Maples recklessly put new leaves out in March, but wiser Sugar Maple and oaks bided their time. But now, the long wait is over, announced by one of the truest spring harbingers, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Like others, we have a number of hanging feeders to draw the flying acrobats. We also welcome hummingbirds into our garden with a variety of nectar-rich native plants. In addition to the carbohydrate-rich nectar, these plants also attract small insects that the hummers consume as a protein source, a combination that provides a more complete diet than only sugar water at a feeder. Planting a variety of native perennials and blooming shrubs can create a continual "buffet" for the eager eaters. Ruby-throats weigh a mere eighth of an ounce but must consume almost half their weight each day in food from nectar and small insects.
Hummingbirds seem to prefer bright red or orange colored flowers, but also are attracted to blue, purple and white colored flowers. The hummingbird's long bill is best suited for sipping nectar from tubular or funnel shaped blossoms. Many of these plants also attract butterflies.
There are a number of hummer-attracting native plants from which to choose. Select plants with your site's requirements of light and moisture in mind as well as available space if you are adding plants to an existing bed. Critical Site Products' new program, "Easyscapes," makes selecting nectar-rich plants especially easy. Just look for the rose-colored 2-quart pots when visiting Critsite's Prairie and Wetland Center, or an area retail garden center carrying Easyscapes plants.
Among the hummingbirds' favorite native plants include Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Purple Beardtongue (Penstemon cobaea), Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Rose Verbena (Glandularia canadensis), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.), Royal Catchfly (Silene regia), and Blue Sage (Salvia azurea). Expand your hummingbird habitat into a cool, moist, shady area with Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Copper Iris (Iris fulva), Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum). Native trees and shrubs that are effective include Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). You can add these hummingbird favorites to an existing landscape bed, or create a brand-new "Hummingbird Haven" where the birds can feast.
If you don't have enough room in your landscape for such a full-fledged hummingbird buffet, try hosting a "fast-food joint" for the winged acrobats with a hummingbird container. You can attract hummers onto decks and porches by creating a colorful container or two composed of nectar-rich natives as well as non-natives including Shrimp Plant, Rose Salvia, Penta, Nicotiana, Yellow Bells or petunias. Remember, because there are numerous plants in one container, increased attention should be paid to watering and fertilization. You should also avoid using herbicides or pesticides that would be harmful to the hummingbirds. Remember, they feed not only on the flower nectar, but also on insects. Finally, find a sheltered location for the container, so the blooms stay put while the birds dine.
Although honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds, Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) are both highly invasive, unlike our native species Yellow Honeysuckle (Lonicera flava) and Trumpet Vine (Lonicera sempervirens). Like other vines, these have the most acceptable appearance when trained on a trellis (as suggested in our plan), up a fence post along the road or used as groundcover in an area where mowing can keep it within bounds.
To find the best native plants for your hummingbird habitat, visit Critical Site Products' web site, www.critsite.com. Our "Native Plants" section offers images and information for over 500 native plants. Use the "Plant Search" function to narrow your search by those that attract hummingbirds. You can further narrow the list by plant height, color, season of bloom and even hydrologic designation. Save your selections to your "Shopping List" and then come see us or your nearby garden center.
Whether your hummingbird project is a garden or container, be sure to plant it where you can easily see it. Visiting hummingbirds will provide hours of entertainment in return for your efforts…at least until the cool days of fall remind them to return to warmer southern climes.