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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 21, 2014

Garden Talk: Hospitality for hummingbirds

By JEAN THOMSON, Master Gardener | May 23, 2013

One summer delight for Iowa gardeners is the whirring arrival of hummingbirds. Some careful planning and planting can provide a warm welcome for these ruby-throated little wonders.

Ideally, a hummingbird habitat will include a complex, varied garden providing staggered blooms as food sources. Right now, the native columbine blooming in many of our gardens is an excellent early source of nectar.

For later in the season, the Audubon Society recommends trumpet creeper, a sprawling and aggressive vine that can climb fences; coral bells, with their masses of tiny flowers; cardinal flower; penstemons; and beebalm.

I’ve found ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ beebalm to be a very popular garden offering; that’s no surprise, since each flower comprises many red tubules.

Along with plants as food sources, it is wise to include one or more feeders. Choose one that is easy to disassemble for cleaning. Use only a mix of four parts water to one part plain white sugar — no commercial mixes, no red dyes. Empty feeders every few days and scrub every part with a bottlebrush and hot water before refilling.

To be happy around your house, hummingbirds will also need perches. Their favorites are small dead branches. I watched for years as hummingbirds perched on a thin dead branch – the lowest limb on a very old oak tree. Sadly, that tree had to be removed last year. I’m hoping that a similar branch on another tree will serve this year.

If you know that you have no suitable pre-existing perch, you can still provide one. Just stick a dead sapling into the ground!

Besides perches, hummingbirds need places to hide from predators. A variety of trees and shrubs will be helpful in that regard.

Finally, hummingbirds will appreciate chemical-free gardening practices. The greatest chemical threat to hummingbirds comes from insecticides. Up to 60 percent of a hummingbird’s diet consists of tiny insects, spiders and other arthropods.

Right now: Plant corn, squash, cucumber, and melon seeds when the soil temperature has reached 65 degrees.

Use wood or metal markers to identify spring bare spots in your garden. On the marker, write the type of bulb and color that you want to plant.

Leave foliage of daffodils and tulips alone until it turns brown and pulls up with no resistance. If tulips are leggy or blooming poorly, dig them up and discard; typically, tulips bloom well for perhaps three years and then need to be replaced.

Feed roses now and continue to feed once a month until August.

Pinch off chrysanthemums until the 4th of July to encourage bushier plants.

Be sure that newly planted trees and shrubs are consistently well-watered.

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