5 Design Tips for Your Hummingbird Garden

5 design tips for your hummingbird garden

I’m obsessed.

And like all obsessors, I’d love to drag other suckers into the vortex!

Six years ago, when I moved into this house, I saw a hummingbird hovering around my Princess Alexandra rose.

Princess Alexandra.
Princess Alexandra.

I went right out a bought a campsis radicans (red Trumpet Vine) reading that it was a popular food source. Of course it didn’t bloom that year, or the next, or the next.

Campsis radicans
Campsis radicans

For 5 more years I never saw another hummingbird–until last summer, when I  saw one hovering around a pre-blooming garden mum–for about a second!

So obviously, 2 sightings in 5 years constitutes some kind of an active colony, so I ran out and got a hummingbird feeder, attached by suction cups to the kitchen window (why there? I’m never looking out that particular window…) and used my giant Christmas bow (at the Wild Birds Unlimited proprietor’s suggestion) attached to the nearby railing as an attractor. I hoped that the  campsis would do a better job (than the bow) once it bloomed in late summer (–it did finally decide to bloom, and this year was quite prolific). Nope. Nothing. Nada. No hummers.

This spring I moved the feeder to my front window. My neighbour had planted a red current in the front, and apparently being the most preferred food source, maybe now the hummingbirds that would inevitably swarm there would approach my pretty red feeder. Lots of blooms on the current, nary a hummer in sight. Woe.

Until November 9 2013: what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature bird (… no tiny reindeer…).

Hummingbird at the feeder.
Hummingbird at the feeder.

Well, since that time, there has been no end of activity, and not just at the feeder. They have found a bunch of still blooming flowers, and even seem to enjoy hanging out in colourful shrubs that have no flowers.

Hence the topic of today’s post (since now I’m an expert): How to design your garden so the hummingbirds will hang out at your house, and not just the one down the street. Some of my information comes from my (6 days!) observation, but most from World of Hummingbirds.

5 Things

Like any living creature, hummingbirds will need food and water, and because of their amazing wing speed, they use a lot of calories.

1. Food

So your hummingbird feeder will supply carbs. Plain white sugar (sorry, haven’t heard of an organic substitute, and playing around with different substances is a recipe for hummingbird-death) mixed 1:4 with warm water (see Wild Birds Unlimited ) gives them a similar concentration to what they get from flower nectar.

And it’s when they come to your feeder that you’ll actually get to see them.

But you also want them to enjoy your garden so they’ll come more often than just for a drink; flowers that will provide nectar, in a selection that will provide near-year-round blooms, is optimal. WBU points out that the more hybridized a plant is, the less nectar it produces, so when there are options (and they fit in with your garden scheme) choose species.

For early bloomers, lilac, lupines and honeysuckle are good.

For summer, snapdragons, penstemon, weigela.

For fall bloomers I can definitely recommend tricyrtis (toad lily), hardy fuchsia, fall asters, schizostylis (Kaffir lily). They’re all still in bloom in my garden, and I’ve seen the hummers visiting them all.

Shizostylis (Kaffir lily)
Shizostylis (Kaffir lily)
Hardy fuchsia
Hardy fuchsia
fall Asters
Fall Asters–Aster novae-angliae

For winter, I’m told by The Seattle Times that Oregon Grape Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’ is a great favourite, and fragrant winter bloomer. (Incidentally, hummingbirds  don’t  have much of a sense of smell. They look for visual clues, hence the need for highly coloured flowers. ) And of course, our native late winter-blooming Ribes sanguineum–Red Flowering Current– is supposed to be their all-time favourite food, and will especially attract the Rufous Hummingbird on its way back from winter migration.

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Current. Native to BC coast.
Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Current. Native to BC coast.

2. Another Thing About Food

The sugary content of  your feeder- or flower-nectar is only one small portion of the hummingbirds’ diet. As important is a source of protein–and that source is bugs. If you spray your plants with some kind of pesticide to rid them of “pests”, all the native pest eaters will have no reason to frequent your site. Even “natural” pesticides still kill bugs. So if you want any birds to call your garden home, you’ll have to tolerate an adequate “load” of bugs.

Which leads us to…

3. Shelter.

Did you know that hummingbirds use spider webs to glue their nests together. If there aren’t any spiders, there aren’t any spider webs, and the hummers will go somewhere else to nest. But if you have a tree or good sized shrub, and let the spiders hang around, you’ve just provided habitat for hummingbirds to nest. Which means you’ve given them a potential home.

4. Water

Birds like to bathe, and hummingbirds are no exception. And most prefer moving water. If you can locate a basin at the drip line of a tree or shrub, they will appreciate the water/rain dripping from the leaves of the tree, which also gives the collecting basin the ripples of moving water.

And finally…

5. Provide separate rooms for the squabblers.

Both male and female hummingbirds prefer their privacy. They aren’t “flockers” like bush tits, they usually live along until it’s time to mate. A male will fight off (usually not violently, altho apparently they can bump their bodies and grab each other’s beaks) another male to preserve the ownership of a  feeding spot. So you might want to set up a second feeder at some distance from the first –unless you want to watch the show.

Click on the video for full screen.

As always, look forward to your comments, questions (I’m the expert, remember?), critiques. Click on the Follow button to receive posts regularly.

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