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Hummingbirds in the garden

Every year we look forward to the return of hummingbirds to our garden. These tiny birds add fun and whimsy to a summer day: their tiny chirps and aerial antics are well missed in the off season and eagerly welcomed when the weather warms. Master gardeners from the Twin Cities area have recently been atwitter with the news that hummingbirds have returned, and reports from Lake Miltona are that the birds are back.

As a gardener, you can encourage hummingbirds to visit by including hummingbird friendly plants in your garden plan. A variety of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers and grassy areas provide many spots for these tiny birds to feed, nest or perch in your home garden. Include clumps of bright red, orange or pink flowers, such as: columbine, bleeding heart, coral bells, and bee balm (perennials); or sweet william, clarkia, nicotiana and lavender (annuals).

Plants with red, tubular flowers are particularly attractive to hummingbirds. Try red petunias in a hanging basket, or vines such as trumpet vine, scarlet runner bean, cardinal vine or dropmore scarlet honeysuckle. Preferred trees and shrubs include: crabapple, birch, Siberian pea shrub and currant.

A typical hummingbird plant has many flowers with open blossoms. These are generally located on the outside of the plant, and are easily accessible to nectar seeking birds. Fragrance is not an important factor for attracting hummingbirds; however, fragrant flowers have the additional benefit of attracting butterflies to your garden.

Hummingbirds need water and someplace to perch. Place rocks in the bottom of a birdbath so the water depth is no more than 1-1/2 inches and strategically place perching spots in and around your garden. If you have no convenient perching spots close to your garden, attach quarter-inch dowels to trees and other garden objects in the bird's territory.

Hummingbird feeders are also a fun way to lure the birds to your yard. To avoid the expense of purchasing commercial nectar, make your own nectar at home. Use 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water. (Do not use artificial sweeteners, honey or food coloring.) Boil the solution for at least 30 seconds, and cool before placing in feeder. This solution can be stored in your refrigerator for two weeks before it begins to ferment. Hope your hummingbird sightings are many and your obstacles are few!

Until next time, happy gardening!

"The ruby-throated hummingbird is a wonder of migration. Every winter it makes an amazing journey. Some have been known to make a journey of 2,500 miles or more from Alaska to Central America. Because of it, the hummingbird is a symbol for accomplishing that which seems impossible. It will teach you how to find the miracle of joyful living from your own life circumstances."

- Ted Andrews