The Accidental Gardener: Here’s to a humdinger of a hummingbird garden

Attracting hummingbirds to your garden is fairly easy.

It’s almost as simple as attracting men for young, nubile women. In my case, (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I relied on bright red lipstick, and amazingly, it worked! The same holds true for our little avian friends. They simply love, love, love red.

FOR THE BIRDS • To make nectar, simply mix one cup of sugar with four cups of water. With a few minutes of stirring, the sugar will completely dissolve in cold water right out of your tap. Save any unused nectar solution in your refrigerator until it is needed.

To be honest, red is not my favorite color so I begrudgingly plant a few red flowers to entice them but rest assured, once they’ve arrived, they’re generally not very picky eaters and they tend to hang around the house. In this respect, they behave just like my husband.

Hummingbirds tend to arrive here in the Lowcountry in late March and generally don’t leave until they’re ready to migrate in the late fall to South America. Can you believe many of them will travel to South America by flying directly over the Gulf of Mexico? Now that’s stamina. A few will remain here year-round – and who could blame them, given the alternative?

While I personally am a huge fan of any double flower, hummingbirds tend to prefer single, trumpet-shaped flowers. However, I have seen them go crazy over bottlebrush bushes (one red, one fuscia), so go figure – the flowers actually look like baby bottle brushes. Over the years I have found that their absolute favorite flowers are, in no particular order; Pagoda plants (Clerodendrum Paniculatum), Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans and yes this one is edible), Cannas, Mandeville, Dipladenia, Rose of Sharon and Crocosmia (lucifer).

If redesigning your garden to create a hummingbird buffet is not on your to-do list, you can simply hang feeders around your yard. I personally have at least five feeders spaced generously apart (minimum 20 feet). Why, you might ask? Because our hummingbirds here in the Lowcountry (and everywhere east of the Mississippi) do not share. I have found that a single feeder will result in non-stop dive bombing by the local bully – reminiscent of a truculent toddler. It’s rather warped but amusing to watch the local bully unsuccessfully trying to horde all five feeders.

When I first started hanging hummingbird feeders, I was drawn to the incredibly beautiful glass ones that looked like something created by Dale Chihuly. And then I tried to clean them — yikes! I quickly switched to the ugly shallow feeders sold at our local bird store because they are a cinch to clean. You can even put them in the top shelf of your dishwasher if you’re not squeamish (which I am).

It’s absolutely vital to keep your feeders clean, especially in the heat of the summer. Mold can grow quickly, which can kill the hummingbirds. The nectar needs to be changed every three days in the summer — ugh. Take heart though, the local bird store now sells a nectar extender and I have to tell you this is a game changer — nectar can now last up to 10 days without getting all funky.

If you’re not motivated to redesign your garden or are intimidated with the commitment required with hanging feeders, you can always tie red ribbons around your trees. Hummingbirds are naturally curious and will want to see what all the red is about – kind of like my husband on the night I met him. Happy gardening!

Ask & Answer

Dear Accidental Gardener,
We have a problem with bugs in our plants and are thinking about using a systemic treatment. We’ve heard these are remarkably effective. What are your thoughts?
— Plagued in Palmetto Hall

Dear Plagued,
Systemic treatments are highly effective in killing bugs – ALL of them, good and bad. They will also harm any life form that ingests the nectar – hummingbirds and honeybees alike. Let your conscience be your guide.

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