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Humming along

By Kristi Hendricks - Garden Inspirations | May 14, 2021

Shepherdstown’s spring season will be humming along with the hummingbird’s auspicious return to the landscape. Invite these flying fireworks of iridescent emerald jewelry to visit every nectar-rich tubular flower in your garden. Of benefit to us all, hummingbirds are effective pollinators to a great number of forbs, shrubs and trees.

Male hummingbirds may steal the show with their ruby-colored throats, fierce fighting tactics and daring U-shaped dances to attract female partners. However, it is the more gracious females, with their green backs, white underparts (including throat area) and black eye masks that capture the heart.

Hummingbirds are constantly burning energy with their zip-zoom acrobatics. So much so, that they may eat up to three times their body weight in a single day to support this active lifestyle. Each bird is said to visit hundreds of flowers daily.

It’s a notable day when a hummingbird selects your habitat to visit. You can often hear the hum of its wings before you catch sight of this itsy-bitsy bird. If you want a closer look, wear a bright red T-shirt to work in your flower beds and watch their benign, yet in-your-face, approach.

Providing a sugar-water feeder (using a four-to-one uncolored water-to-table sugar ratio) is a quick way to bring them to your homestead. Yet, the more natural and easily sustainable way to attract hummingbirds is to install nectar plants that will cater to their sweet tooth all season long.

There are countless plants, both native and introduced, that support hummingbirds. Early spring bloomers are Virginia bluebells, verbena and bleeding hearts. Soon, the lovely blooms of hollyhocks, wild columbine and foxgloves will capture their attention. And when summer nears, purple coneflowers, salvia and liatris will catch their eye.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds also require protein. Small pesky insects hiding out in your garden, such as gnats and mosquitoes, fill this dietary requirement. And hummingbirds birds like a regular bath after a hard day of collecting, so include the cup plant in your inventory to catch rainwater for their splashing delight.

Although hummingbirds are just arriving, establish now those late summer bloomers, such as aster, gaura and lantana, to support their nutritional needs during the inevitable fall migration. Males depart the area first; females may linger through late September.

To assist you with creating an inviting habitat, look to authoritative online resources, such as audubon.org, to research other inviting plants and care techniques to support the hummingbird’s active lifestyle and migration pattern.

Kristi Hendricks is a graduate of Shepherd College and West Virginia University and a Master Gardener with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. After living in Virginia for a number of years, she has returned to her native Jefferson County. She can be reached at belowthejames@yahoo.com