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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Plant a hummingbird-friendly garden

Flowers that bloom into fall help hummingbirds prepare for their long migration.
Flowers that bloom into fall help hummingbirds prepare for their long migration.

Every year in August and September, hummingbirds begin their fall migration south. A casual glance out the window in the morning or late afternoon hours may yield a sighting of these diminutive birds stopping to refuel at feeders or flowers.

If you love to watch their activity as much as I do, attract more of them to your yard and even become a designated “stop” on their migratory map. Hummingbirds have been known to return year after year to the same location, and they’ll even come back to drink from the same feeder.

Sugar water isn’t the only way to lure them. Hummingbirds also are drawn to many common garden plants, as well as an environment with shelter, shade and water.

When designing your hummingbird-friendly garden, be sure to allow enough room between plants for birds to move in and out and hover near flowers. A water source like a sprinkler, bird bath or fountain will draw them in, as well. There are even special hummingbird misters that can be attached to your garden hose.

Since these birds do not have a strong sense of smell, they depend on the bright colors of flowers and feeders to guide them, especially reds. But steer clear of food with red dye, as it may not be the healthiest option, and opt instead to make a simple sugar solution dissolving one part sugar in four parts water.

In addition to vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and blue, hummingbirds are drawn to flowers rich in nectar with a tubular or trumpet shape, for which their long, slender beak is well-adapted. The perennials bee balm, lupine, columbine, salvia and daylilies are all popular choices, and annuals like impatiens and petunias can be a draw, as well.

Trumpet vine is so popular, it’s even been nicknamed hummingbird vine – its long, bright, nectar-rich flowers making it a very attractive choice for hungry birds.

Plants with a long bloom season and repeat bloomers are good choices as they will act as a reliable food source for weeks. And flowers that bloom into the fall will help birds prepare for their long migration. Destinations are often as far as Central America and Mexico.

For minimal care, native plants are tough to beat, though any flower that provides ample nectar in a supportive hummingbird habitat should make your garden a welcome stopping point along the way.

Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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