Wisconsin Programs | The Wisconsin Gardener

Shelley Ryan, producer and host of The Wisconsin Gardener

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.

Wisconsin Master Gardener Assoc.

Creating A Habitat For Hummingbirds

Ep. 1804 - Hummingbird Gardens
PREMIERE Date: July 01, 2010

Learn to create a habitat for hummingbirds in your garden.

Transcript

Shelley:
I'm at Blooming Valley Nursery a beautiful spot near Spring Green. I'm with one of the owners, Ina Lukas. You've got several beds here devoted just to creating habitat for hummingbirds. I'd like to talk more about what we need to do to keep hummingbirds happy. Food is one thing, but it's more than just that, isn't it?

Ina:
Absolutely. When you want to create a habitat to attract hummingbirds what you're doing is you're kind of mimicking nature. You want to think about the things that hummingbirds need. They need food, they need water, they need nesting sites and they need perches.

Shelley:
Well, since we're in the middle of the food let's start with food-- plants again.

Ina:
Most people, when they think about hummingbird food they think of the long, red, tubular flowers. Those are definitely some of the best plant materials for hummingbirds. And what they are is, a food cue. So if you have the long, red, tubular flowers in your garden it is a cue that brings the hummingbirds in because they see them. But there are so many other flowers that also attract hummingbirds. Reds are a good thing, blues, purples, oranges, pinks.

Shelley:
Things with nectar.

Ina:
Things with nectar is the key factor. So this plant that we're standing right next to is a favorite of mine and the hummingbirds. And this is Agastache "Tutti Frutti." It is a Mexican hyssop. You can see the tubular flowers. Hummingbirds love this plant, and I use it all the time, because not only does it attract hummingbirds but it's just a beautiful garden plant.

Shelley:
And anything blooming in late summer without much assistance makes me happy, too. So, hummingbirds, fine, great. And you have another one that starts blooming in May and it continues blooming through late summer.

Ina:
Yes, and the number one hummingbird attractor in all of our gardens is a Siberian catmint. It's called Nepeta sibirica "Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron."

Shelley:
Easy for you to say.

Ina:
Not really!

Shelley:
And it's that specific one?

Ina:
It is that specific one that has long, tubular, blue flowers. And of all the hundreds of plants that we have here in our gardens and in our nursery, that is the one that the hummingbirds, I call it the all-you-can-eat hummingbird buffet. The cool thing about it, not only do hummingbirds love it but it blooms from mid-May almost till frost. It's a beautiful garden plant.

Shelley:
Is that with lots of care, maintenance?

Ina:
Very low maintenance. We don't even deadhead it. It'll bloom more if you deadhead it, but I like to have easy plants.

Shelley:
Perfect for my garden and again, the hummingbirds. So, nectar producing plants. Are there some general rules of thumb?

Ina:
Yeah, native plants are the ones that are going to attract the native hummingbirds, so it's always good to have natives. The more hybridized some of the flowers get, the less nectar they have. Breeders are breeding plants for big, beautiful, colorful flowers, but those that you would think would attract hummingbirds, they may come into them, but they have a lot less nectar. So the hummingbird will try it once and never touch it again.

Shelley:
Okay, so they're bred more to look pretty for us not necessarily for the birds.

Ina:
Right, and the nectar is bred out.

Shelley:
Okay, what about when I see a flower at the nursery that really smells beautiful.

Ina:
Well, every plant is going to have a technique to attract its specific pollinator to it. So oftentimes sweet smelling flowers are attracting insects. But they don't necessarily have a lot of the nectar for the hummingbirds.

Shelley:
We will provide a list at the end of the show of some favorites for hummingbirds. Then if we're trying to mimic nature you're talking prairie plants and native plants, should we be planting en masse?

Ina:
Absolutely. What you want to think about when you're designing a hummingbird garden, is that you are literally mimicking the habitat that hummingbirds would be found in. Hummingbirds are attracted to large groupings of plants, so you always want to plant en masse, so a minimum of three of each kind of plant. I often plant five or seven of them because I like to go big.

Shelley:
So lots, give them something to see.

Ina:
Yes, that's the visual cue when you have large swaths of color.

Shelley:
So, food, we've talked about. You mentioned the other requirements. Water?

Ina:
Absolutely, hummingbirds need water, but they don't need a lot of it, because they’re little. They can actually bathe in drops in leaves.

Shelley:
Oh, neat.

Ina:
So, leaves that hold water, cup-shaped leaves. Simple things. I always try to combine things that are aesthetically beautiful to me, but that also provide habitat for birds. For example, this sculpture here, I fell in love with.

Shelley:
It's very neat.

Ina:
But it has these shallow disks that hold water. The hummingbirds can bathe in the shallow water, and they can perch on the balls.

Shelley:
And you said perching was important.

Ina:
Perching is very important. And that's why another critical thing with developing hummingbird habitat is creating verticality.

Shelley:
So, layers.

Ina:
Where you would find hummingbirds is at the edges of forests, where there's open meadow or in open areas in forests. So when you have your garden bed, you want to have trees that are nearby, or sheds, or trellises. You want to think about that verticality, because birds are going to perch in trees. For example, we have this large silver maple that's close to our hummingbird beds. You want a tree within 10-20 feet of your bed, but what will happen is, they'll use the tree. They'll fly up to the top of the tree and they'll often use even the dead branches as springboards for their courtship displays. So they'll fly up into the tree and then they'll fly out and court and then they'll come and land in the gardens and feed and spring back up.

Shelley:
So it's for showing off, resting, and for perching.

Ina:
Safety, yes. And then on top of it, it is a nesting space. If you have mature trees that have the lichens on them, hummingbirds will use the lichens from the bark of the trees to camouflage their nests. They line the outside of their nest with lichens and attach it with spider silk.

Shelley:
Oh, this sounds something like a fairy tale.

Ina:
I think it is.

Shelley:
That leads into the next question. You said trees, perching. We also need to provide nesting materials. Spring is the time to think about hummingbird habitat, too. Nesting materials being what?

Ina:
Soft, fuzzy plants are what hummingbirds will line their nests with. Things like cinnamon ferns and pussy willows are two great plants for soft fuzzies. Two great ones are thistles and dandelions.

Shelley:
Weeds!

Ina:
They'll use the soft fuzzies from them to line their nests. That's something that I really like people to know, is that when we think getting rid of weeds is important aesthetically, oftentimes, people are using chemicals to get rid of dandelions and thistles. What you’re doing, is you’re not only taking away important habitat their nesting materials but also, if you want hummingbirds you cannot use chemicals on your property.

Shelley:
It bears repeating, yeah.

Ina:
An herbicide used on a plant, a systemic one, can come into the nectar that the hummingbird is eating and it can poison a hummingbird. And in the same way, an insecticide, hummingbirds will eat the insects that have insecticide and they can be poisoned that way, also.

Shelley:
They can be poisoned in many ways. Back to the positive, don't use chemicals. Provide all of these things. Think of giving them plants from spring through frost. Not just in the late summer, like now.

Ina:
You want to get an entire season of food for them. So early in the spring, when there's not a lot blooming, you can put out your hummingbird feeders.

Shelley:
And start with early blooming plants, as well.

Ina:
Early blooming plants, thinking about hummingbird plants that are blooming through the whole season. And once you create that hummingbird habitat the same hummingbirds will come back every year.

Shelley:
Really? Oh, well, that's neat, then, I've got to get to work. Great ideas, thank you very much, Ina.

Ina:
Thank you, Shelley.


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