How glorious to catch a glimpse of true flights of fancy — pretty, petite, ruby-throated hummingbirds. Much like the butterflies, hummingbirds suffered through last year's drought. They need our help to rebuild their populations.
So I will set their table with a landscape of tasty flowers and feeders. It's up to them to find a mate and start dancing.
Hummingbirds require nectar to fuel their constantly moving bodies and their sassy attitudes. They determinedly hover over flowers using their tongues to enjoy the sweet nectar deep in the flowers.
Hummingbird flowers are typically tubular and red, although bright orange or pink will work. The bright colors attract them to your yard. Once there, any colored flowers with nectar at the end of a short tube are fair game. I have seen them feeding at my blue columbine, blue salvia and white flowered butterfly bush. Hummingbirds supplement their diets with insects, including some of those nasties — aphids and thrips.
Great hummingbird flowers are also great garden plants. Many of the same flowers enjoyed by butterflies are also good hummer flowers. Be sure to include flowers that bloom at different times of the season, such as the early flowering columbine in spring and later-blooming salvia.
Trumpet vine, or trumpet creeper, is a vigorous, growing vine and is known to send up new shoots in the yard, so beware. In Michael Dirr's book, "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants," he describes trumpet vine: "If you can not grow this, give up gardening; grows in any soil and also prospers in sidewalk cracks."
The hummingbirds enjoy its orange to scarlet trumpet-shaped flowers. "Crimson Trumpet" and "Praecox" have bright red 2-1/2- to 3-inch-long flowers.
Cardinal flower is an intense red, and some varieties have red leaves. Unfortunately, cultivated varieties are bred for looks and not the quality of nectar, so it is best to have the common species predominate. Cardinal flowers prefer light shade and moist soils. The red flowers are atop a 3- to 4-foot-tall plant blooming in early to late summer.
Other perennial plants reported to be good for hummingbirds include agastache, butterfly bush, catnip, catmint, delphinium, hollyhock, hosta, lavender, lilies, bee balm (Monarda), penstemon and red or orange phlox. They even like catalpa trees.
A native annual, jewelweed, has orange or yellow summer flowers. It grows in shady moist areas and will reseed itself each year. Other annual plants for a hummingbird garden include red petunias and fuchsias.
Both annual and perennial salvias are fabulous in the garden and provide long season bloom. "Lady in Red" is a profuse bloomer all summer, and although it's an annual, it often reseeds. "May Night" perennial salvia has been around for several years but is still one of the finest blue salvias with a long bloom period and 18-inch height.
Hummingbird feeders supplement the flower nectar. Hang feeders near perch areas and in the shade to keep the sugar solution from spoiling. Commercial foods are available, but you can make your own.
Mix 1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts water; boil the solution for 1 or 2 minutes. Fill the feeder and store the remaining in the refrigerator. Don't add red food color. Be sure to change the solution in the feeder every 3 days or it may spoil. Periodically clean the feeder with hot water.
Hummingbirds migrate north as the weather warms and arrive here from mid- to late April when they breed. Gardens with wooded shrubby areas may entice some nesting hummingbirds. They begin migrating south from mid-August through early October into Mexico and some to Central America for the winter.
Don't worry about leaving feeders out too late in the season. When it's time to go, hummingbirds will go and I will nervously wait for their spring return.
Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email email@example.com or fax 333-7683.