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Southeast Gardening: Hummingbirds - Nature's Gymnasts

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lowe's garden contributor Linda Askey shares her strategies for attracting hummingbirds to her Southeast garden.

Hummingbirds can stop and hover in midair.
Hummingbirds appreciate the tubular blooms of 'Madame Rosy' trumpet vine.

Hummingbirds make the garden come alive. In the morning I sit on the porch sipping tea and watching the aerial acrobatics. Like the diminutive gymnasts of the summer Olympics, hummingbirds fly high and perform impossible feats with ease.

Yes, it is a bit of a chore filling the feeder all summer and keeping the sugar water fresh. But watching hummingbirds disappear into the big, orange blooms of a hybrid trumpet flower, back out, pause and then zoom to the lantana--well, it is one of nature's miracles that I never tire of watching.

The first summer that I set out feeders, I didn't see a single hummingbird. The landscape at that time was not a garden. It was a hummingbird desert with a lawn, green shrubs and some woods. You see, hummingbirds like flowers, and so do I.

Hummingbirds and butterflies alike gather nectar from lantana.

By the next year my garden was underway when I put out the feeder. No hummingbirds again--until the summer flowers started blooming. Salvias and lantanas were especially effective in luring the birds. I haven't had a summer without them since.

Hummingbirds love the coral porterweed in my garden.

Here is what I have learned:

  • Hang multiple feeders spaced widely apart to lessen the territorial war.
  • Mix your own feeder solution, using one part sugar to four parts water. Do not use honey or artificial sweeteners. I make a pitcherful and keep it in the fridge. Change the solution every other day (every day in hot weather). Hanging the feeders in the shade will help the solution stay fresh.
  • Clean the feeders with a bottlebrush and hot water to remove any mold. Don't use soap or chemicals or put them in the dishwasher.
  • Keep your feeders filled and fresh. You may be in for a surprise. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are the most common in the Southeast, but other species may show up at your feeders, especially in winter.
  • Most Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico for the winter, but folks who put bands on the little birds have proved that the birds at your feeders in summer will return from their tropical vacations to the same feeders next year. That's quite a navigational feat. I know it is true because I have seen them, hovering in the air where a feeder was hung the previous season as if to say, "Where did it go?" Be sure to have feeders filled and ready when they return from their long flights. It's about the time the first flowers are blooming, late February or early March in my Alabama garden.
  • Some of their favorite flowers in my garden include porterweed, below, salvia, trumpet vine, lantana, cuphea, hosta and impatiens. There are many, many more. When it comes to a garden, it's like the movie said, "If you build it, they will come."