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Start a Hummingbird Garden

Learn how to draw the world's tiniest birds to your garden with these colorful flowers.

Hummingbird plant resources

Hummingbird-friendly plants are available by mail. Try Glasshouse Works, Goodwin Creek Gardens and Sunlight Gardens. Pictured: Red bee balm juts above cleome.

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® July/August 2008.)

Glasshouse Works

Goodwin Creek Gardens

Sunlight Gardens

Sharing their Midwest expertise

The Rocks pass along their 10 years of expertise by hosting a hummingbird gardening website and by giving community presentations. They've learned a lot over the years about hummingbird habits in the Midwest.

Although there are 300 kinds of hummingbirds, the ruby-throated (left) is the only one common throughout the Midwest. The tiny birds arrive here in May and June, then leave gardens to build nests in isolated forest areas. As soon as mating is over, in early July, the males begin to migrate because they play no role in raising the young. Females head south after their offspring learn to fly.

"We see an increase in the number of hummingbirds beginning in early August," Kathi says. "Our peak time in Madison is traditionally mid-September. By then, most of the adult males are gone, and we're seeing female and immature birds almost exclusively."

Hummingbird Gardening in the Upper Midwest

Hummer flower magnets

Hummingbirds will dine from flowers of any color, but red attracts them best. "They can see red up to a mile away," Kathi says.

Flowers with tubular blossoms evolved with hummingbirds, so the Rocks keep a good supply. Hummingbirds also eat spiders and insects, including mosquitoes and gnats.

Kathi recommends six plants to get your hummingbird garden started: perennials honeysuckle, bee balm and cardinal flower, as well as annuals Mexican cigar plant, blue anise sage and Texas sage. These plants are pictured here and on the next five slides.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma, left) has blooms that look like starbursts and fragrant foliage. It reaches 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Grow in full sun or light shade. Zone 4.

Red trumpets

The red or red-orange variety of honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens, left) blooms with trumpet-shape flowers on a vine that reaches 10 -- 15 feet long. Grow in full sun. Zone 4.

Bright red blossoms

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, left) attracts hummers with fire truck red blossoms on 2- to 3-foot-tall stalks from late summer through fall. Grow in full sun or part shade. Zone 2.

Good for containers

Mexican cigar plant (Cuphea 'David Verity', left) grows 2 feet tall with orange tubular flowers and tips that resemble lit cigars. It flowers from early summer until frost, grows well in containers and thrives in full sun.

Purple for hummers

Blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica, left) blooms with purple flowers from summer through fall. It reaches 2-4 feet tall. Grow in full sun to part shade.

Prolific bloomers

Texas sage (Salvia coccinea, left) flowers prolifically with red flowers summer through fall. It reaches 2 feet tall and grows easily from seed. Grow in full sun.

Make your own nectar

When your flowers aren't blooming, feeders will help attract hummingbirds. Mix one part sugar with four parts tap water. Sugar dissolves quickly in warm water, so there's no need to boil it. When nectar looks cloudy or moldy, wash the feeder and refill with a fresh batch.

While a traditional feeder is hung off a house or on a stand near your home, many different varieties are available, including ones that you can place in the ground (left) at any attractive spot in your garden.

Follow the migration

In the fall, young hummers linger longest in nectar-filled gardens before heading to southern Mexico or Central America. "They fly 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico nonstop across the water," says Alicia King, director of the Bird Conservation Alliance in Indianapolis.

When will they be back? You can track spring hummingbird returns at the website below.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration

Bird Conservation Alliance

Hummingbird plant resources

Hummingbird-friendly plants are available by mail. Try Glasshouse Works, Goodwin Creek Gardens and Sunlight Gardens. Pictured: Red bee balm juts above cleome.

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® July/August 2008.)

Glasshouse Works

Goodwin Creek Gardens

Sunlight Gardens

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