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~ Gardening for the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Canada ~

Grow a hummingbird garden this year. The birds have exquisite taste... they love bright red, bold pink, red-orange, and deep blues - especially in the form of tubular flowers on a tall stem, or climbing on a wall! In fact, they love red so much, they've been known to investigate stop signs. So transform your garden into a hummingbird paradise, and you will doubtlessly pleased with the results.

Canadian Hummingbird Plant Top 10

These have been selected for their degree of attractiveness to the birds, their hardiness or ease of growth, and abundant bloom. The best for gardeners in Canada.

1. Salvia 'Lady-in-Red'
Essential. Nectar rich, bright red tubular blooms on a tall stem; what more can a hummer ask for? Salvia 'Lady-in-Red' is an annual generally sold by the better nurseries, in crates for spring planting. Plant generously and early. Most hummingbird flowers peak in summer and fall. This salvia fills an important seasonal gap and is useful to entice the birds to stop over and hopefully settle in your garden when returning from Mexico.
In my neighborhood, it sells quickly; consider ordering ahead in the winter. Easy to start from seed under fluorescents, hardens and transplants well. Seeds are available in Canada from William Dam Seeds, or from Thompson and Morgan in the USA.

2. Anthirrhinum 'La Bella Red and White'
Snapdragons contain copious amounts of nectar, but it is usually off-limits to the hummingbirds owing to their hinged-lip floral architecture, but the 'La Bella' series of snapdragons features "Azalea" type blooms that are open to the birds. The 'Red and White' is the best color to attract hummingbirds, but the orange and bright pink versions also work very well. Annual, occasionally found in crates for spring planting. Easy to start from seed under fluorescents, hardens and transplants well. Seeds can be purchased from Stokes: Stokes Seeds.

3. Lobelia cardinalis
This flashy red Lobelia is a hardy wild flower species in many parts of Canada is a proven hummingbird magnet. Liking moist, rich soil, this perennial is somewhat antisocial and doesn't like to share is root space. Long blooming in the fall. Tolerant of a variety of lighting conditions. Unlike most perennials, Lobelia cardinalis does not greatly increase in spread and will only last a few years, even in ideal conditions. Seeds are widely available, and the better nurseries will carry them as potted perennials.

4. Scarlet Runner Beans
Grow this annual climber from seed, and allow to ramble freely over fences and trellises. Features a continuous crop of bright orange blooms, and the beans are edible! Extremely easy to grow and inexpensive. Direct-seed the huge purple and black seeds when the soil has warmed in the spring. Seeds can be bought in small and large quantities from Stokes Seeds, and are generally very easy to find.

5. Penstemon
Many species of Penstemon originate from the mountains and plateaus of the Rockies, where they grow in rocky and sandy slopes, where hummingbirds are abundant. They have co-evolved with the birds, so it's safe to say that for a hummingbird, any penstemon is a good penstemon - except the man-bred white varieties. They come in red, orange, pink and blue, and all are very attractive in rock gardens. They do not like root competition. You may wish to consider this excellent book to learn about this diverse plant family: The Gardener's Guide to Growing Penstemons. Thompson and Morgan, USA, have an excellent penstemon seed selection that includes the hummingbird magnet variety 'Iron Maiden.'

6. Cardinal Climber
Under the names Ipomoea x sloteri, Ipomoea x quamoclit and Ipomoea x multifida bright red trumpets peek out of attractive, finely palmate foliage. Blooms abundantly and on small plants. This is an annual climber best planted from seed in containers and provided with climbing support. Extremely attractive to the birds. Seeds from Thompson and Morgan, USA.

7. Salvia patens
A large-flowered, blue Salvia that will provide a delightfully dramatic contrast with all the red, orange and pink flowers in your garden! This tuberous perennial can be treated by an annual, but the tubers can be dug out in the fall, stored cool and dry and replanted the following spring, just like dahlias. Seed can be purchased from Horticlub or from Vesey's (the beautiful 'Blue Angel' variety).

8. Pink-flowered Robinia
Robinia 'Idahoensis'looks exotic, but has been perfectly hardy in my zone 5a garden. Though the height of the flowers make observation of hummingbirds difficult, the abudant clusters of nectar-rich flowers is an important resource for the birds in late spring.

In addition to its value to hummingbirds and insect pollinators, this is a very desirable tree in many respects, such as disease and drought-resistance. Growing tall and thin and casting a light shade, it is ideal for the front lawn, where it won't block much of the light for the plants and grass growing below. When the tree reaches a 2-inch caliper, it becomes susceptible to the black locust beetle until such time as the bark thickens enough to discourage egg laying. Small holes with chaff coming out are a diagnostic sign for larva digging into the wood. Use expanding foam wasp insecticide, spraying into the whole with a straw that comes with the can.

9. Impatiens
Widely available, this annual is sold in crates and are useful to create large expanses of hummingbird colors early and inexpensively. Draw them in with carmine pink, red and red-orange single flowers.

10. And the rest...
The plants below attract hummingbirds only to some degree, or are less hardy, more difficult to grow...

Weigela 'Red Prince'
This cultivar has the brightest flowers. A shrub.

Also attracts bees, and hummingbird moths.

Single-flowered preferred
Illustrated: Fuchsia triphylla 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt'

A shrub especially attractive to butterflies.

The species Aquilegia canadensis is recommended. Self-sows.

Look for the cherry-colored flowers. A tall border annual, sold in flats.

Like a small petunia, choose orange or red varieties. Grows slowly; buy large.

Morning Glory
Intense sky blue or red varieties preferred.

Campsis radicans
Usually orange. A yellow variety is less attractive to the birds. Earwigs often enter the flowers to consume nectar.

The variety 'Krossa Regal' is notable for flower scapes that can reach 1.8m, and thus easily accessible to the hummers.

Foxtail lilies
Orange flowers are preferred.

Flashy red and glowing orange are best.

Lobelia syphilitica
A cousin of Lobelia cardinalis. Color varies between individual plants, from white to blue.

Mirabilis jalapa
Also called '4 o'clock' for its habit of opening blooms towards the end of the day.

Only single varieties are attractive to the birds. Self-sows readily.

Reddish purple or blue varieties are preferred.

Choose red varieties, with or without a white eye.

Self-sows readily, likes semi-shade.

A tub and conservatory plant.

The annual phlox (Phlox drummondii) has the brightest color. Perennial phlox is also appreciated in bright colors.

Avoid the spurless varieties, they contain no nectar.

Bleeding Hearts
A beloved sight in the spring, peering from the semi-shade.

Red Hot Pokers
Tender plants, grown in full sun.

Great patio and conservaroty plant.

Lychnis chalcedonia
The scarlet campion is a tall perennial requiring moist conditions.

The less-showy, open heart varieties are best.

A very slow grower, buy a large one! Good tub plant.

Look for red, small-flowered varities.

A delicate climber.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Available as a rhizome for spring planting.

Recommended Feeders

Plastic feeders
This is an inexpensive model widely available in garden centers and hardware stores. Because its use is widespread, and hummingbirds are great travellers, they are likely to have learnt to associate this feeder with nectar. Look for upward-facing nectar ports such as in this feeder from Perky Pet, preferably with perches.

Glass feeders
Glass feeders really can enhance the garden, but their hanging nectar ports tend to drip rapidly, especially with a drop in barometric pressure. The model on the left, available in Canada from The Blue Jay's Garden combines upward-facing, non-dripping, realistic flower ports with garden appeal.

Ant guards
Ants and earwigs are frequently seen crawling in and around hummingbird feeders. Worse, the earwigs tend to get caught in the yellow "grills" of the bee guards on some hummingbird feeders (such bee guards should be avoided), resulting in a nasty surprise to the feeding bird. They also end up swimming up the feeder port and drowning inside the bottle. Consider purchasing an ant guard to solve this problem. Click here for a pretty one also available from The Blue Jay's Garden.

Nectar Recipe

Bring 1 part ordinary sugar with 4 parts water to a boil and cool. Do not use honey, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, etc., only regular sugar. Chemically, this is the type of sugar that is found in the natural nectar produced by the flowers to attract pollinators. The artificial nectar can be frozen for future use. There is no need to add red-coloring, as the feeders have enough red to attract the birds.

Do not wait for the nectar to be used up before adding more. The feeder must be thouroughly cleaned with hot water, and the nectar replaced every 3-7 days.

Hummingbird "House"

This Hummingbird House on the left is the product of years of careful research and observations by Dan and Diane True. When placed according to instructions, this sheltered forked branch constitutes an ideal spot for the hummingbirds to build nests. In Canada, the hummingbird platform is available from The Blue Jay's Garden should you wish to experiment.

Spray/Mister Bird Bath

Misters and Drippers, such as those offered by Avian Aquatics are yet another way to say "welcome" to these feathered jewels, who love to frolick in the water.

Hummingbird Links

2004 Ruby-Throat Canadian Survey - Operation Ruby-Throat is having a survey for us Canadians, let's participate!
Operation Ruby-Throat - A really great source of information devoted to the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. - Much information about hummers.
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird - From the Canadian Wildlife Federation's "Hinterland's Who's Who?".
Dan True Books - Selling autographed books about hummingbirds, videos, and "hummer counter" and the "hummingbird house" featured above.
Familiar Birds - Jam-packed with information, highly recommended.
Humminbird species - Includes photos to identify the birds from their nests.

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