An Urban Hummingbird Garden

An Urban Hummingbird Garden

Part of Ep. 1804 Hummingbird Gardens

Learn about hummingbird life cycle and what they like to eat from Kathi and Michael Rock, renown experts in hummingbird gardening. Hundreds of hummingbirds can be seen in their garden. Kathi shows how to attract them with plants like Nicotiana mutabilis, "Blue Anise Sage," Salvia azurea, "Cardinal Flower," honeysuckle, "Red Morning Glory," "Orange Jewelweed" and "Policeman's Helmet" impatiences.

Premiere date: Jun 30, 2010

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:
I'm in the yard of Kathi and Michael Rock. We're in Madison, in a very suburban setting surrounded by houses, and construction today. Kathi and Michael have turned this yard into a gorgeous garden and a haven for hummingbirds. The hummingbirds don't seem to mind the construction. Kathi and Michael also teach classes, even at the Garden Expo on how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard. Kathi, you guys are passionate about this. I look around and I'm seeing hundreds of hummingbirds. You teach all over. This is really a big thing for you guys.

Kathi Rock:
Yes, we actually speak with groups all over the Midwest. We have a Web site that's very informative to people who are wanting to garden for hummingbirds. We have a mailing list.

Shelley:
So this is your passion.

Kathi:
Yeah, and we also consult with people privately. 

Shelley:
On how to create a garden to attract hummingbirds. Well, you can consult with me now! What's the most common question you get? 

Kathi:
I think the most common question is what kind of hummingbird do you see in your yard? People think there are many different kinds, but actually it's just one called the ruby-throated hummingbird. 

Shelley:
That's the regular one we get here in Wisconsin.

Kathi:
Yes.

Shelley:
Let's talk just a little about their life cycles. Start me from spring and take me through to fall.

Kathi:
They're arriving in April and then they're breeding in June. The males leave after the breeding is over with.

Shelley:
Figures. 

(both laugh)

Shelley:
So, by late September.

Kathi:
We're left mostly with the immature birds. That's what we're seeing mostly in our yard today.

Shelley:
So the females and mothers-- The males have already left for where?

Kathi:
They've left for Mexico and Central America.

Shelley:
Leaving the kids behind. 

Kathi:
Yes.

Shelley:
Oh, that's tempting. We're in a late-September garden here so we still have to provide food for those immature birds, the juveniles.

Kathi:
Actually, it's one of the most important times of the year to provide the most food.

Shelley:
Because they need to get ready for that big trip.

Kathi:
Right, and you've got so many birds coming through your yard.

Shelley:
Trying to bulk up, okay. Then, let's talk about some of your favorites.

Kathi:
Well, one of our favorites is this Nicotiana mutabilis. It's a re-seeding annual.

Shelley:
Which means I don't have to plant it again.

Kathi:
Right, yes. The hummingbirds can either use it for feeding or sometimes they even perch in it, as well.

Shelley:
Is that important?

Kathi:
Absolutely. They spend almost 75% of their time perching.

Shelley:
Wow, so they need that rest time and they need to be up high and safe.

Kathi:
Yes.

Shelley:
Well, I'm pushing this gorgeous salvia. This is also an annual. Yes, this is called Salvia guaranitica or "Blue Anise Sage." And this actually blooms from early July until the first frost and sometimes beyond. These large purple flowers have so much nectar that it's a perfect plant for hummingbirds.

Kathi:
Hummingbird candy, then. The bees seem to like it, too. This is one you'd have to replant every year.

Shelley:
Yes, this is an annual, or you can over-winter it inside.

Kathi:
Oh yeah, okay. You said you also have one, this is more unusual. I hadn't seen this one before.

Shelley:
This is a perennial salvia. Yes, this is called Salvia azurea.

Kathi:
Oh, it's gorgeous. Hummingbirds like this one, as well?

Shelley:
Yes, they do.

Kathi:
This one is very tall. I think I'd like to put that in my yard, too. Now, what about red, because I know that's kind of the eye candy for hummingbirds.

Shelley:
Yes, we have several favorite red flowers. The first one is Lobelia cardinalis or "Cardinal Flower." And that's a perennial and a native plant in Wisconsin. It blooms quite vigorously at the end of the season when you've got all the migrants coming through your yard.

Kathi:
Okay, again, a great late seasonal. Any vines you can recommend, annual or perennial?

Shelley:
Well, there are a couple. There's a perennial vine, which we think every hummingbird gardener should have, called honeysuckle, or Lonicara sampervirens, which has tubular orange flowers, and blooms the most heavily in late spring, early summer, but can bloom sporadically throughout the season.

Kathi:
Again, providing food for the entire growing season. And an annual?

Shelley:
Yes, it would be the Ipomoea coccinea or "Red Morning Glory," which is another re-seeding annual.

Kathi:
A re-seeding annual vine. I don't have to do anything for it to come back every year. What about plants for shade?

Shelley:
Well, there are a couple great ones. The first one would be Impatiens capensis or Orange Jewelweed. It has trumpet shaped orange flowers. And it's a re-seeding annual.

Kathi:
You've done everything right here! The one next to it, it looks like it's a relative. 

Shelley:
Yes, it's called "Policeman's Helmet." It's also in the Impatiens family. It's much taller with rose colored flowers. It grows very, very well in shade.

Kathi:
If I'm growing all these fabulous plants do I really need to supplement with a hummingbird feeder?

Shelley:
Yes, we really believe that you can attract the most birds, especially in a city environment like this, through the use of both feeders and flowers. The feeders actually help fill-in during the times when the flowers are unavailable.

Kathi:
When are flowers unavailable?

Shelley:
Well, the key times would be the early spring, when there's really not much blooming in Wisconsin for hummingbirds yet.

Kathi:
Right.

Shelley:
If we have a late spring, that could be really not blooming for quite a while, you're right.

Kathi:
Then another time would be during a rainy day when the heavy rain maybe is diluting the nectar or the flowers aren't producing any nectar.

Shelley:
So it actually can dilute? I didn't know that.

Kathi:
We see a lot of hummers at feeders then. Then another type of day might be a really hot day when the flowers actually shut down their nectar production in reaction to the heat.

Shelley:
On a hot day, they probably need more food, too because they're hot, too.

Kathi:
Right, they need that liquid.

Shelley:
Somebody told me, and this was long ago, that I should take my hummingbird feeder down in the fall because I was preventing the birds from migrating on time.

Kathi:
Actually, that's not true at all, Shelley. You should leave it up. We leave a feeder up until at least Thanksgiving. You're really helping those late-season migrants. Actually, you may even attract a western migrant that ends up in your yard. So you want to leave those feeders up. They actually base their migration on the length of day and not the available food in your yard.

Shelley:
They know when to get going. They know when it's vacation time.

Kathi:
Yes, they do.

Shelley:
Leave it up, basically, until almost December. I'm really helping them out.

Kathi:
As long as you can keep it clean, yeah.

Shelley:
I was going to ask you. I also noticed that your liquid in there is not pink.

Kathi:
We don't advocate the use of either red food coloring or commercial nectar mixes.

Shelley:
Why is that?

Kathi:
The red food coloring could be harmful to the birds.

Shelley:
Really?

Kathi:
And the commercial nectar mixes are a very expensive way to provide hummingbird nectar, and the elements that are in there don't necessarily help the birds any more than the insects that are already in your yard that they eat also.

Shelley:
Then what do you put in there?

Kathi:
We only use hot tap water and white sugar.

Shelley:
So what recipe?

Kathi:
It's four cups of hot tap water to one cup of white table sugar. And you should never use honey, brown sugar, or artificial sweetener in your hummingbird feeder.

Shelley:
That's a lot easier to do, too.

Kathi:
Yes, absolutely.

Shelley:
Now, yours is almost empty. Does that mean a lot of hummingbirds have fed here lately?

Kathi:
We try not to fill them up all the way, because you're going to be cleaning your feeder every few days. So unless you have a yard where the hummingbirds are draining the feeders every day, you really want to just put a minimum amount in there.

Shelley:
Because you're going to be replacing it and you don't want to waste it.

Kathi:
Yes.

Shelley:
Well, I have learned a lot. I thank you, and my hummingbirds thank you, too.

Kathi:
Thank you, Shelley.

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