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Tiny hummingbirds can be a big, sweet treat this summer

| Friday, May 31, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
Weigela flowers are a hummingbird favorite for early-season nectar.

Summer in Pennsylvania brings many wonderful visitors to the garden, including friends and family, bees and butterflies, and, the most admired of all garden visitors, hummingbirds.

Because ruby-throated hummingbirds breed in our region, they are, by far, the most common species here. But gardeners also may be blessed with the occasional late-season sighting of the rufous hummingbird, a migrating Western species that sometimes veers off-course on its migration from its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest to its winter home in Mexico. We also may rarely see a calliope hummer or an Allen's hummer, but if you are spotting a handful of birds in your garden on a daily basis this time of year, you can rest assured that they are ruby-throated hummers.

These beautiful little birds are known to return to the same yard year after year. Sadly, I have yet to spot the mating pair that have called my backyard home for the past three summers. Backyard hummingbird feeders should be filled by mid-April to support nest-building efforts, and I was a few weeks late in putting mine out this year. Whether or not that played into the pair deciding not to return, I haven't a clue, but I miss them already and will continue to wash and refill the feeder every week in hopes of attracting new birds to my garden.

I also plant many hummingbird-friendly flowering plants in my garden. Hummers are highly attracted to the color red and to long, tubular flowers, so I am sure to include plenty of them in my landscape each season. They love the weigela I have planted on the side of my house, as well as the red buckeye tree we planted a few years ago. Other favorite shrubs include red or orange honeysuckle varieties and butterfly bushes.

In the perennial garden, you'll want to plant agastache, columbine, cardinal flower, penstemon, monarda, coral bells, red-hot pokers and foxglove. And if you can only grow annuals or if you garden in containers, turn to lantana, fuchsia, petunias, pineapple sage, tithonia and red salvia. In my garden, the hummers' favorite summer-blooming plant is the annual cypress vine (Ipomea quamoclit) I plant on my tee-pee trellis from seed each spring.

And, if you, too, have a hummingbird feeder, you don't have to invest in commercially made food mixtures. Simply make your own by boiling 1 cup of granulated sugar in 4 cups of water for two minutes. Let it cool and then fill the feeder. You can keep the excess in the fridge for a week or two, and be sure to empty and clean your feeder on a weekly basis.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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