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Invite hummingbirds to your backyard

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

It is time to get out into the garden and get things cleaned up and ready for annual planting. I love this time of year when the plants are all coming out of dormancy and life is present everywhere. I always fill up my birdbath to encourage wildlife into my yard.
Most of us plant gardens for some reason, whether it is to increase the property value, prevent erosion, to grow food or to bring wildlife into the yard.
One guest I want to encourage into my landscape is hummingbirds. There are many plants that can be planted to bring these beauties to the garden. Putting up nectar feeders is the quick and easy way to get them to stop by. While fragrance is the prime bait for pollinators like butterflies and other insects, birds do not have a good sniffer, so flowers that depend on them must advertise with color.
Hummingbirds are drawn to shades of red. Most of us are familiar with the ruby-throated hummingbird that resides in the eastern two-thirds of the country.
To select plants that attract hummingbirds, consider flower color and form. Hummingbirds favor long, tubular shaped flowers. Once they are in your yard, they will move naturally to blossoms of other colors besides red. Hummingbirds migrate north in spring by following the flowers as they bloom. The following perennials are a few of my favorites that bring hummingbirds to the garden:
Wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, kicks off the hummingbird season in the east blooming at just the right time to greet the returning migrants. It is a delicate plant with unusual, nodding, red and yellow flowers that bloom for weeks.
Wild columbine thrives in part-sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. It grows two to three-feet tall and wide. It adapts well to any soil type and is self-seeding. As the season progresses, the attractive, ferny, leaves may show interesting tan or white scribbles from leaf minors; these do not harm the plant.
Bee balm is a vigorous grower that grows 36-inces tall, depending on the variety. This plant does well in full-sun to light shade and is adaptable once established. The flowers bloom for weeks and become a regular stop for hummingbirds. Cut bee balm back half way when it starts to look ratty in the season. It will re-grow with vigor and re-bloom.
For a great garden performer with a long blooming period, try salvia. This vast genus offers many species, cultivars, and hybrids, all of which the hummingbirds love. Most salvia pop with flowers in shades or red, blue, pink and white and can range in size from 12 to 48-inches tall and wide.
If you suddenly notice that your regular hummingbird visitor stops dropping by in the middle of the summer, it is because this is the time when these birds take up nesting territories and are busy with family duties. By late summer, the traffic will again begin to increase as families disperse.
Susan Brown is a horticulture agent with the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.