Steele: Attract hummingbirds with natural feeders

I gave up on feeders when I discovered the red beebalm was drawing in hummingbirds

By Gwen Steele

Two weeks ago I was delighted to see a dramatic splash of red when my beebalm burst into bloom.

Once again I was amazed at how it acts as a hummingbird magnet.

I don’t have a hummingbird feeder and had not seen many hummingbirds around my garden this year.

They are constantly visiting now that the beebalm is flowering.

At my old house I gave up on feeders when I discovered the red beebalm filling an oak barrel planter on my deck was drawing in hummingbirds as much or more than the feeder.

Supplying nectar just with plants is less work.

Recently news stories have emphasized the importance of keeping feeders clean to avoid spreading disease—another reason to focus on natural feeding.

While most beebalm varieties are susceptible to mildew, I have successfully grown two mildew resistant varieties of red beebalm: Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ and Monarda ‘Jacob Cline.’

Plants begin blooming late in June and continue through September.

Removing dead flowers encourages more blooms.

During dry spells, in part shade, they need some water.

In full sun or in a planter they require more water.

Plants grow 36 to 48 inches tall and wide and have square stems which means they are in the mint family so are fairly robust growers.

Divide in spring or fall to reduce size of the clump and to spread around the garden or share with friends.

Their splash of red is an eye catcher and a great contrast to enhance many other flower colours.

Hummingbirds feed on plants that have trumpet shaped flowers to accommodate their long, thin bills.

Although they are attracted to red, they are eager to feed on any plants that have a high sugar content in the nectar.

If you can find it, they really like Penstemon pinifolius.

It’s a low, evergreen, shrubby variety native to Colorado with red tubular flowers from June to September.

There are many other varieties of Penstemon that hummingbirds also frequent.

Most grow well in full sun and need moderate to low amounts of water.

In the spring Heuchera sanguinea (red coral bells) is a favourite.

It grows well in dry shade or in full sun with some water.

Cut off dead flowers to encourage repeat bloom.

Agastache, daylily, hollyhock, salvia, petunia, geranium, lantana and nasturtium, are low-water, summer blooming plants that attract hummingbirds.

Having some hummingbird attracting flowers in your garden from spring through summer will encourage them to stay.

For information on these and other water-wise plants for hummingbirds, search the special features list on the plant database at www.okanaganxeriscape.org.

If you also search by bloom time you can find plants for every month.

In addition to nectar, hummingbirds feed heavily on small insects so are an excellent natural form of pest control.

It is essential to avoid using pesticides in the garden as they can kill hummingbirds and other birds that feed on insects.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.