Gardening: Make your garden a hummingbird haven

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

The arrival of our tiny winged wonders, the hummingbirds, is to me a true signal spring has arrived.

They fly horizontally at speeds up to 30 mph and courting males can reach 60 miles per hour when diving. It’s a sight to behold. Their tiny 2-inch-wide nests are made of spider webs, fluffy plant fiber and animal hair. The exteriors are camouflaged with lichen, bark, leaves and moss, which is why they are rarely spotted. The eggs are about the size of the eraser on a No. 2 pencil.

In a single day, a humming bird will consume more than its body weight in nectar and bugs, so to get their fill, they may need to visit more than 1,000 flowers.

No wonder hummingbird feeders filled with sweet nectar are great for attracting these magical birds into our yards. To draw attention to a newly installed feeder, some homeowners decorate them with colorful red ribbon or even plastic flowers. It only takes one to start feeding and others in the area quickly follow suit.

To prevent bacteria from tainting the solution, the feeder should be washed in soap and water every three days and filled with fresh nectar. A batch of homemade nectar is easily made by mixing 4 parts water with 1 part white sugar in a small pan and allowing it to boil for a minute or so to help keep it fresh. Adding red food coloring is not recommended nor is it necessary to attract the birds.

When looking for plants to attract these magical winged acrobats, there are lots to choose from. Annual flowers we all know and love such as zinnias, snapdragons, and petunias are hummingbird favorites.

Other annual flowering plants to add to containers to attract hummers include Cupheas, such as the cigar plant and batface flower, along with Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius) and flowering maple (Abutilon).

Bee Balm, penstamon, honeysuckle and salvias draw hummingbirds to perennial plantings. Butterfly bushes (Buddlejas) are also hummingbird magnets.

Hummingbirds are attracted to moving water, but misters are the preferable means of delivery. The easy to set up Mini-Mister, priced at $30, available at Wild Bird Unlimited, can be attached to a shrub, tree branch or trellis as well as a birdbath. You may want to position it where you too can take advantage of the refreshing mist.

Appearances: Join me and learn the “The Secret to Making Plant Magic” at 1 p.m. May 9 at United Plant Center, 62170 Van Dyke, Washington. For information, call (586) 752-5000.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at