Planting for Hummingbirds

In the past we’ve discussed the basics of pollinator gardens, planting for Black Swallowtail Butterflies, and 5 butterflies common to the Mid-Atlantic and how to support them. We’ve also covered 10 beneficial birds and how to attract them. However, a Facebook follower recently pointed out we haven’t done a post about hummingbirds! So without further adieu, here’s what you should know about planting for hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Species

If you live in the Eastern U.S., the hummingbirds you see are likely to be Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Occasionally, Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds are seen during the winter, primarily in the Deep South.

A great resource for bird lovers is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library. You can find photos, videos, and audio recordings of birds from all over.

Habitat and Diet

Hummingbirds spend a lot of their time in open woodlands but they’re easily tempted into yards and gardens with flowers and feeders. You can make your garden and yard more appealing by avoiding large, open areas. Birds prefer to have shelter in the form of clusters of trees, shrubs, or even vines on harbors. They also prefer a varied garden. Opt for plants in a variety of heights. Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico and South America each winter.

Hummingbirds are pollinators and are known for their habit of eating nectar and sap. They may also help keep pests down in your garden too. Hummingbirds are omnivores and sometimes feed on small insects and spiders. They need to eat about twice their body weight per day due to their high metabolism which helps them sustain their rapid wing beats.

Keeping your lawn and garden free of chemicals like insecticides helps keep hummingbirds and other important wildlife healthy.

Flowers

Hummingbirds tend to have a preference for long, tubular flowers that hold a lot of nectar. They also rely heavily on sight to find flowers so those that are brightly colored are excellent choices. It should be noted that though they love the color red you shouldn’t buy or make red “hummingbird food.” Red dyes and food coloring are harmful to hummingbirds.

Here are a few great choices:

They’ll also visit flowering shrubs, vines, and trees like Honeysuckle, Cardinal Vine, Rhododendron, and Butterfly Bush.

Having flowers available in the fall can be especially helpful as hummingbirds prepare to migrate. They sometimes double their weight in preparation for their long flight south! Take a look at blooming times and opt for long-blooming varieties or experiment with multiple successions of annuals.

What’s a Nitrogen Fixer?

Nitrogen fixing plants have a symbiotic relationship with specific bacteria. The bacteria colonize the plant’s roots and pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere. The bacteria uses the nitrogen and then it becomes available to the plant.

Nitrogen fixing plants include most plants in the legume family. They also include certain grasses like buckwheat but legumes are generally the most efficient. 

Why are they important?

Nitrogen is key for plant growth. Plants require it in order to perform photosynthesis. Yellow or pale leaves can be a sign that your soil lacks sufficient nitrogen. Rotating nitrogen-fixing crops through your garden replenishes nutrients in the soil without resorting to using synthetic fertilizers. 

Many nitrogen fixing crops, like those listed below, are used as cover crops or green manures. Like other cover crops they help prevent moisture loss, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for beneficial insects and fungi all while adding nitrogen to the soil. Using cover crops is in investment in soil health.

Nitrogen Fixing Cover Crops

Other legume crops like beans and peas are also nitrogen fixing. Pole beans are grown in the “Three Sisters” garden technique because they help provide nitrogen for the heavy-feeding corn.

Growing Cover Crops

Nitrogen fixing cover crops can be used in different ways. Biennial or perennial crops like clover are often grown for a season or year and then tillled under. This process adds organic matter to the soil and makes the plants’ nitrogen and other nutrients available to your crops. Alternatively winter-kill or annual crops like Sunn Hemp die back on their own and can be used as mulch. As they decompose they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. 

These nitrogen fixing crops are also perfect for permanent pathways between rows or beds. Clover pathways in particular can be mowed through the summer. The clippings make excellent mulch for the adjacent beds.  

You can find more individual information under individual variety descriptions. 

 

Pros and Cons of Gardening with Ducks

Animals are part of any natural ecosystem. Adding small livestock to your garden can provide a host of benefits. One great option is ducks. However, there are pros and cons to adding ducks to your garden.

Pros

They’re great at slug patrol.

Having a couple ducks roam through your garden is one of the easiest ways to deal with your slug problem. They love slugs! They’ll happily wander around keeping your plants or mushrooms slug-free. They’ll also eat a host of other pests. 

They don’t scratch like chickens.

Unlike chickens, ducks don’t scratch to forage for food. While chickens are helpful to turn over a plot after or before the growing season they can be destructive to plants in the garden. Their vigorous efforts tear up roots and shorter plants. Ducks on the other hand simply plod flat-footed through the garden. They’re generally not destructive. However, they may eat or trample seedlings and some greens. 

They provide fertility.

Ducks obviously produce manure which is an excellent source of fertility for the garden. If they’re allowed to roam the garden during the day they’ll add fertilizer as they go. Ducks should be kept in a coop at night and you can compost the manure/bedding from their coop. 

Cons

They need a water source.

Ducks need a water source big enough for them to bath in. It helps keep their feathers in good condition. Muscovy ducks, native to South America, need less water than other breeds but still benefit from being able to bath.

They’re noisy.

I’ve heard some people claim that ducks are a quiet alternative to chickens but in my experience it isn’t true. Ducks quacking can rival a rooster’s crow. They may not be a great choice if you have close neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate barnyard noise.

They need a coop, space, and other care.

Ducks aren’t free. You’ll need to build or buy a sturdy coop, predator proof coop as well as feed. You’ll also need to care for them at least twice a day all year round which can make it tougher to leave for family vacations. The more space you can offer them to roam the happier they’ll be/

They can be destructive. 

They’ll dabble in wet areas adding to any mud problems you may have. As mentioned above they can also destroy small plants and won’t hesitate to sample your lettuce!

If you decide to add ducks to your garden system consider the pros and cons. They can be very helpful and rewarding but they still require money, time, and patience. 

 

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