Q: You had an article where you mentioned that your wife has five hummingbird feeders and has up to 50 hummingbirds on them at a time. How does she do this? Does she use homemade nectar, the bought red type, or something that contains the nectar of certain type of flowers that the hummingbirds like? We have three feeders, and during the summer we have a pair of hummingbirds that seem to chase the other others off the feeder so that the one pair can have it all to themselves. Later in the year, the male seems to chase the female off, too. Any suggestions will be appreciated!
J. A. of Belleville
A: I would first suggest you read a book, “Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, Goatsuckers, Hummingbirds, and their Allies (part 2)” by Arthur Cleveland Bent, published by Dover Press. Bent was a well-known authority on North American birds and has published more than 20 volumes on all the bird families.
Request this book which describes the life histories of birds at the local library. It will give you much information on what hummingbirds need from nest building to which flowers hummingbirds prefer to get natural nectar. Bent ties the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) and its northern spring migration with the blossoming of the dwarf buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) which provides the ruby-throated hummingbird with most of its subsistence for the first two weeks after its arrival.
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In our area, this arrival time is around mid-April. We also have used the annuals: fuchsia, nasturtium, nicotiana, red salvia, and snapdragon. We also have used the perennials: bee balm, columbine, coral bells, delphinium, and phlox.
My wife uses one cup of granulated sugar to a quart of warm water. Whenever black sooty mold appears in the feeder, she cleans it with a bleach solution of two tablespoons of bleach to a quart of water to remove the entire mold. She then rinses it and allows the feeder to dry before filling it again.
The feeders are placed at least 15 feet apart which cuts down on the dominant hummingbirds from trying to run the other off. If needed, the feeders could be placed even further apart. In late summer and early fall, one male hummingbird will become feisty, trying to run the others off. But his function is very important because he is trying to get the others hummingbirds to begin the migration to the south even though it may appear that he wants all the sugar to himself. With all the energy he uses, most of these dominant males will die on the southern return migration which begins usually in mid-October.
Another good place to find information is the website, www.hummingbirds.net, but make sure you are using the information on the ruby-throated hummingbird.
Q: My houseplants keep dying. Could I be over-watering them?
L. H. of Collinsville
A: The secret to raising houseplants is to never let the soil (or growing media) get bone-dry or sloppy wet. Make sure that the soil becomes wet and then allow the soil to dry out. You will need to water plants in smaller containers more often than plants growing in a larger container.
Make sure the container has drainage holes in the bottom to allow the excess water to run out and place this container in a saucer until you notice no more water draining. Also, do not use any fertilizer in the water because the sunlight gets shorter all through the fall and winter You just need to maintain the plants at this time of year and you do not need them to actively grow until next spring.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just do it:
Finish the clean-up of weeds, leaves, and other dead plants before the cold weather comes.