Q: When do hummingbirds usually arrive in our area? What flowers do they feed on for nectar? How do you take care of hummingbird feeders?
F. P. of Belleville
A: Some of the hummingbird scouts started arriving last weekend. One lady I know places large “sail flags” in her garden and stated the humminbirds were there Sunday. She said the flags are about 5 feet long and in the shades of red, pink and yellow. The rest of the hummers should arrive slowly in about two weeks.
Annual plants you can use include fuchsia, which can be planted in hanging baskets for taller places, nasturtiums, nicotiana (flowering tobacco), petunias, salvia and snapdragons. Perennial flowers include balloon flower, bee balm, bellflower, American columbine, coral bells, day lilies, delphiniums, globe thistle, beard-tongue (pentstemon), garden phlox, garden pinks and rose mallow. Shrubs and vines include azaleas, clematis, flowering quince, trumpet vine and weigela as well as larger shrubs such as lilacs, beauty bush, fountain and butterfly bush.
Your hummingbird feeder should be red only. Researchers have found that any yellow will attract bees and wasps to the feeder and cause problems. So if you find feeders with yellow, you may want to remove the yellow parts. Feeders with perches for the hummingbirds to land on help the hummers conserve energy while feeding.
For food for the feeders, plain white granulated sugar dissolved in water works well without any red coloring added. Use four parts water to one part sugar. Hummingbirds consume 50 percent of their weight each day of this sugar water. You should clean the feeders about once a week with a bleach solution to prevent a build-up of black sooty mold. Do not use dishwashing liquid, because it does not taste good to them and they may ignore your feeder.
Male hummingbirds have gorget feathers (colorful feathers on the throat or upper breast), which are iridescent and are used in communication to flash other males to show dominance. Watch for this signaling around the feeders.
Most people do not know that hummingbirds also feed on aphids especially for the development of young, so do not use insecticides or you could poison your young developing hummers.
If you are lucky enough to have a pond or a lake nearby, surrounding trees offer great nesting sites. Hummingbirds like to nest over water. Some naturalists think this makes it harder for a snake to climb and destroy a nest and feed on the young. Nests can be lined with hair but not colored or chemically treated hair. Hummers also like small licken and moss plants for lining their nests.
Q: Are ticks out yet?
S. H. of Millstadt
A: Ticks are already out in large numbers this year. People hunting mushrooms and others walking in the woods say it looks like it will be a bad year for ticks. The mild winter has helped smaller rodents begin breeding earlier. Ticks lay eggs in nesting material so that the eggs can be carried into the rodent nests for the first generation of ticks.
If you find ticks on you, use a cottonball with a few drops of liquid dish detergent placed on it to cover any ticks trying to suck blood. The detergent will suffocate them and they will turn loose without any pulling on the tick. which forces them to inject something back into the human or pet. A number of people in our area have had serious problems from ticks, so check carefully to remove them whenever you are in a wooded area.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now
- Plant warm-season vegetables and flowering plants outside.
- Watch for tent caterpillars on ornamental and fruits trees. You can easily destroy them by pruning the limb off and burning it.