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Mr. Smarty Plants - hummingbird attractants

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Thursday - May 03, 2012

From: Baytown, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens, Poisonous Plants
Title: hummingbird attractants
Answered by: Anne Ruggles

QUESTION:

I live in Baytown, Texas and am looking for a variety of plants that attract Hummingbirds, but are also pet friendly. I have two dogs, so this is a major concern. I am putting the plants in my backyard and would prefer to have some type of vine to grow up lattice work along the fence and then some type of shurb and/or ground cover in front. Thanks for the help!

ANSWER:

We will answer this in two steps, looking at: 1) what do you need to do to attract hummingbirds to your yard and 2) of the possible plants that you might use, which ones will not harm your dogs.

 To attract the hummingbirds you will need to provide not only food, but also shelter, and water. You can provide the water in a variety of ways and may already have a shallow watering device for birds. If you have a birdbath, place a couple of flat rocks in it to give them a chance to bathe. Or add a drip fountain attachment, available at most garden centers. Running water seems to attract them, too.

You will need to think of the plants you use as providing both food and structure (places where the birds can roost safely or even build nests). Food plants should be chosen for their ability to grow well in your region, on your soils, and with the moisture regime that you provide. They will also need to provide nectar and bloom when the hummingbirds need them. You should consider the shape of the blooms as hummingbird's long, slender bills and tongues are perfectly engineered for accessing nectar from deep within tubular-shaped flowers. Color is also important – red seems to be the most common color that advertises to the hummingbirds that nectar is available.

Consider using annuals and perennials with different blooming periods so that you can provide natural food all year round. Preferred hummingbird plants include native honeysuckles, most varieties of sages (salvia), bee balm (wild bergamot), lupines, many types of columbine, and perennial penstemons.

You should also avoid using insecticides in your yard. Adult hummingbirds need regular doses of protein from mosquitoes, spiders, thrips, gnats and other arthropods and young birds are fed protein in the form of insects. Thus using a product that kills insects will also harm the birds.

 

The Wildlflower Center has developed a series of “How To” pages on its web site.  “Wildlife Gardening” is an excellent place to start and will help you to plan your garden so that it provides food, water, and shelter. Here you will find a list of plants native to Central Texas (you will find that many of these are also native to your corner of Texas) that will attract hummingbirds to your garden. The list gives you the growth habit of the plant has (vine, shrub, ground cover, etc.) and what soil and water characteristics it prefers, as well as providing links to images and more detailed descriptions. The page also provides links to other on-line resources and an extensive bibliography.

The Wildflower Center has also answered a question similar to yours in which the answer provides links to seven species of plants (with detailed descriptions and links to images) that are excellent nectar producers and thus hummingbird attractants.

The Houston Audubon Society has a page devoted to hummingbirds on which the hummers found in Houston are described, when they are in the Houston area, and their habitat needs. There is also a plant list of plants that will attract hummers and directions for developing a yard that is attractive to hummingbirds.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has an excellent web page that addresses how to attract hummingbirds in Texas.

Now, to answer the second part of your question, which of these plants should you avoid because they might posse a risk to your dogs. The Texas A&M extension service has a searchable list of poisonous plants (you can search by common or scientific name, region, or image).

The South Texas Poison Center, part of the UT Health Sciences Center, also has a list of poisonous plants. This is divided between wild plants and common house & garden plants.

The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of plants poisonous to pets that you could also check. 

Other good sources of information about plants that are poisonous to pets are:

Cornell University Dept. of Animal Science   

Univ. of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Library 

Univ. of Penn. School of Veterinary Medicine 

 

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