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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: How to attract hummingbirds to your garden

A Green Crowned Brilliant is pictured at a

A Green Crowned Brilliant is pictured at a Hummingbird feeding station in Alajuela, Costa Rica.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Dan Kitwood

DEAR JESSICA: Will a single bee balm or salvia in a container attract hummingbirds? Which salvia is best to attract hummingbirds? — Seymour Spiegel, Jericho

DEAR SEYMOUR: Yes, technically a single plant could attract a hummingbird. But if you were a hummingbird, wouldn’t you be more likely to dine at a well-stod buffet?

Hummingbirds are nature’s jewels! The tiny, fluttering avian creatures are fascinating to watch. They seem suspended in air as they lap up nectar from brightly colored flowers, but in actuality their wings are beating 10  to 80 times per second. If you’re lucky, and patient, you may find yourself mesmerized as one performs acrobatic flips and nose-dives, then swoops back up like a stunt plane. What’s more, hummingbirds don’t walk, so to be mobile they must flap their little wings almost continually.

As you might imagine, all that flapping and flipping and fluttering requires high-energy food, and that’s where you come in. Naturally drawn to bright colors, hummingbirds feed several times each hour. They have a preference for tubular red flowers, but have other requirements as well.

Native hummingbirds, which range in size from 3 to 5 inches long and nest in trees, require nectar from specific native plants. Here are some of their favorites. (The more you plant, the higher your chances of scoring free entertainment in your backyard. Plants require sunlight to produce nectar, so situate them in the brightest areas possible.)

Bee balm (Monarda)

Available in pink, white or red, bee balm (Monarda) belongs to the mint family. Choose red and expect it to spread. Perennial.

Columbine (Aquilegia)

There are some 70 species of this spring bloomer, all of which will feed hummingbirds. But again, the redder, the better. Perennial.

Larkspur (Delphinium)

Tall and dwarf varieties both draw hummingbirds, so pick a color (blue, pink, white or purple) and a size. Or plant both so you can watch your visitors flutter high and low. Best not to plant if you have pets, however, as they are toxic if ingested. Perennial.

Lupine (Lupinus)

Most of these spring and summer bloomers are perennial, but there are annual varieties, so read plant tags carefully. Choose from white, cream, pink, purple, orange or red, and water regularly.

Petunia (Petunia)

These darling trumpet-shaped flowers come in varieties that cascade over hanging baskets and others that mound in borders. And they’re available in nearly every color imaginable, including bicolor, veined, striped and even ruffled and double-bloomed. Annual.

Salvia (Salvia)

Any variety will do, but pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), hummingbird sage (Salvia guaranitica), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) are among those that will attract the most hummingbirds. All are annual.

Zinnia (Zinnia)

Tall, short, double, daisylike — you name it. Zinnias come in all shapes and sizes — and a smorgasbord of colors. Annual.

And if you don't have garden space, a hummingbird feeder stocked with sugar water will attract hummingbirds. Just don’t use red dye, as some do; it's not necessary, and the coloring may be harmful to the birds. 

THE GREAT LONG ISLAND TOMATO CHALLENGE HAS MOVED!

But don’t worry — it’s just up the road from Newsday — literally just a few blocks away.

This year, the Challenge will be held in the Campus Center at Farmingdale State College in Ballrooms B and C, 2350 Broadhollow Rd (Rte. 110) in Farmingdale.

There will be signs directing you to the building when you arrive — park in lot 4A.

The date and time remain 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23. And I’ll still be there to weigh and measure your prized tomatoes — and crown a new Tomato King or Queen!

Please carry your tomato entries in a container or bag to protect carpeting from mishaps.

Please visit newsday.com/tomato for more information and official rules.

See you there!

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