The cool nights in early September remind me that summer is slowly giving way to fall. Right now, our gardens are experiencing some incredible visitors. Monarch butterflies are floating overhead and popping in for a drink. They spend time at late-season flowers like zinnias, lantana and other annuals and perennials because they need plenty of energy. During their migration, they’ll fly about 80 miles a day to get to their breeding grounds in Mexico. It’s one of those “aha” moments for us when we realize what incredible journeys these small creatures undertake.
We’re also seeing many songbirds at birdbaths and ponds. They’re attracted to water features, especially in the fall when the weather is sometimes dry. You may have noticed colorful goldfinches in your garden, too. They’re seeking the seeds of coneflowers.
It’s the ruby-throated hummingbirds, however, that cause us to stop in our tracks. These tiny winged wonders are often present in our area during summer, but they begin migrating from as far north as Canada by mid-August. Thousands of them will pass through each day, until early October, stopping in local gardens to fill up on nectar. They’ll also snap up tiny insects. Fascinating to watch. Even more fun when they belly up to the feeders.
Here’s how we attract these tiny flying jewels to our garden:
1. Provide a feeder.
Buy one (or two) with a perch so they can rest while they’re drinking—and you’ll get a good look at them. Heat four cups of water and stir in one cup of sugar to dissolve—let it cool and fill the feeder with a few ounces of the sugar water. We refrigerate the rest. If the weather gets hot, we clean and refill the feeder after a few days.
2. Add some nectar plants.
Some of my favorite hummingbird plants are the Salvias, especially the blue-flowered varieties like Mystic Spires and Black and Blue. These annuals make stunning container plants this time of year.
3. Provide a “shower.”
A bird bath or pond with a water misting device is a great way to draw in hummingbirds and songbirds, especially on warm days in late summer. It’s not unusual to see birds bathing in the morning since many of them are migrating at night.
4. Pull up a chair.
For me, late summer is a time to relax and enjoy the landscape. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy. A hummingbird often darts from our feeder up to a nearby tree where it will perch on the lookout for other hummingbirds. Then the fun begins as they chase each other around the garden.