The best part of cultivating flowers and fruit trees up in the Rim Country is the welcomed friends that come to see your handiwork. I get so excited when I see the first hummingbird of spring make its way back up from Mexico to visit my feeders and flowers.
The variety of butterflies up in Payson compared to Phoenix astounds me, and I am always happy to see the native bees, whose populations are dwindling, that fly around my parents' fruit trees and gardens.
If you want to welcome nectar-loving creatures into your gardens, now is the time to start looking for their favorite treats to plant.
Hummingbirds love trumpet and tubular shaped, bright-colored flowers, and there are many drought-tolerant flowers that will add color to your garden while also providing the high energy sucrose for the little jewel birds. Plant penstemon, salvia (or commonly known as sage), honeysuckle, columbine and paintbrush.
If you are particularly generous, put out a variety of feeders for the birds. Each male hummingbird is very territorial, and will guard his feeder and/or flowers, but will allow females to feed. Hummingbirds also rely on the protein of insects and spiders, but need the instant energy that nectar provides for their bug hunting escapades.
My grandma has always sworn that her hummingbirds only fed from feeders that contained sugar water, and from research I've discovered she was correct in that the hummingbirds greatly prefer cane sugar to regular generic table sugar which may be made from beet sugar. The cane sugar contains the same sucrose that natural nectar supplies.
To make your own affordable nectar, combine 4 parts hot clean water, to 1 part cane sugar, mix well, and place in your very clean hummingbird feeder.
The nectar need not be colored, as long as the feeder has red coloration to attract the birds. Do not use artificial sweeteners or honey in the nectar as these can end up poisoning the birds either by chemicals or the mold and fungus that feeds on these sweeteners.
Be sure to keep your feeder clean on a regular basis with hot water, and a little vinegar if needed, just be sure to rinse well, and be very cautious with detergents. Hang your feeders under trees so that the birds may perch protected while keeping guard over their feeders.
Another important factor when welcoming hummingbirds and other colorful winged creatures to your garden is to avoid harsh pesticides which can poison not only the insects in your garden but also the birds and lizards that feed on them.
Keep a few of the less obnoxious spider webs around as the hummingbirds use the sticky silk to create their nests. Pesticides can also kill off the beautiful multi-colored butterflies that are so welcomed up in the high country, and they are also contributing to the very scary declines of the honey bee populations through out the U.S.
Most of our population is unaware of how essential these winged pollinators (bees especially, but also moths, butterflies and even hummingbirds) are to our food sources. My apple trees alone, must have the presence of bees to cross pollinate, otherwise, we will see no fruit this fall.
Sarah McAnerny is a designer and partner in the Tre Sorell Home Designs and lives in Pine. www.tresorellehomedesigns.com