BOSTON — Q. I have a lovely garden but have a hard time attracting hummingbirds. The few I do get don't seem to appreciate my sugar-water "nectar" because they don't stay around long. What am I doing wrong?
- L.M., Malden, Mass.
A. You might not be planting the right plants. Hummingbirds, which have very poor smell but excellent eyesight, are attracted to bright colors. The Hummingbirds! Web site suggests hanging red or orange surveyor's tape on feeders to help attract hummers. By hanging the feeder near nectar-rich flowers such as impatiens, columbine, or red salvia, hummers are more likely to sip from them. Plants such as azaleas, mimosa, and weigela are also favorites. But whether hummingbirds sip from your feeder depends on the syrup - a correct ratio of sugar to water is essential. One part white sugar to 4 parts water roughly approximates the sucrose content of flowers. If the solution turns cloudy, it's spoiled and should be replaced. Also, if the outside temperature is above 80 F., clean and refill every three or four days. The feeder should be cleaned once a month with a bleach solution that consists of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water. Rinse well. Do not use soap, as some experts say it can be harmful.
There is an ongoing debate about whether to add red dye to the sugar-water solution. Hummingbird experts say it's unnecessary and the color of the feeder and its proximity to the flowers are important.
According to the Hummer/Bird Study Group, if you have a problem with ants, soak a pipe cleaner in vegetable oil and wrap it around the wire from which the feeder is hanging. The ants will not cross the oily pipe cleaner.
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