Because these lovely little fliers become dependent on the nectar we provide, frozen (or empty) feeders can be dangerous in winter.
WE ARE INCREDIBLY lucky to live in an area of the country where hummingbirds remain year-round. It’s a special treat to watch them perform their aerial acrobatics in all seasons. Hanging a feeder in winter helps attract overwintering hummingbirds and provides extra nourishment.
However, hummingbirds can become dependent on the nectar we provide for survival. If you travel during winter, or for any reason can’t be home to make sure there is fresh nectar available at all times, don’t hang a hummingbird feeder. These little birds can freeze to death in only a half-hour if the nectar they are relying on freezes. (Heated feeders are available online.)
When mixing the nectar, always use the recipe of 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water. Clean the feeder regularly, using vinegar (dish soap can repel hummingbirds). Finally, make sure there is a full feeder hanging at the crack of dawn. After a long, cold night, the last thing we want to do is make these hungry little guys wait for their breakfast.
Even if you hang a feeder, hummingbirds are more likely to make your garden their year-round home if it contains a variety of winter bloomers with nectar-rich flowers. Among the best of the winter-flowering shrubs are the Mahonias (Mahonia x media). These Asian hybrids of our native Oregon grape are statuesque-looking, upright, drought-tolerant, shade-loving shrubs. Hummingbirds love the long-lasting, soft, yellow, candelabra-shaped flowers that occur in the heart of winter.
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Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’ is famous for the biggest and most frost-proof soft, yellow flowers of the clan.
‘Charity’, later-blooming and the tallest of the genus, towers to 15 feet, featuring beautiful sprays of pastel yellow flowers. The more-compact, 8-foot tall ‘Winter Sun’ scents the winter garden with large sprays of wonderfully fragrant light-yellow flowers.
By early December, another hummingbird favorite, witch hazels (Hamamelis), begin to bloom. These small trees light up the winter garden with colorful, spidery flowers on bare branches. It’s easy to find a spot for one of these gorgeous trees. Most hybrids rarely exceed 12 feet, and bloom well in sun or shade.
Another small tree that flowers on bare wood, and does equally well in sun…