You can create a hummingbird habitat in your garden, providing nectar and shelter for these beautiful, tiny birds.
Red-hot poker or torch flower hybrids (Kniphofia uvaria) have many long, tubular flowers perfectly shaped for sampling by thirsty hummingbirds.
Plan your garden
Include a variety of spring-, summer- and fall-blooming plants in your garden. Flowers with tubular blossoms are most attractive to hummingbirds. Although they will visit a wide range of flowers in various colors, red holds the most allure.
• Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is one of my favorite plants to attract spring hummingbirds with. This native vining plant is tolerant of light shade to full sun, and can grow to 12 feet in height. A beautiful shrub specimen can also be formed with careful pruning the first few years.
• Native azalea (Rhododendron spp.) flowers also attract hummingbirds. Available in flamboyant shades of orange, yellow, and pink, these natives are distinguished by honeysuckle-shaped blossoms, which explain their local name, honeysuckle azalea.
• Combining petunias with other plants, such as red salvias, can create stunning hummingbird container gardens. Calibrachoa, a smaller flowered relative of the petunia, is an excellent selection for lightly shaded window boxes, and will bloom throughout the summer.
• Flowering quince (Chaenomeles), red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) are other wonderful plants to consider. Dianthus chinensis x barbatus ‘Bouquet Purple’ is an outstanding cultivar for hummingbirds and blooms almost continuously throughout the year.
• A less conventional hummingbird plant is the Southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium). Surprisingly, this shrub, adored for its fruit, is also cherished for its blossoms. Hummingbirds and bees are both attracted to the nectar of the lovely flowers.
Late summer heralds the return migration of hummingbirds. Bright new offspring flit like jewels to feeders and flowers. To attract these tiny creatures, consider adding a variety of Cuphea, firespike (Odontonema strictum), Salvia, flowering vines and other plants that will bloom until the first frost.
• Cupheas are irresistible to hummingbirds. I’ve enjoyed many magical moments watching aerial displays as hummingbirds feast on the flower nectar. Several varieties are available both as perennials and annuals. The largest, giant cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala), is a true garden giant, growing up to 4 feet tall and almost as wide. Large, tubular orange blossoms tipped in yellow cover the plant from July until frost. This plant is stunning planted next to forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis), a late-blooming salvia of similar size.
Cuphea ignea, a smaller version of the cigar plant, blooms continuously from May until frost. This plant grows to 15 inches in height and is quite versatile, performing well in pots as a specimen or in mass plantings in a flowerbed. Once established, the cigar plant is durable and drought tolerant.
One delightful species, Cuphea llavea, has flowers that look like a little mouse with bright red ears and a pointed purple nose. Growing to 2 feet in height, the common name is “bat face cuphea,” but other cultivars are available with names such as ‘Tiny Mice’ and ‘Bunny Ears’. A perennial in frost-free areas, this delightful plant will charm not only you, but the hummingbirds too.
• Firespike (Odontonema strictum) is another stunning hummingbird nectar plant. Lush with tropical-looking foliage, this perennial blooms with red spikes from July to frost. This is one of the few hummingbird plants that will flower in sun or shade. In full sun, growth will be 5 feet or more. In shade, the plant is more delicate and slightly smaller.
• Available in a wide range of colors and sizes, salvias can add a connoisseur’s touch to your hummingbird garden. Salvia guaranitica is an exceptional perennial and highly attractive to hummingbirds. One variety, ‘Black and Blue’, is striking with its rich blue blossoms and black stems. To create a true masterpiece, combine this salvia with golden-leafed plants such as ‘Gold Mound’ Spiraea or golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’).
If your garden is moist and not well drained, consider bog sage (Salvia uliginosa). This salvia can grow to 4 to 5 feet with airy, baby blue blossoms. Although very aggressive in wet soils, used in the right situation, bog sage makes an interesting garden accent. Versatile, the plant also performs well in a drier garden soil where its invasive nature is more easily controlled.
Red and orange are the flower colors that are noticed first by hummingbirds flying overhead such as this pineapple sage (Salvia elegans).
Photo by Kathy Homsey
Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’ has arching whirls of wine-colored flower spikes. Tolerant of light shade, this salvia will overwinter in frost-free zones. Another tender perennial that is delightful for its bloom and pineapple scent is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). Hummingbird sage or scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) is a reseeding type available in red, coral, pink and white flowering varieties. Many salvias are available for every aspect of your garden, in shade or sun; best of all, they are perfect for attracting hummingbirds.
Vines That Attract Hummingbirds In The Summer Garden
The trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a native plant that blooms from May to November. A hybrid form, Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’, sports dark orange blossoms. Although beautiful, this vine has a rampant nature, growing 20 to 30 feet in one season. Control is easier if you place it where you can mow around it. Each winter, cut back the woody growth by 95 percent to promote flowering on new growth.
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is another native plant that flowers from early spring throughout summer. This vine is drought tolerant and will flourish in almost any conditions. Very hardy in Zones 6 to 9, it spreads by suckers if not managed. Hummingbirds love this vine.
Tidier vines for hummingbirds are hyacinth bean vine (Dolichos lablab), firecracker vine (Manettia cordifolia), Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata) and scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus). The firecracker vine is a personal favorite of mine with a dainty growing habit close to 6 feet. From about July 4 until frost, this vine sports tubular red blossoms that will pop like a firecracker when squeezed before they open.
Other vines such as cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and cardinal vine (I. x multifida) will also attract hummingbirds but are considered very aggressive and should be planted with care. Red morning glories (I. purpurea) and canary creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum) are other vines to consider.
The ruby-throated hummingbird will feast, actually trying to get fat, for its winter migration to Central America and Mexico. Many plants that bloom in summer will continue until frost. Porterweed (Stachytarpheta), Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and Abutilon liberally contribute their nectar to these hungry birds.
The cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is an exceptional garden beauty. This member of the bluebell family is in full bloom from September to frost. Enjoying moist sites, stream banks and swamps, this native perennial will dazzle hummingbirds with bright red blossoms. If you lack such a site, consider planting in a water garden or in a pot with a water tray. Cardinal flower will also grow well in a flowerbed with good garden soil.
When cooler autumn temperatures arrive, it’s a good time to plant annuals to add to the bounty. Red snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), petunias (Petuniax hybrida) and the very adaptable Calibrachoa are great choices.
In late July through mid-November, the ruby-throated hummingbirds start their migration back to Mexico and Central America. Shorter days trigger this response, so keeping a feeder up in your landscape will not delay the hummingbirds’ trip.
To attract “winter” hummingbirds, keep your feeders fresh, provide fruit such as banana peels to attract small insects, and provide flowers for nectar. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is an excellent choice.
Spring gardens are very important for ruby-throated hummingbirds as they begin their nesting season with a long journey from wintering ground in Central America or Mexico. In just one day and night, many of the birds will fly hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival, the weakened birds search for the nectar from spring blossoms and shelter. Other hummingbirds will follow the coastline from Mexico. From the coast, hummingbirds continue their migration to ranges as far north as Canada.
In any backyard, you can create a hummingbird garden by including a variety of spring-, summer- and fall-blooming plants. Plan to include water and shelter for a captivating sanctuary for these tiny, flying jewels of nature.
(From Kentucky Gardener Volume III Issue V.)