Garden Guide to a Hummingbird Hanging Basket
Garden tips to planting a hanging basket to attract Hummingbirds to your yard.
By Kris Wetherbee, Oakland, Oregon
Attract hummingbirds to your backyard by planting a hanging basket, sure to lure them in.
Hanging flower baskets are a great way to brighten the view almost anywhere. But if you plant blooms that also attract hummingbirds, the scene can be even more spectacular.
Imagine several gorgeous hummingbirds hovering around your hanging baskets, each vying for a dining spot. And once they find your flowers, it's likely they'll return again and again all season long. Luckily, it's not difficult to make that dream a reality. Just start with the simple tips and ideas on these pages.
1. Select the Right Flowers
There are several factors to consider when choosing flowers that will thrive in hanging baskets and attract hummingbirds.
Nectar. First, look for nectar-rich, tubular blooms, such as those on penstemon, salvia and petunia. Hummers are able to access the nectar easily with their long, narrow bills and tongues.
Plant form. Since hummers typically feed while hovering, flowers that stick out from a plant's foliage, by either protruding or dangling, provide ample air space so the birds' beating wings easily clear any leaves.
Color. People often associate hummingbirds with the color red, and for good reason. These inquisitive birds can see red from a great distance, so offering nectar-rich flowers in crimson shades should always get their attention. However, they'll eagerly sip nectar from flowers in almost any hue, including orange, pink, purple, white and yellow.
Number of flowers. The amount of blooms a plant produces also plays a big role in attracting these tiny birds. Plants with multiple flowers in open clusters are more appealing than plants like hibiscus that feature a small selection of large blooms.
Think about it from their perspective. How much more enticing is a buffet table laden with multiple food offerings than several tables spaced 10 feet apart, each featuring only a few dishes of food?
Bloom time. Plants with a long flowering season will provide nectar for an extended period of time. Another way to achieve this is to choose flowers with staggered bloom times—whether in one basket or by offering several hanging baskets.
2. Basket Basics
Hummingbirds aren't going to care what type of container you use—whether you select plastic, wood, pottery or a wire basket lined with sphagnum moss. However, the size of the planter will affect its upkeep and placement.
Hanging baskets for hummers should be at least 12 inches in diameter. Lightweight pots or smaller containers are easier to handle, but larger containers hold more plants, make for a more eye-catching display and keep plant roots moist longer.
Just remember that a heavy pot or large container can easily weigh 50 pounds or more when filled with damp soil and plants. These will need heavy-duty hooks and require strong support.
3. Compose the Display
The sky's the limit when it comes to the variety of flowers and foliage that work well in hanging baskets. You can always count on traditional hummingbird favorites—geraniums, fuchsias, nasturtiums, petunias, lantana and impatiens, for instance—to create a spectacular hanging display.
But even vines and upright perennials, such as garden phlox, veronica or penstemon, can look attractive in larger baskets and appeal to a hummingbird's appetite. Here are some other design factors to consider:
Color and texture. A combination of both foliage and flowers creates the most alluring effect. For example, the purple foliage of some coral bell cultivars add drama, while the blooms provide nectar. Combine different leaf shapes or forms for a striking arrangement, and create special tactile interest by using plants with different textures.
Height and form. Bring depth and visual interest to your hanging garden by combining plants with staggered heights and habits. For example, you could place mounding or upright plants, such as salvia, penstemon or zinnias, toward the center of the pot, then accent with trailing plants—such as verbena, parrot's beak or trailing petunias—positioned along the outer edges to spill over the sides.
Plant requirements. No matter what combinations you select, be sure that plants destined to share the same basket also share similar water and light needs.
4. Put It Together
Now that you know what you'll be planting, it's time to gather the materials needed to make your baskets. Start with the soil. A good lightweight potting mix is a must, preferably one that includes peat moss and perlite or vermiculite to provide aeration and drainage.
Plan the arrangement. It's a good idea to set out your plants ahead of time to figure out the best arrangement. The spacing needed between each plant will depend on the varieties and the container you've selected, and the nature of the plant's growth habits and characteristics.
Smaller plants can be spaced closer together than larger plants, so the total number will vary. But as a general rule, a 12-inch container will house about five to seven plants. Wire baskets fit more plants since you can also plant in the sides.
Time to plant. Once you've determined the arrangement, fill the pot two-thirds full with potting mix and plant the largest plants and those in the center first, followed by the smaller plants and those around the outer edges of your container.
Be sure to place the plants at the original depth as they were in their containers. Then secure them in place with additional soil and water well. Wire baskets are a bit different because in addition to the top, both the sides and even the bottom of the container can be planted, creating a colossal sphere of living color.
Line the basket with a thick layer of damp sphagnum moss or a preformed fiber mat liner. Plant the bottom and sides by poking holes through the moss or liner and gently pushing in the plants' roots from the outside. Add potting mix and secure the roots as you work your way toward the top of the basket. Then plant the surface as you would for a regular basket.
1. Hang It Up
When hanging your basket, choose a sunny, sheltered location within easy viewing range so you can watch the hummingbirds up close. Or, if your basket contains low-light garden plants, pick an appropriate spot in the shade.
And don't limit locations to areas near windows—think of the other places you spend time outside. Add pizzazz to boring entrance areas by hanging several baskets near the front door, bring a new dimension to walls and doorways, or add colorful charm to a courtyard. Or, why not expand your hanging garden to a balcony, arbor or gazebo?
Wherever you decide to hang your hummingbird garden, be sure to include a comfortable place nearby where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
Editor's Note: Kris Wetherbee is the author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Other Winged Wonders to Your Backyard.