I’ll never forget the look of amazement on my friends’ faces when a hummingbird buzzed over the patio, past our picnic table right to the bright-red bee balm just a few feet away. Their jaws dropped in amazement. They had never seen a hummingbird that close before. In fact, they’d never even seen a hummingbird!
That’s when my chest swelled. “Oh yeah,” I said. “They come every day at this time.”
“The hummingbirds zip from flower to flower,” I boasted. “It’s part of our dinner routine—to see who spots one from the kitchen window first.”
Judging by the roll of my wife’s eyes, I knew what she was thinking…if they only knew my “lazy-man’s approach” to attracting these iridescent wonders. My secret is simple—plant nectar-filled flowers hummingbirds can’t resist, and kick back and enjoy the show.
Hummingbird gardening is something anyone can try in most parts of the country and, yes, expect success.
You don’t need a huge manicured garden to get started. A simple hanging basket, container or window box packed with mostly red nectar-producing flowers does the trick. And once you see an iridescent hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, I guarantee you’ll want to expand your planting next year to bring in more of these unbelievable birds.
What Is Nectar?
Nectar is nothing more than sugar water produced naturally by all kinds of flowers. Some, like Queen Anne’s lace and zinnias, produce nectar on their shallow clusters of flowers. These attract bees, butterflies and other insects, along with hummingbirds.
The real surefire plants designed to appeal to hummingbirds are deep tube-shaped flowers. Hummingbirds probe these blooms with their long bills and tongues to lap up the energy drink that keeps their high-revving motors humming.
What do the flowers get in return?
“Hummingbirds play a large role in pollination,” explains backyard bird expert George Harrison of Hubertus, Wisconsin. “As hummingbirds dip their bills down into each flower, pollen clings to their bills and feathers so they transfer it from plant to plant.”
The pollen fertilizes the flowers, which produce seeds that ensure their survival.
Reader Marie Harrison of Valparaiso, Florida started her hummingbird garden, admittedly, by accident.
“It was a little bit of luck,” she says. “The first flowers that attracted hummers to my garden were planted simply because I love flowers. When I started noticing the hummingbirds coming to certain flowers, I wanted to attract more of them. So, I started planting the flowers they liked best.”
Among her favorites are red pentas, Turk’s cap lilies, butterfly weed and honeysuckle. Over the years, Marie has learned what many hummingbirds lovers have discovered—if you know exactly what flowers hummingbirds are looking for, you’re almost guaranteed regular visits.
Ready to set out the welcome mat for hummingbirds in your backyard? Here are some tips to get started:
Seeing Red. A patch of red flowers to hummingbirds is like a neon “EAT” sign along a lonely highway. These birds search out nectar from many different colored flowers, but it’s the red ones that really have magnetic drawing power.
Scientists believe hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers because they’ve learned through experience that red tubular flowers contain the most nectar. So anything red—be it a flower, baseball hat or tricycle—triggers their instincts to investigate. That’s why hummingbird feeders usually have red feeding ports.
Tube-shaped Blooms. Many plants on hummingbirds’ hit list are tube-shaped flowers that provide large amounts of nectar deep at the base of their blooms. Hummingbirds can easily reach this sugar water, while bees and most other nectar-loving insects are left out.
Trumpet vine is an excellent example of tube-shaped nectar producers. It offers hummingbirds 10 times more sugar water than other plants!
Less fragrant, more filling. Many flowers hummingbirds flock to surprisingly have little to no scent. And, as nature would have it, there’s a good reason.
Sweet-smelling flowers attract bees and other insects. Hummingbirds, like most birds, have a poor sense of smell. They rely on sight to find food. So, by remaining odor-free, these flowers cater largely to hummingbirds.
Cascading Blooms. Hummingbirds are in a flying class of their own, with th eability to fly forward, backward, hover and even upside down!
Some nectar flowers, like fuchsia, have adapted specifically to accommodate hummingbirds. Their blooms hang downward, so only agile hummingbirds can reach their sweet treat.
Planting Your Hummer Garden
Planting a hummingbird garden is no different than creating a perennial border, mixed container or any other garden. The basics are the same—soil rich in organic matter that drains well will keep the flowers healthy. And healthy nectar plants produce loads of the sweet stuff.
There are hundreds of blooming plants—annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs—that hummingbirds feed from. Which ones should you choose? How should you plant them? It’s easier than you think:
Mix plenty of annuals. Annuals ensure long-blooming flowers that immediately produce nectar, from the time the migratory hummingbirds return north from their tropical winter grounds, until they leave in fall.
Aim for continuous blossoms. Perennials, flowering trees and shrubs are excellent additions to a hummingbird garden, but plan carefully before you plant. Seek a mix of nectar producers that bloom in succession, from early spring to fall.
Plant in clusters. Again, red is a sure bet for attracting hummingbirds. To get their attention, cluster red blooms together so they shout out, “Dinnertime!”
But that doesn’t mean your garden has to be monochromatic. These sweet-toothed birds will gladly feed from any color nectar flower, but use red to draw them in.
Plant low to high. Consider your hummingbird garden as a stadium, placing shorter plants in front of taller ones. This gives the birds a chance to easily get to all the blooms, without plant stems and leaves interfering with their whirring wings. As a bonus, you get to see them better from your patio or window.
Add to existing gardens. You don’t have to start from scratch. Many hummingbird plants blend in beautifully with existing flower gardens.
Deadhead for more blooms. The longer your nectar-producing plants produce flowers, the more hummingbirds you’ll attract.
Even though many of the flowers to attract hummingbirds are low-maintenance annuals and perennials, take time to deadhead blooms before they go to seed.
This keeps the plants pouring energy into flower production…a sure way to convince hummingbirds to stay near your backyard, and come back year after year.