What’s the most effective way to attract hummingbirds to your yard? While a few well-stocked nectar feeders could do the trick, your best bet is to create an environment that fully caters for their needs. That means combining trees, shrubbery, turf and flowers for a hummer-friendly habitat — one that keeps the birds nourished while sheltering them from predators.
Transforming your yard into such a space isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. You just need to choose the right plant varieties and let nature do the rest; maintenance will only take a few hours a year. To help you get started, here’s a list of top hummingbird flowers along with tips for choosing the right ones.
Commonly known as beard tongue, penstemon is a perennial flower that thrives in the western half of the US. It comes in over 300 varieties, most of which are deciduous with stems growing 3-4 feet high. The plant requires well-drained soil in partial-to-full sun, but is hardy enough to survive a mild drought. Penstemon blooms in May to August with red, pink, lavender or white blossoms. The long, tubular flowers with flaring lips will be a delight for hummingbirds.
A perennial, deciduous shrub with dense, rounded foliage, Weigela puts on a display of red/pink blossoms in spring and summer. It can grow up to 10 feet in both length and spread. While it blooms best in full sun, the plant is adaptable enough to thrive in part shade as well.
Zinnias are native to both Americas, but have a far bigger presence in the North. They’re popular in the cut flower trade thanks to their heavy blossoms that gush in color. Perched atop upright stems that grow up to 4 feet, these bloom repeatedly throughout the summer and into mid-autumn.
Cultivars are available in a broad range of hues, including pink, red, orange and yellow. Feel free to mix them up for a colorful show. Zinnias should be relatively easy to grow, being annuals; they generally prefer moist soil in full sun.
4Pineapple sage (Salvia spp.)
This clump-forming annual plant is native to the Americas. It prefers full sunny locations with dry to medium moisture soil. The flowers range in color from purple and pink to mauve, and usually emerge in mid June. These could stay in bloom till late summer if provided with enough moisture. The Salvia genus has both annual and perennial species, with the latter being more prevalent.
Lupines have elongated spikes of flowers that bloom in various hues (purple, orange, pink etc), and elegant gray-green foliage. Appearing between May and July, these attract hummers in spring before other flowers have emerged. Lupines span several species, but the birds seem to like every one of them.
Wild lupines are native to Andes and Mediterranean mountains; these don’t fare in home gardens. A few hybrid varieties have been developed, though. These thrive in sunny areas with well-drained, slightly-acidic soils, and can grow up to 4 feet tall.
Foxgloves will bring a cottage look and a bit of vertical color to your garden. They come in several shades (white, yellow, lavender, pink, red). The plant is a perennial that reaches 3-8 feet, and 1-3 feet in length and spread respectively. Flowers bloom in spring and summer. Please note that foxglove poses no threat to hummingbirds — they actually relish it, much as it’s poisonous to humans,
The trumpet vine, also called trumpet creeper, is a perennial climbing vine that can grow up to 40 feet long. It has a tendency to spread rather aggressively, so pick a spot carefully. Though native to the southeastern US, the trumpet vine will thrive comfortably just about anywhere. As a hummer attraction, this creeper’s a sure winner. The birds will relish sucking nectar out of the elongated, tubular flowers, and the dense foliage will offer them plenty of nesting room.
8Red Cardinal Flower
Named for the red regalia worn by senior Catholic clergy, the cardinal flower is a perennial that grows up to 4 feet tall. It’s native to Eastern Canada and much of the contiguous US. The plant produces long, bright red tubular flowers that are rich in nectar but too long for most insects. These will light up your garden while providing an exclusive food source for the visiting hummers.
This plant thrives best in shady areas with consistently-moist soil. It has a relatively-short life cycle for a perennial, taking just a couple of years to reach maturity. The flowers appear in mid-to-late summer and stay in bloom for several weeks.
9Annual cypress vine
This twining vine has dark green fern-like foliage festooned with vibrant red blossoms. It’s an annual that grows up to 15 feet long, producing the most flowers in the peak of summer. The plant is native to tropical america, so it’ll do in any location with full sun and well-drained soil.
This is a collective name for all the flower species falling under the genus Aquilegia. You will however want to choose the red variety (referred to as Canadian or wild columbine). This is native to the eastern half of North America. With tubular dark-red flowers that come to full bloom in May, hummers will keep flocking to your garden all summer long. The plant has a perennial life cycle, and grows up to 3 ft high with more-or-less the same width. It prefers shaded areas, but will survive in full sun if watered sufficiently.
11Bird of paradise
You can’t blame hummingbirds for being attracted to the bird-of-paradise. Its orange, flamboyant flowers, set atop stalks that grow up to 5ft high, have lots of nectar on offer. These can stay in bloom all year round, albeit in specific conditions. A native of the South American continent, bird-of-paradise is a perennial that thrives best in well-moisturized soils with lots of nutrients.
Yet another perennial that’s native to North America. Bee balm, known botanically as Monarda didyma, is a herbaceous plant that grows 2-4 feet high. It thrives best in the sun, but will do in any moderate climate with well-drained soil.
You will love bee balm for its pineapple-shaped flower clusters — these’ll light up your garden and keep hummers streaming in. Appearing in mid-summer, the flowers could stay in bloom till late autumn with proper deadheading. The plant itself will need dividing every 2 to 3 years.
You can find a petunia in pretty much any shade, but pink, yellow, blue and purple are the most common. All varieties are native to Argentina, have an annual lifespan, and reach a maximum height of 24 inches. Unless exposed to severe heat, petunias will bloom throughout the summer.
With long, thick clusters of flowers in several shades (pink, purple and blue), this shrub appeals to hummingbirds just as easily as it attracts butterflies. It’s native to Central China, and thrives best in full sun. The blossoms appear repeatedly from mid summer through autumn. Though a perennial, butterfly bush takes a year to mature into full bloom. Plants reach a height of 5-10 feet, providing birds with room to camp all day long.
Rhododendrons are a favorite for hummingbirds thanks to their colorful blossoms. These appear in late may and stay in bloom till the end of summer. Most members of the family originate from the Asian continent.
There is, however, a species that’s native to North America. Known as the Catawba Rhododendron, this is characterized by dark green foliage that stays put all year. The plant prefers partially-shaded locations with well-drained soils. It has a perennial life cycle and can grow 1-12 feet tall.
Hummingbird Flower Selection Tips
Choosing the right flower varieties for your yard will be easier with the following points in mind:
-Always go for native: While some plant species can thrive across several climates, you’re better off choosing ones that already grow naturally in yours. These will be less demanding in maintenance, and local hummingbird species will be familiar with them.
-Factor in availability: Continuing on the above point, it behooves you to select plants whose seeds/seedlings are readily available within your area. If you prefer to shop online, choose an outlet with a solid track record in delivery.
-Consider bloom times: You want flowers that bloom continuously during the time that hummingbirds spend in your area. That’s best achieved by combining several varieties.
-Aim for diversity: Bloom time aside, a good combination should include plants that vary in shape, size and form. This will ensure all visiting hummers have access to the flowers.
Best Places to Buy Hummingbird Flowers
As mentioned earlier, it’s a great idea to start your shopping with local outlets. Visit nurseries and garden centers to see the kind of plants they stock, and how much they sell for. Also look out for plant swaps and plant fairs; it’s a great way to get cheap (or even free) seedlings.
If your search ends up fruitless, or perhaps you dread navigating brick-and-mortar stores, you may head online and browse the following platforms:
-Etsy: Yeah, this isn’t just a crafts outlet. Lots of nurseries are now selling via Etsy, which means you can find pretty much any flower species on their site.
-Amazon: Amazon’s garden shop has made it easier to find for live plants on the site, but you’re better off shopping from Amazon Prime for speedier delivery.
-American Meadows: A store that specializes in gardening supplies, American Meadows have a wide array of blooms available in their greenhouse. Their website (www.americanmeadows.com) will even help you narrow them down based on bloom season, mature height, and other key considerations.
-AliExpress: This platform will let you order based on budget and preferences, but it could take a few days to have your plants delivered.
Tips for Successfully Growing the Flowers
A bird-friendly garden should offer various layers of resources, as you’ll recall. Keep that in mind when planning your garden. You might want to consult a local birdscaper to help you mix up the key ingredients (trees, shrubs, grass etc) in the right proportions. Also do your homework to ensure the flowers you have in mind aren’t listed as invasive species in your state.
Here are a few growing tips to keep in mind once you are done:
-Tidy up: It’s very important that you get rid of hostile plants that may pose a threat to your flowers. The most common culprits include Bush Honeysuckles, Multifora Rose, and grasses like Reed Canary. Nonetheless, you’ll want to consult an expert for advice.
-Nourish the dirt: Successful gardening starts with soil preparation. Adding compost to your garden will improve soil structure, increase the content of micro- and macro-organisms, and help with moisture retention.
-Keep it natural: Avoid using pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers in your garden, as these will pose a threat to the birds. Opt for natural alternatives instead.
-Keep them deadheaded: Removing dead flower heads is key to encouraging reblooming. It’ll also give you some organic matter to use as compost.
-Supplemental watering: This will only be necessary when your area’s experiencing a drought, or if you live in an arid/semi-arid climate. Half an inch of water per week will be enough to keep the plants growing. Just make sure to apply mulch beforehand.
What is a Hummingbird’s Favorite Flower?
Hummers have a soft spot for red-colored, nectar-rich blooms with long, tapered shapes, and which lack any sort of landing pad nearby. These are often inaccessible to other nectar-loving animals, and thus provide selective feeding for the hummers. With that in mind, the most preferable candidates would include bee balm, trumpet vine, and red cardinal.
What Potted Flowers Attract Hummingbirds?
In general, any hummingbird-friendly, small-to-medium flower variety will do. It’s however recommended to choose species that don’t qualify for larval food plants to avoid attracting caterpillars. Plants like firecracker penstemon, pineapple sage and red yucca are well-suited in that regard.
What Color of Flowers Attract Hummingbirds Best?
Hummers can feed from just about any nectar-rich flower, but as pointed out earlier, they tend to choose red hues over other varieties. Their eyes are adapted to pick out bright shades, but red blossoms to stand out better against the natural backdrop of green foliage. As a result, the birds have over time learnt that red usually points towards plentiful sources of nectar.
Alyssa McDuff received a Masters Degree in biology from The University of California. Alyssa has been working as a full-time biologist for the past 4 years. In her spare time, Alyssa writes for several publications including National Geographic and Hummingbird World.