Here in Montana, we have hummingbirds in the summer months. Unfortunately for me, they concentrate in certain areas and not necessarily in my yard. But it isn’t for lack of trying. It is always worth growing plants that attract hummingbirds. After all, they are the same plants that other pollinators such as butterflies and bees like as well, and don’t we love to see how our gardens are interacting with nature?
What do Hummingbirds Need?
The biggest priority for hummingbirds is energy. You’d need a constant supply of energy, too, if you were burning it off so fast. They are tiny but they are mighty. Mighty fast with nowhere to store energy reserves. Overnight, these tiny birds will go into a torpor which slows their metabolism by as much as 95%. Crazy. When they wake in the morning, they are ready to start feeding right away. And what they need is nectar. This is why it is important to always have a hummingbird feeder on your property. We’ve found it is usually the first place they will visit in the morning.
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Not all flowers are suited for hummingbirds. Wisteria vines, for example, may seem the perfect attractant, but the shape of the flowers aren’t ideal for hummingbirds to access the nectar. For this reason, Wisteria isn’t a primary source of nectar for them, though these buzzing birds may spend time around Wisteria flowers during their hunt for better sources.
These birds also need water. Birdbaths, especially those with moving water, will make your yard comfortable for hummingbirds. If you have a small fountain, these birds have been known to fly in and out of it, having the time of their lives. Placing flat rocks in the birdbath also helps give your tiny visitors someplace to land as they drink. Rock platforms in the water are perfect for bees and butterflies as well.
Shelter is important for all of us, including hummingbirds. It doesn’t actually take much. A tree here. A bush there. It’s amazing what will suit them once they find a good food source nearby. Shelter is also an important place for them to find shade. In the heat of the summer, we’ve observed hummingbirds feeding at the feeder and hanging plants when they are in shade. It makes sense that the intense wing beats they produce can make them pretty warm. So don’t worry about plants that need full sun, because hummingbirds may appreciate them more once the sun passes them by and they are shaded.
What Should You Plant to Attract Hummingbirds?
It’s time to choose our plants to place in the garden. Plants with long blooming seasons work best, but concentrate mostly on having multiple flowers in bloom for them from Spring to Fall. Our yard only hosts hummingbirds for a very short period in the middle of summer, sometimes late summer. While there are some Spring flowers in this list, it is going to be best to have the most flowers blooming when you know hummingbirds are going to around.
Salvia is a leafy plant which have spikes of either red or blue flowers throughout the season. Salvia is a perennial, even in my climate, and is easy to grow. It will spread without much effort and before you know it, you’ll have lots of food for butterflies, bees, and of course, hummingbirds. I cut off the spent blooms and Salvia will send out new flowers fairly quickly. This is a wonderful, low maintenance plant.
Bee Balm, also called Monarda, is well known for attracting bees and hummingbirds. Bee balm reseeds itself very easily. While each stalk usually has only one bloom, they can prolong their season by having multiple plants growing at different stages. Bee balm will start blooming about mid-summer and can continue into the fall. I’ve found that all but the hardiest cultivars are subject to powdery mildew by the end of the season. Cut them down to within an inch of two of the ground at the end of the season, and they will return the next year without any problem.
Honeysuckle can be grown as a shrub or a vine. This is one of the earlier bloomers, starting to flower in mid to late Spring. You may find that it will flower again during the Summer or Fall, but it is doubtful the flush of blooms will be nearly as plentiful as they are in the Spring. If hummingbirds aren’t buzzing around your honeysuckle, you can be sure the bees are. I have seen multiple honeysuckle bushes get absolutely devastated by aphids. I’m not sure this is a bad thing for the birds though, since part of a hummingbird’s diet consists of small insects. I know there is no way they could consume as many aphids as my poor honeysuckle bush had, though. If you plant this bush or vine, just be prepared to do some insect patrol on a regular basis.
As you may know, fuchsia is one of my favorite hanging plants. And hummingbirds love them. We hang them outside our front window and can watch the birds buzz around feeding on the flowers on a regular basis. Once again, we’ve observed that they tend to feed on these flowers when the sun has moved far enough that the plants are in shade. Fuchsias can also attract insects so be prepared to inspect them on a regular basis.
I’ve been told that butterfly bushes, also known as buddleia, are wonderful attractants for all sorts of fauna. I’ve yet to successfully grown one. I’m beginning to think it’s time for me to give one a try in a pot so I can protect it over the winter. If the butterfly bush with it’s large spikes of fragrant flowers, is hardy in your growing zone, be sure to give it a try. It is one of those plants that would provide hummingbirds both food and shelter and would be a perfect centerpiece for any hummingbird garden.
If you don’t grow petunias already, it’s time to rethink that decision. They are another one that is perfect for hanging baskets and railing planters. And, once again, hummingbirds love them. I grown them directly under my fuchsias, and the hummingbirds hang around for quite a while going from flower to flower. The best part is that they bloom continuously, even well into the cooler weather. So if the hummingbirds hang around a little late in the year, you will always be providing them with a ready food supply.
Columbines bloom in early Spring. They are usually right behind the daffodils in when you’ll see their blooms open up. If you live in an area where hummingbirds arrive early in the Spring, columbines may be your answer. They propagate quite easily from seed all by themselves so there’s no need to worry about planting more. Plant several and you’ll find them spread all over the place. I don’t find them invasive in the least, and they go dormant fairly early also so they don’t crowd out any other plants. The bell-shaped flowers are perfect for hummingbirds and bees to access the nectar and pollen. They also come in a variety of colors to suit your color scheme.
Geraniums are another annual, just like petunias and fuchsias. Yet they are another one that blooms constantly right up until frost. Zonal geraniums send up long stalks with a globe of flowers at the end. They come in a multitude of colors these days so I’m always looking to add to my collection. My favorite is the bright red, which is a good choice for hummingbirds. They can see red from very far away and then once they swoop in, they’ll find all the other luscious flowers you’ve planted. Martha Washington geraniums are also a good option. If you have warm nights, though, you may not be able to keep them in bloom. They need some cool temps at night which is why they are so popular here in Montana.
Weigela bushes, like butterfly bushes, are an excellent addition to any hummingbird garden. They can grow between four and six feet tall and just as wide. Don’t be afraid to prune them to keep them the size you prefer. Their flowers are generally bell-shaped and come in a variety of colors. They are known for blooming profusely, which is exactly why we want a bush like this in the hummingbird garden. Weigelas are hardy to Zone 4.
Zinnias are the mainstays of the cutting garden. These annuals produce one flower per stalk so be sure to plant plenty of them. They are perfect to put along your front walk every year as they come in so many different flower shapes and colors. Their bright colors attract hummingbirds and are a perfect addition to the garden for every pollinator you can think of. Grow them from seed or buy flats of them at the garden center, just be sure to have enough. Zinnias also bloom all Summer long and into the Fall.
So what are you waiting for? Get planning and planting your hummingbird garden this season. Seeing hummingbirds up close just makes you smile. You can’t help it! And you’ll laugh at their territorial antics if another bird or even a bee gets too close to them. They can be aggressive little things. Because you’ll be able to see these bold little birds up close, be sure to have your camera ready. You won’t be sorry!