Hummingbirds are important garden helpers that also add an element of grace and beauty. Watching them dart around the yard, hover over a flower to sip its nectar, or even fly backwards to avoid a predator is like watching an aerial acrobatics show. But they’re not just fascinating to watch—they are active pollinators and help to control insect pests by consuming them in large numbers for the protein they need to fuel their long and intense flights.
Most species of hummingbirds migrate hundreds or thousands of miles each year and more and more of their natural habitats are being lost to human development. Your garden, however, can offer a vital stop-over for them along the way. Adding nectar-rich, flowering plants to your garden provides them with much-needed food along their migratory route. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, so the scent doesn’t matter; you will see them feeding most often from brightly colored and tubular-shaped flowers, such as salvias and aloes. The following list, from the UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program, includes plants that hummingbirds are most likely to be attracted to:
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)
Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus)
Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles spp.)
Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus)
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit)
Morning Glory (Ipomoea violacea)
Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)
Bee Balm (Monarda)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Firespike (Odontonema strictum)
Hummingbird Mint (Agastache)
Hummingbird Plant (Dicliptera suberecta)
Little Cigar (Cuphea)
Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana)
Four O’Clocks (Mirabilis)
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Follow these steps to create a safe and welcoming environment for hummingbirds that offers food, water, and places to rest and nest:
A variety of plants from the above lists
Sugar syrup (recipe below)
Water dish or bird bath
Provide Plants for Food. Plant several of the nectar-producing plants listed above. Selecting plants that bloom at different times will provide year-round food sources—for example, manzanita (blooming winter to early spring) and salvia (blooming spring to fall).
Install Feeders. Provide feeders filled with a simple sugar syrup (one part white cane sugar dissolved in four parts boiling water, then cooled to room temperature). Each time you refill the feeder, flush it out with very hot water, and once a month soak it in a dilute bleach solution (1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water).
Add Water. Keep a water dish or bird bath with fresh water for the birds to drink and bathe in.
Provide Shelter. Plant trees and tall shrubs to provide small branches and twigs for hummingbirds to rest on and build nests.
Encourage Nesting. Allow spider webs to remain in the garden—they are the glue the birds use to hold their delicate nests together.
Go Organic. Avoid using chemical pesticides in the garden. Not only can they be directly harmful to hummingbirds, they also reduce the number of small insects that the birds depend on as a source of protein. If a pest problem develops, opt for integrated pest management practices, which aim to control pests without harming beneficial insects and other animals.