For those who enjoy both gardening and bird watching, it is fortunate that there are so many great plants for attracting hummingbirds. Bird watchers desirous of drawing these fine-feathered beauties with nectar-filled flowers will not need to sacrifice landscaping impact at all. It is one of those happy coincidences: Many of the plants that people find attractive are also considered among the best flowers to appeal to hummingbirds.
The variety of plants for attracting hummingbirds is so great that, in the process of building hummingbird gardens, you could also be building a landscape that will be the talk of the neighborhood. In selecting flowers for such gardens, you are not limited to using red flowers, although red is famous for catching the attention of these winged wonders. In this list of flowers commonly used for attracting hummingbirds, you will see lots of red flowers, but also purple, white, orange, pink, and blue hues, too. These flowers are all rich in the nectar that hummingbirds crave.
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Flower Factors to Consider
In addition to being attractive flowers for hummingbirds, the following criteria should be considered when selecting plants:
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Best Choices Among Annuals, Herbaceous Perennials
Long-blooming perennial, bee balm (Monarda didyma) is a fine choice for the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. This member of the mint family with red or light purple blooms likes soil that is slightly acidic and on the moist side. It reaches a maximum of 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide (many cultivars are smaller). Full sun in the North is best; in the South, give it partial shade.
Red columbine (Aquilegia canadense) is a 2-foot-tall perennial for zones 2 to 8. Its blooms are showy and timely: They are perfect for attracting hummingbirds just beginning to return north from their winter homes. Columbine performs well in partial shade.
Blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) is native to North America. Grow it in zones 3 to 9. Two feet tall when in bloom, this plant isn't as showy as the non-native lupines, but native plant enthusiasts will gladly give up a little pizzazz to see hummingbirds sipping nectar from a made-in-America perennial. Give it full sun in the North, partial shade in the South.
Delphinium and hollyhock are two traditional favorites that supply hummingbirds with food. Their value also comes from the heights they reach. Some delphiniums (full sun) can be grown in zones 2 to 9, and they often grow to be 5 feet tall.
Sun-loving hollyhocks (Alcea) often outgrow even the delphiniums and are hardy to zone 3. Technically biennials, hollyhocks self-seed so well that they are usually treated as if they were perennials. Both delphiniums and hollyhocks come in a variety of colors and, due to their stately stature, are an excellent choice to form a back row in a tiered perennial bed.
Seek the 'Lucifer' cultivar of Crocosmia (30 to 36 inches tall and about half as wide) for flowers in the orange-to-red color range. This South African native is "for the birds," while rabbit pests avoid it. Crocosmia plants spring out of corms and should be grown in full sun to partial shade, in zones 5 to 9.
Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) bears fragrant flowers that draw hummingbirds to yards in zones 3 to 8. These perennials can give you a number of different looks, including the variegated leaves of 'Nora Leigh' (24 to 36 inches tall with a width about half that) and the white flowers of the mildew-resistant 'David' cultivar (3 to 4 feet tall, spreading about 2 to 3 feet) that make it a good moon garden plant. Give garden phlox full sun in the North, partial sun in the South.
Cold-hardy to zone 4 or 5, Salvia nemorosa is usually known for its spikes of bluish or purplish flowers. But this perennial salvia also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Many cultivars are available. Size is commonly 18 to 24 inches in height, with a similar spread. The leaves are lance-shaped and give off a pungent aroma. Give Salvia nemorosa full sun and adequate water, and deadhead it, and it will provide color all summer long.
The plants are small, and the flowers on them even smaller, but Heuchera spp. do attract hummingbirds. 'Blondie' is a cultivar of coral bells with yellow flowers for zones 4 to 9. This perennial can take full sun. It's a small (5 inches when not in bloom) plant useful at the front of a perennial border.
Impatiens is a bedding plant that draws hummingbirds. This small annual will grow in shade, giving you a chance to attract hummingbirds to your yard even if you have a small property and even if you don't get much sun on your land. Impatient Lucy doesn't get much bigger than a foot tall, and it commonly flowers in white, red, pink, violet, coral, or purple.
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Best Choices Among Shrubs, Vines, and Trees
Vines and bushes are important to include for those who want to combine effective landscape design with the hobby of watching hummingbirds or butterflies. Bushes can be used as structural elements to form a border to separate two properties. They can be similarly employed within your own property bounds to define distinct outdoor spaces.
Even a driveway can be transformed from a humdrum component of a landscape to an aesthetic achievement if bordered by attractive bushes. A vine-covered arbor can likewise be an important structural element of a landscape, furnishing it with a focal point.
A shrub that has a prime place in sunny hummingbird gardens is Buddleia davidii. It can get 6 to 12 feet tall with a spread of 4 to 15 feet in warm climates. For some growers, that is too big, so consider pruning it back to the ground in late winter or early spring. It will re-emerge from its root system.
If you need a further incentive for pruning butterfly bush, take into account that you get more and bigger blooms on butterfly bush's new growth. Treat butterfly bush as if it were an herbaceous perennial rather than a shrub. Blooms on butterfly bushes can be purple, pink, white, or red, and they usually have an orange throat in the center. Grow this shrub in zones 5 to 10. It can be invasive in some areas, including the Pacific Northwest. A new cultivar, 'Blue Chip,' is touted as a non-invasive alternative.
Catawba rhododendron shrubs (Rhododendron catawbiense) are broadleaf evergreen bushes that have dark-green, leathery foliage. They bear spectacular flowers in the spring that are effective for attracting hummingbirds. This rhododendron shrub is easy to transplant, but, like other rhododendrons, it does require an acidic soil. It grows best in zones 4 to 8 and in partial shade. Blooms can be white, lavender, rose, or the red that hummingbirds love so much. Catawba can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet, with a spread of 4 to 6 feet.
A bigger rhododendron is the 'Red Walloper' cultivar, named for its big, reddish-pink flower heads. It becomes 10 feet x 10 feet and takes full sun to partial shade. It isn't as hardy as Catawba, being suited only to zones 7 to 9. A rhododendron display is most effective when bushes are massed together.
Warning: Rhododendron is toxic; children should not be allowed to ingest any of its plant parts.
Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a late-blooming shrub with an upright growing habit that can reach a height of 8 to 10 feet with a spread of 4 to 6 feet. These bushes profit from pruning and do best in full sun. Blooms can be red, pink, blue, or white. They work well in shrub borders in zones 5 to 9.
Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) produces orange or reddish-orange to salmon flowers throughout most of the summer months in zones 4 to 9. Provide this 40-foot-tall vine with an arbor, trellis, or fence, and let it climb. This vigorous vine needs to be pruned back to keep it "within bounds." Indeed, even in the southeastern U.S. (to which it is native), this vine is sometimes considered a weed. It may be too aggressive or invasive for many gardeners, so do not grow it if you do not want it popping up all over your yard. It does best in full sun to partial shade.
Honeysuckle vines can be grown in full sun to partial shade. Magnifica honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'Magnifica'), with its large, scarlet flowers that attract hummingbirds, can be grown in zones 3 to 9. Unlike trumpet vine, this 10-to-20 foot plant is a true creeper, meaning a bit more maintenance is required to get it to climb a trellis, thereby achieving the best display.
Lonicera sempervirens is sometimes called "trumpet honeysuckle," so do not confuse it with trumpet vine. Both may have "trumpet" in their common names, but, as you can see from their scientific names, they are two totally distinct plants. Hall's Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica 'Halliana'; zones 4 to 9) is a 15-foot-tall vine hardy to zone 5 and valued for its tricolored (yellow, orange, red) floral show.
As its name suggests, the cardinal vine (Ipomoea x multifida) has a striking red bloom. This 10-to-15-foot vine must be treated as an annual north of zone 6. Grow it in full sun. A more commonly grown plant in the same genus that attracts hummingbirds is Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue.' The latter is the annual vine that's famous for bearing those wonderfully sky-blue flowers on vines 10 feet tall.
Do not confuse cardinal vine with "cardinal flower" (Lobelia cardinalis), a perennial (zones 2 to 7) that also attracts hummingbirds. Because it likes moist soil, Lobelia cardinalis is an excellent choice for the rim of a water garden. It reaches 2 to 4 feet tall, with a spread half of that.
Lantana plants (Lantana camara) are perennials in zones 8 to 10, where they become 6 feet tall, with a spread of 8 feet. But, in colder climates, Lantana plants are more often used as annuals for hanging baskets and stay much smaller. The 'Spreading Sunset' cultivar has a flower head with gold centers surrounded by an orange that later fades to pink. Like most of the entries on the list, these plants are sun-lovers.
Another hummingbird magnet normally found in hanging baskets in the North is Fuchsia. Unlike Lantana, this one should be grown in shade. It is even more tender than Lantana (zone 10 or 11). Flower color is commonly pink, purple, red, white, or violet, and the most popular types have bicolored flowers. It is shrubby and becomes 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.
A tree that attracts hummingbirds is silk tree, or "mimosa" (Albizia julibrissin). It's a member of the pea family. At the southern end of its range, this vigorous Chinese exotic quickly naturalizes in areas disturbed by humans. It is considered an invasive plant in the southeastern U.S. Its puffy, pink flowers are aromatic, and its nectar attracts hummingbirds in zones 6 to 9. It stands 20 to 40 feet with a canopy that can be as wide as 50 feet. Locate this tree in full sun to partial shade.
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When drawing a landscape plan to determine what goes where in a new landscape layout, landscape designers divide the property into "activity zones." In this case, the activity zones will focus on viewing hummingbirds as they feed on nectar. A diverse group of plant types serves different functions:
- Vines: The vine plants selected should be allowed to grow on arbors for the best impact. Position the arbor so that you will be able to watch the hummingbirds from a window inside your home.
- Shrubs: Mass the shrub plants in a border or on a landscaping berm to form sheltered areas. Breaking up a large, flat expanse is important, not only for visual effect but particularly when trying to attract secretive wildlife.
- Hanging plants: Sketch a patio into your plan to house the hanging plants selected. If your patio will be shaded, use Fuchsia hangers, not Lantana. It is often convenient to combine patios with pergolas or arbors since the latter will give you a place from which to hang your patio's hanging plants.
- Flower bed and hardscape: Perennial flower beds are the finishing touch, to be implemented at the very end. You would want to work on hardscape elements first, such as arbors and patios. Next comes the planting of the larger plants, such as the silk tree and the shrubs. It is only after all this heavy work is done that you would want to plant your annuals or perennials in beds or install your Fuchsia or Lantana hangers. Otherwise, you unnecessarily expose fragile plants to the risk of damage.