Even the best bird-friendly landscaping may not be useful to hummingbirds, but it is easy to design a hummingbird garden that will attract these desirable backyard birds even to the smallest spaces. Whether the plan is for an entire yard, just one small section or a few containers, a specialized hummingbird garden can be a delightful part of any birder's backyard.
Meeting Hummingbirds' Basic Needs
No matter what size hummingbird garden you want to plan, it is essential that the design incorporates ways to meet all four of these birds' basic needs.
- Food: Hummingbirds are nectivorous but also feed on large quantities of insects, particularly during the nesting season when insects are essential protein for hatchlings' growth. Nectar-rich flowers and supplemental hummingbird feeders are big parts of hummingbird gardens, and the garden should be maintained in a way that is insect-friendly.
- Water: A deep bath or quick stream is less useful to these tiny birds, but misters, drippers and shallow basins are ideal ways to offer water to hummingbirds. If broad-leafed plants are arranged so water can accumulate on the leaves, hummingbirds will also bathe by rubbing on those wet leaves.
- Shelter: Some trees are necessary even in a small hummingbird garden to provide adequate perches and sheltered areas safe from predators or poor weather. Dwarf or ornamental tree varieties are attractive options that can fit in nearly any landscape, and larger mature trees are useful as well.
- Nesting Sites: Hummingbirds are not cavity-nesters and will not use traditional bird houses, but protected shelter and abundant trees will give them good options for nesting. Hummingbirds may nest on clotheslines, wires or other unusual locations, and spider webs should be left available for nesting material.
Designing a Hummingbird Garden
While hummingbirds will visit any backyard that meets their basic needs, a carefully designed garden is not only more attractive to birds, but will offer better views, easier care and more enjoyment for birders. When planning your hummingbird garden, consider…
- Size: A hummingbird garden does not need to be large to be useful, but consider that flowers grow and plants spread when determining the garden's boundaries. A larger garden will accommodate a greater variety of plants and give more birds room to enjoy the offerings.
- Placement: An ideal hummingbird garden will get both sun and shade throughout the day, but will also offer good views to birders from a nearby window, patio or deck. Consider the growing needs – sun and soil type – of flowers you want to include when deciding where to position your garden.
- Shape: A longer, narrower garden will provide more area for the birds to spread out and enjoy, and will have fewer obstructed views of the flying visitors. A slightly curved garden or one with a more flowing shape will be more aesthetically pleasing as well.
- Color: Choose plants with colors that will attract hummingbirds' attention and lure them to your garden. Red and pink shades are the best options, but any colors that attract birds will also be useful for attracting hummingbirds. You can also add accents, such as a gazing ball, statue, paving stones or other decorations to add more color to the garden.
- Structures: If your hummingbird garden will incorporate structures – the side of a shed, a trellis or arbor, garden hooks, etc. – keep them in mind when planning so they are not overwhelmed with the new plants. Position structures to be part of the overall garden design in a useful, practical way.
- Plants: The exact plants you choose will vary depending on your climate, location, soil type and other factors. Choose several of the top flowers for hummingbirds to make your garden a beacon for these little birds. Mix annuals and perennials and choose flowers with staggered bloom times to ensure an abundant food source as long as possible. Flowers that bloom in early spring and late fall are especially valuable, since nectar sources can be scarce at those times.
- Arrangement: Consider plant arrangements carefully to create a tiered effect that will give birds greater access to more food sources without obstructing the best views. Place taller plants and trees either in the center or back of the bed, with shorter plants and mounding varieties in front. Grouping plants with similar watering and fertilization needs together will make caring for them easier as well.
- Supplements: Include space to add hummingbird feeders, water sources and nesting material in your hummingbird garden to make it a one-stop-shop for these flying jewels. These accessories can also become great options for getting great views of hummingbirds as they repeatedly visit the same spot.
Caring for Your Hummingbird Garden
A well-designed hummingbird garden will not need excessive care, and the birds are not fussy about pruning, weeding or other garden chores. Nevertheless, simple care can help make the garden even more useful for hummingbirds.
- Avoid chemical use as much as possible. Even small amounts of herbicides or insecticides can contaminate nectar and be fatal to hummingbirds. Furthermore, using chemicals will eliminate many insects that hummingbirds need.
- Use compost to fertilize the plants and protect the soil, and it will also foster abundant insect life that hummingbirds will happily feed on. Compost will also add rich nutrition to the soil so plants will produce more abundant flowers for a natural nectar supply.
- Care for flowers appropriately to encourage reblooming so they will continue to feed hummingbirds throughout the season. This may mean some pruning, deadheading or otherwise keeping the flowers growing as long as possible.
- Be alert for hummingbird predators and take appropriate steps to keep the garden safe with baffles, sheltered perches and other protection. Work to discourage feral cats and keep other unwelcome guests from taking over your hummingbird garden.
- Take steps to attract butterflies and hummingbird moths as well – they share many characteristics with hummingbirds and butterfly-friendly plants are hummingbird-friendly as well. These insects will also help pollinate flowers for even more blooms hummingbirds can use.
Any size garden, from a simple container to an extensive backyard, can be a delightful hummingbird garden. By meeting these tiny birds' needs and providing them abundant resources, backyard birders will be delighted with their colorful company.