We would like to attract hummingbirds to our garden. What should we plant?
Maureen and Julien Miossec, Albuquerque, NM
Jim Becker, owner of Goodwin Creek Gardens, a nursery specializing in hummingbird-attracting plants in Williams, Oregon, replies: Hummingbirds are voracious feeders, consuming half their weight each day in sugar. This healthy appetite requires several feedings per hour, and the preferred source for sugar and many other nutrients is the nectar produced by certain flowers. In addition to the nectar, hummingbirds also feast on the small insects similarly attracted to nectar-producing flowers. Planting a garden rich in nectar-bearing flowers from early spring until late autumn is the key to attracting these birds and keeping them around for the growing season.
Hummingbirds are particular about their flowers. They have coevolved with many plants, like Penstemon and Salvia, and act as pollinating agents for these flowers. Many of the flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to are long and tubular, a shape that discourages most pollinators like bees from entering. And although they are most often attracted to red, a color recognized by hummingbirds but indistinct to competing insects, they will frequent other colored flowers if they know them to be good sources of nectar.
Flowers that attract hummingbirds grow on all types of plants and can fit into any garden design. Annuals such as lemon mint (Monarda citriodora), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), and spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) produce tubular blooms all summer. Perennials like columbines (Aquilegia spp.), bee balm (Monarda didyma), red hot pokers (Kniphofia spp.), and penstemons (Penstemon spp.) attract hummingbirds during the spring and summer, thrive in full sun to part shade, and are hardy in Zones 4 through 8. Shrubs such as beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) and weigela (Weigela spp.) produce tubular flowers in spring and summer. Both shrubs are hardy in Zones 4 to 8.