how to attract hummingbirds

Whether you’ve spent months perfecting flowerbeds, trimming the hedges and clipping the grass for a magazine-perfect backyard, or are just getting started on your outdoor oasis, the sight of tiny hummingbirds flitting through the air is like icing on the cake to any outdoor area.

To attract hummingbirds to your garden or patio, you can strategically plant specific flowers, shrubs and trees to create a hummingbird habitat, or simply make nectar in your kitchen to supply a hummingbird feeder. By catering to their preferences, you will likely see these tiny beautiful visitors in your garden come springtime.

Turning your garden into their home

The ideal habitat for a hummingbird consists of trees, shrubbery, and flowers that provide shelter and produce nectar. Adding a water-misting feature will make your garden an especially attractive home to hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds seek the nectar that is the sweet liquid found inside certain flowers. There are several types of flowering plants that attract hummingbirds due to their natural production of nectar; in fact, you may already have a few in your yard. Tulip poplars and sourwood are both common plants that hummingbirds enjoy. When selecting plants to attract hummingbirds, you don’t need to opt for red, tubular flowers because hummingbirds have the keen ability to seek out nectar from various types and colors of flowers.

Which plants and flowers attract hummingbirds?

There are many shrubs, vines, and flowers from which to choose. The following is a list of the top 10 native plants that attract hummingbirds in order of preference, compiled by Ruby-Throated Hummingbird researcher Bill Hilton Jr. (1)

top 10 hummingbird flowers

  1. Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans
  2. Beebalm or Oswego tea, Monarda didyma
  3. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  4. Spotted jewelweed, Impatiens capensis
  5. Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica
  6. Red columbine, Aquilegia canadense
  7. Canada lily, Lilium canadense
  8. Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
  9. Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia
  10. Mountain rosebay or Catawba rhododendron, Rhododendron catawbiense

more hummingbird plants

Other flowers, trees, and vines from which to choose include:

Perennials

  • Canna
  • Coral Bells, Heuchera
  • Four O’Clocks, Mirabilis jalapa
  • Foxglove, Digitalis
  • Hosta
  • Hummingbird Mint, Agastache
  • Little Cigar
  • Lupin
  • Penstemon
  • Yucca

Annuals

  • Beard Tongue (and other penstemons)
  • Firespike, Odontonema strictum
  • Fuchsia
  • Impatiens
  • Jacobiana, Justicia carnea
  • Petunia
  • Various Salvia species

 

Trees and shrubs

  • Azalea
  • Butterfly Bush, Buddleia
  • Cape Honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis
  • Cigar plant, Cuphea ignea
  • Flame Acanthus
  • Flowering Quince, Chaenomeles
  • Giant Blue Sage, Salvia guaranitica
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Shrub verbena, Lantana
  • Manzanita
  • Mimosa
  • Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans
  • Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca
  • Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus
  • Weigela

Vines

  • Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamoclit
  • Morning Glory
  • Scarlet Runner Bean, Phaseolus coccineus

 

Tips for growing plants for hummingbirds:

  • Plants require plenty of energy from the sun to produce nectar so be sure to cultivate your garden for optimal sunlight.
  • We recommend using local flowering plants because non-native species (especially Japanese Honeysuckle) can become invasive.
  • Choose plants that bloom at different times of the year so that there is a source of nectar throughout the season.
  • Skip the pesticides because the chemicals could be toxic to hummingbirds. Plus, hummingbirds are carnivores and would prefer you left their prey, such as aphids, mosquitoes, and gnats, alive.

Hummingbird feeders

After you’ve made sure your garden is flourishing with hummingbird favorites, you may also decide to include hummingbird feeders to increase the odds that hummingbirds will choose your garden over your neighbor’s. Hummingbird feeders can be found in most home improvement stores, just be sure to select a feeder that is red or has red on it. To add an extra touch of red, you can tie a red ribbon to the feeder before hanging it. Because hummingbirds are territorial over their food sources, it may be preferential to purchase multiple feeders to hang on different sides of your house in order to attract more birds.

attracting hummingbirds
(photo by AnnCam)

Homemade nectar recipe

Creating nectar in your kitchen is quick and easy, and it is just as tasty to hummingbirds as store-bought bottles of hummingbird liquid. You only need two ingredients: water and sugar.

recipe for hummingbird nectar

Simply stir together four parts water with one part sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Keep the liquid boiling for 1-2 minutes and then allow it to cool completely before pouring into your feeder. Store excess nectar in the refrigerator.

Tips for Hummingbird Feeders:

  • Do not use red food coloring because it could be harmful to the birds. Plus it is unnecessary to color the nectar since your hummingbird feeder is already red.
  • Empty and clean your hummingbird feeder twice per week in the summer and once per week during spring and fall. Simply rinsing with boiling water will suffice.
  • Fill your feeder only about half-full because the hummingbirds will likely not be able to drink all of the nectar before it needs to be replaced.
  • Worried about pests? Many hummingbird feeders are designed to prevent access for ants and bees. However, hummingbirds may splash droplets of nectar when they drink. If you notice bees, simply wipe the outside of your feeder with a wet cloth.
  • You can leave your feeder up throughout the winter, but be sure to clean it once per week.

My garden is ready, when will the hummingbirds arrive?

Hummingbirds* migrate south in the winter to follow their food supply of bugs and insects, and to stay warm. They begin traveling north as early as January where they can be seen in southern United States. More of the country will see hummingbirds around March or later, and southern Canada should spot hummingbirds by late May. Their return south begins around late August or early September.

Now that you are equipped with the essentials on how to attract hummingbirds, you may choose to start small with a hummingbird feeder or two, or go all out by optimizing your entire garden. Like any wild species, hummingbirds have basic needs of food and shelter, and by providing a safe habitat complete with trees, shrubs, and flowers that produce nectar, hummingbirds are likely to be drawn to your garden next spring.

Do you have a garden fit for hummingbirds? Tell us about it in the comments below!

*This information based on Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Sources:

  • Chambers, Lanny. “Migration Basics.” Hummingbirds.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
  • (1) Hilton, Bill, Jr. “Everything About Hummingbirds.” Operation Ruby Throat. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

top 10 hummingbird flowers

  1. Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans
  2. Beebalm or Oswego tea, Monarda didyma
  3. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  4. Spotted jewelweed, Impatiens capensis
  5. Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica
  6. Red columbine, Aquilegia canadense
  7. Canada lily, Lilium canadense
  8. Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
  9. Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia
  10. Mountain rosebay or Catawba rhododendron, Rhododendron catawbiense

more hummingbird plants Other flowers, trees, and vines from which to choose include: Perennials

  • Canna
  • Coral Bells, Heuchera
  • Four O’Clocks, Mirabilis jalapa
  • Foxglove, Digitalis
  • Hosta
  • Hummingbird Mint, Agastache
  • Little Cigar
  • Lupin
  • Penstemon
  • Yucca

Annuals

  • Beard Tongue (and other penstemons)
  • Firespike, Odontonema strictum
  • Fuchsia
  • Impatiens
  • Jacobiana, Justicia carnea
  • Petunia
  • Various Salvia species

Trees and shrubs

  • Azalea
  • Butterfly Bush, Buddleia
  • Cape Honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis
  • Cigar plant, Cuphea ignea
  • Flame Acanthus
  • Flowering Quince, Chaenomeles
  • Giant Blue Sage, Salvia guaranitica
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Shrub verbena, Lantana
  • Manzanita
  • Mimosa
  • Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans
  • Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca
  • Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus
  • Weigela

Vines

  • Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamoclit
  • Morning Glory
  • Scarlet Runner Bean, Phaseolus coccineus