Planting for Hummingbirds

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A hummingbird visits a patch of sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris) in my courtyard garden.

One of the big perks of moving to the west has been an increase in opportunities to create habitat for hummingbirds. I planted many of my new garden plants with an eye toward ensuring nectar sources through the seasons for these fascinating creatures, and I’ve been rewarded by seeing up to four at a time in the garden this year, after only seeing one or two last year.

In order to keep adding and improving hummingbird habitat in my garden, I’m paying attention to the plants they visit, where they spend the most time, their habitual flight paths, and anything else that will give me ideas about what to add more of as I make new planting beds.

I knew that in general, hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers that fit their mouth parts and the way they drink nectar, so I have not been surprised by most of the flowers that they like in my garden. However, I was kind of surprised to see them visiting catnip, which is tiny compared to the other flowers they frequent, and also by their fondness for a mature double-flowered rose of Sharon shrub in my backyard.

Hummingbird favorites currently blooming in my Boise garden — top: double-flowered rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), 2nd row L to R: appleblossom grass (Gaura lindheimerii ‘Rosy Jane’), prince’s plume (Stanleya pinnata), Texas sage (Salvia greggii ‘Salmon Dance’), 3rd row L to R: sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), scarlet bugler (Penstemon barbatus var. coccineus), honeysuckle vine (probably either Lonicera periclymenum or L. caprifolium), penstemon-leaved salvia (S. penstemonoides), bottom left: Arizona columbine (Aquilegia desertorum), bottom right: Transylvanian sage (Salvia transylvanica ‘Blue Cloud’) above a tiny flower of catnip (Nepeta cataria).

The plants I have seen them visit most often and spend the most time drinking at are pineleaf penstemon (P. pinifolius), Arizona columbine (Aquilegia desertorum), meadow sage (Salvia sylvestris ‘Caradonna’), and Transylvanian sage (Salvia transylvanica ‘Blue Cloud’). The penstemon and columbine have both been blooming continuously in my garden since mid-May when the hummers arrived, and the two sages tag-teamed starting in late May and are both currently reblooming.

I plan to spread these staples around because of their obvious usefulness to the birds as a preferred and — in combination — steady and abundant nectar supply. Of course, I will also continue to add different hummingbird plants as well, to boost the garden’s diversity. Planting more nectar sources for them (spreading them out too, to increase the size of their territory) and keeping my garden free of pesticides should increase my chances of seeing more hummingbirds in the garden, in addition to supplying me with plenty of visual interest and fragrance from the blooms.

Behind the prominent red-brown blooms of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), purple-blue Transylvanian sage reblooms on flowerstalks held above its delightfully rough-textured, large leaves. You can see from the photo that I don’t deadhead; I am hoping this hummingbird favorite will self-sow in my garden.

Having heard they must keep flying nearly continuously to eat enough to survive, I’ve been surprised to observe that my hummingbirds perch frequently and for several minutes at a time. They perch on bare twigs and branches, on the tops of tomato cages, and higher on electrical wires. They do a lot of grooming while perched, and they also scan for interlopers — other hummingbirds against which they vigorously defend their favorite plants.

When I set up the sprinkler under a tree, they enjoy darting in and out of it to bathe. I have also been lucky enough to witness their mating dance, in which one bird does a flying pattern in front of another perched one. All in all, they have been a highlight in the garden so far, and I expect hours of entertainment in years to come.

View of my front garden along a stepping stone path (at right).


Posted by

on August 5, 2015 at 6:05 pm, in the category Real Gardens.

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  • So glad to see you growing Salvia transylvanica as it is one of the best for observing the amazing lever action pollinating mechanism that Salvias employ. Next time you are out in the garden bring a pencil or snap off a small twig and insert it into a Salvia floret, pressing down on the lower tongue in there. This will cause two fang-like stamens to emerge from above and dot your pencil with pollen. Here’s the amazing part – if you were a bee it would hit you exactly in that spot on your back that you can’t reach. You know, that place between your shoulder blades that someone else has to scratch for you. The place your “friend” might stick a “kick me” note? Then wait around for it to happen to a real bee. Who needs TV?

    Joe Schmitt 8th August 2016 1:06 pm
  • Well it is Transylvanian.

    Joe Schmitt 24th December 2016 2:59 am
  • I adore hummingbirds and am always trying to encourage them to visit my garden. I’m definitely hanging on to this post for the next time I’m at the nursery. I see a new plant or two in my near future 😉

    admin 2nd February 2017 12:21 am
  • Lucky you! I can’t keep Salvias alive in my garden, but will keep trying.

    admin 26th March 2017 8:12 am
  • Great post! We have some hummers again this year and they are so fun to watch. They like the salvias I have too, as well as others (including my rose of Sharon) Last night one flew right up next to the screen of the gazebo and hovered there peering at us. I think he was saying, “Thanks for all the great plants!”

    Marte 20th May 2017 6:15 pm
  • It would be helpful if each post stated location/zone of the garden on view.

    Susan 10th June 2017 9:03 am
  • Fascinating and educational post. I particularly like the photo of the different flowers and their IDs. Observations of this sort are invaluable to gardeners and birders alike, along with those whose lives are steeped in Nature. Thank you.

    Ruth Rogers Clausen 16th June 2017 7:28 am
  • This is the best reason to plant a garden and shows why more flowers are more fun!

    Deborah 23rd June 2017 5:54 pm

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