People often ask me which plant attracts hummingbirds best. That certainly depends. Sun vs shade is usually my first response. Annual or perennial is the next. For this piece I’ll concentrate on sun loving plants.
My favorite sun loving annuals for hummingbirds are salvia and petunia. Zinnias attract them as well. These plants are all locally available and easy to grow.
Salvia is an upright plant with square stems. The flowers look like they have lips on them and they come in many colors. They are borne on the stems in elongated clusters. Clipping the plants back periodically helps form bushier specimens that tolerate wind better.
Petunias are an old standby. They also come in numerous colors. However, they generally are trailing plants and don’t achieve much height. Flowers are funnel shaped and benefit from deadheading. The wave cultivars are advertised not to require picking off the old flowers, but I’ve found plants still benefit from the practice.
As far as perennials go, lantana and bee balm (Monarda) are great attractants. These are also very available. Daylilies are good too. They are very winter hardy and available at nearly all garden centers. Common colors are yellow and orange, but they also come in peach, red and purple.
There are numerous lantana cultivars to choose from. Some, like ‘Miss Huff’ and ‘New Gold’ are quite winter hardy. ‘Miss Huff’, a multi-color, has an upright growth habit and is tall. ‘New Gold’ is a spreading type and rarely grows taller than your knees. Other varieties are usually less hardy. I’ve found the biggest problem with lantana winter hardiness is wet soil in winter more than extreme cold temperatures.
Bee balm is a hardy upright perennial. Common colors are red and purple. Its biggest problem is powdery mildew and this can affect survival as well as attractiveness.
Probably my favorite hummingbird attracting perennial is Dicliptera, and it is frequently referred to as hummingbird plant or Uruguayan firecracker plant. Dicliptera has grayish colored leaves with a velvety texture. Flowers are bright red. This one is a hummingbird magnet.
If I had to choose a single plant for attracting hummingbirds I’d have to pick the tropical hibiscus. When they are blooming in and around the greenhouses at school the hummingbirds are so thick I feel like I need to wear safety glasses.
I see hummingbirds around rose of Sharon shrubs which are a hardy hibiscus. However, I usually don’t see as many. For some reason the tropical type seems to attract more.
I’m often asked if it’s necessary to artificially feed hummingbirds if there are enough nectar rich plants around. While it doesn’t sound as natural I think supplemental feeding is a good practice. Plants are not always flowering profusely, and supplemental sugar is inexpensive and good insurance for a constant supply of hummingbirds.
There are numerous plants that attract hummingbirds. I’ve merely scratched the surface, and I’ve only included plants adapted to sunny locations. Those with shady garden spots will have to wait until next week to read about my favorites for gardens with limited sunlight.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (email@example.com).