Posted by Brent Wilson on 9/6/2016 to Birds & Wildlife
One good way to enjoy the company of hummingbirds, and attract lots of them, is by planting a hummingbird garden, or habitat. In addition to providing them a natural diet of nectar from flowers, a hummingbird garden is an excellent way to attract birds to your nearby feeder: since hummingbirds feed by sight on regularly followed routes called traplining. Their inquisitive nature will quickly lead them to investigate any possible new source of food.
The perfect hummingbird habitat is a simple one, and even the smallest garden can provide the food, water, perches, shelter and nesting sites that hummingbirds need. It's easy to lure these beautiful birds into your backyard - and keep them coming back year after year.
Before getting to designing a hummingbird garden, it's a good idea to become acquainted with the plants they love.
Suggested Hummingbird Garden Plants
There are many varieties of flowering plants that are useful to hummingbirds in North America.
Keep in mind that hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers that allow their long, needle-like bills to fit inside these tubes, making it easy for their tongues can easily lap up the sweet nectar found deep inside the flower tubes.
If you are creating your hummingbird garden from scratch, you should consider planting a mix of perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, and vines. Some perennials take several years to fully mature and create a bumper crop of flowers, so plant a variety of annuals as fillers the first year.
Here's some of my favorite hummingbird attracting plants:
'Black & Blue' Salvia
'Hot Lips' Salvia
Hardy Lantana (all varieties)
Butterfly Bush (all varieties)
Hummingbird Plant - Dicliptera suberecta
Madame Galen Trumpet Vine - Campsis
Crossvine - Bignonia capreolata
Summersweet - Clethra
Bird Of Paradise
NOTE: Make sure to have trees planted nearby your hummingbird garden. Every once in a while a hummingbird needs a perch to take a break on and trees also provide shelter.
Designing a Hummingbird Garden
Before you can design your hummingbird garden, you need to make a list of plants that will go in it. If you plan carefully and select a variety of plants that flower at successively later dates, you will be rewarded with hummingbirds throughout the season, and you'll meet their feeding needs until the point in time they fly south for the winter.
Here's some tips to help you select a range of plants that will meet the needs of your hummingbirds.
- Select plants of different heights and forms.
- If you plan carefully and select a variety of plants that flower at successively later dates, you will be rewarded with hummers throughout the season. It's always a good idea to include, butterfly bushes, lantana and salvias, which bloom all season.
- The first year, you might want to plant some annual plants here and there in the garden that hummingbirds love. Cleome, geraniums, impatiens, petunias and salvias are great choices.
- Provide a number of different flower colors. It's a myth that hummingbirds are only attracted to red flowers. The plant they like most in my garden is a blue salvia.
- Provide a mix of plant forms: mounding shrubs, vines, trees and groundcover plants.
- Understand each plants requirements for light, water needs and soil so that plants will reach their full potential.
After making your list of plants, spend some time to sketch a basic plan out on paper.
Open sites that receive all day sun or morning sun with afternoon shade are preferred, as many of the plants that produces the nectar-rich flowers hummingbirds like prefer sun.
An important consideration when designing your hummingbird garden is its shape. Curved, narrow flower beds in an open area are best because the hummingbirds can access the blooms from all sides of the plants. Plant your garden near decks, patios, porches or just outside windows of your home so you can view them in up close in action.
Don't crowd your garden with large trees or shrubs, but do arrange to have several in or near the garden. Hummingbirds need room to accommodate their wings as they whir about the blossoms. Select a variety of flowers, trees and shrubs, from low to medium to tall in height. Male hummers like to have tall trees to perch on, as they use them to watch for predators while the females are feeding.
TIP: When you're ready to plant, purchase the plants on your list and in your design that are available and special order any that aren't available.
Other Design Elements
In addition to plants, there are a few other elements you might want to consider adding to your hummingbird garden design. Many gardeners supplement the nectar that their plants produce with hummingbird feeders. Bird baths are nice addition.
A pole, arch, fence or partition is a nice element you can grow a hummingbird attracting flowering vine on, such as trumpet honeysuckle, crossvine (Bignonia) or trumpet vine (Campsis).
There are different methods for planting a hummingbird garden and the plants that will go in it. Some folks say its best to till up the entire garden area, however, this can bring lots of buried weed seeds to the surface and also promotes invasiveness of certain types of perennial plants. Of course you can till the entire area if you like, it makes planting a little easier, but I like to just dig individual planting holes for each plant.
Here's some helpful planting tips:
Plot the perimeter of the garden shape out with marker paint, baking flour, or a garden hose.
Thoroughly spray existing weeds and grass plants inside the garden area thoroughly with a glyphosate-based (Hi-Yield Killzall is what I use). Mix as directed on label. Always wear protective clothing and eyewear when spraying a chemical. Take a shower afterwards and wash clothes separately. Allow spray to dry for about two hours before planting plants.
After spray has dried, use a round point garden shovel to dig a trench about 4 to 6 inches deep around the perimeter of the garden, following your painted line.This will help to define your garden.
Before planting, arrange the perennials and any other plants or trees you have purchased, in the garden. If you didn't draw a sketch, place taller varieties (48"' + height) towards the back of the border (or center if the garden will be viewed from all sides). Place mid-size plants (18-48' height) in front or nestled between taller ones. Place lower plants or groundcover plants around towards the front or border of the garden.
NOTE: When setting the plants out in the bed make sure to space them properly. If a plant grows 18 inches wide mark out a circle on the ground with an 18" diameter (orange marker paint works great for doing this.) Set the plant in the center of the circle. Also mark out areas where missing plants will be planted later when they arrive.
After placing all of the plants, step back to take a look to make sure you have things set up the way you want. Make any final placement adjustments.
When you are satisfied that everything is in place, remove one plant at a time from its container. Be careful not to damage plants when removing them from their nursery container. If the plant is stuck in the pot, cut the container away.
Dig the planting hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball of the plant. Place the native soil around the perimeter of the planting hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp. In heavy clay or poor, infertile soil, thoroughly mix in some mushroom compost or other composted organic matter at a 50/50 ratio with the native soil removed from the hole.
Place plant in hole with the top edge of the root ball even with the ground level, or slightly above to allow for settling. Backfill around plant with soil mixture, tamping lightly as you go to remove air pockets.
After planting, give the entire garden a good deep soaking to a 6-inch depth, or to the depth of the planting holes.
Mulch your new butterfly garden with no more than a 2" layer of pine straw or cured, shredded wood mulch. Avoid the use of freshly ground or chipped mulch.
The base of your hummingbird garden is now complete. Remember, the first year, you might want to plant some annuals here and there in the garden for extra-added color.
Care of the Garden
Your new hummingbird garden will need attention throughout the growing season.
Weeds will compete with the desirable plants in your garden. So it's a good idea to keep them under control. When weeds sprout, make sure to pull them or spray with an herbicide as soon as possible. Just be very careful when spraying any herbicide that you don't spray the foliage of the desirable plants in your garden! Mulch can help to suppress weeds. The application of a granular weed preventer can also be helpful. Just know that weed preventers kill the seeds, and if you have plants growing in your butterfly garden that you want to reseed themselves, a weed preventer might kill these seeds, so you might not want to apply a weed preventer.
When established, many hummingbird attracting plants, such as lantana, sages, hummingbird plant (Dicliptera suberecta) and butterfly bush, are quite drought tolerant. Through the first warm season, in the absence of sufficient rainfall, provide additional moisture to plants that need it. Wilting leaves are a sign your plants could use a drink. That being said, always use the finger test to check soil moisture before watering. If the soil is dry deep soak the plant. If the soil is moist or soggy, hold off until the top inch or two of the soil is somewhat dry.
Fertilize your annual and perennial plants as needed during the growing season. You can use a flower food to feed plants, though it's a good idea to know the nutritional needs of specific plants in your garden. I always go the safe route and use a "goof proof," non-burning organic plant food in my garden. When using a fertilizer refer to product label for application rates and instructions. Cease fertilization of plants about a month or so before typical first frost date.
The use of a mulch is an attractive and effective means of controlling weeds and maintaining soil moisture and temperature for the root systems of your plants. Mulches that you might consider include shredded wood mulch or pine straw. To be effective, the mulch should be applied at about 2 inches thick around the plants. When wood mulches are piled too high, it can block moisture from getting to the soil, and fungus can develop in the mulch as well.
Pruning and Deadheading
You may deadhead (remove spent or faded flowers) from your perennials and annuals all season long. Deadheading often encourages the development of new flowers.
In late fall or early winter, when your perennials have died back, you may remove dead foliage.
WARNING: Do not prune back hardy lantanas in the fall as doing so will almost always ensure death of the plant. Wait until new growth begins to emerge in spring to prune back lantana. At that time you can remove all dead growth.
After cutting back dead foliage in late fall or winter you may want to winterize the perennial plants in your butterfly garden garden by applying an inch or two of loose mulch or compost around the plants.
DO NOT use toxic pesticides on your butterfly plants! These can be deadly to hummingbirds and butterflies if sprayed directly onto your flowers. Instead, take preventive measures or select safe, organic pest control substances such as neem oil to help control unwanted garden insects. Even then, avoid spraying the flowers of plants and always spray in the very late evening hours when hummingbirds and butterflies are not active.