Gardening Q&A: Flowers to attract hummingbirds to your garden
June 20, 2015 12:00 AM
A male ruby-throated hummingbird feeding from Monarda.
By Barbara Murphy
A hummingbird in a garden is the jewel in the gardener’s crown. The key to attracting them is to plant lots of nectar-rich flowering plants, especially those that feature red, orange or pink tubular flowers.
This tiny bird is one of our largest pollinators. Hummers are perfectly adapted for eating flower nectar. Their long beaks and tongues, and the ability to fly backward, forward and hover allows them to easily maneuver and feed from flowers. When hummingbirds feed, pollen adheres to their bodies. The pollen is then introduced to the next flower that the bird visits. Hummingbirds also eat tiny insects, spiders, and nectar solutions from special feeders. It is critical to minimize the use of pesticides so that the hummers, as well asother pollinators, will not ingest toxic chemicals.
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)
Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea)
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)C
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Bee balm bergamot (Monarda didyma)
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Weigela (Weigela florida)
Hawthorn (Crategus sp.)
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipflora)
Flowering crabapple (Malus sp.)
While there are over 16 species of hummingbird that breed in the U.S., only the ruby-throated hummingbird breeds east of the Mississippi River. Just 3-4 inches in length and weighing less than 0.2 ounces, the ruby-throat is one of the tiniest birds in the world. The male’s bright red throat gives the species its name. Females have the same iridescent green backs as the males, but lack the red throat patch.
Each spring ruby-throats migrate north from Central America and Mexico, flying nonstop for 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. They gradually move northward following the blooming time of early-season flowers like columbine, azaleas and rhododendron. They usually arrive in Pennsylvania by mid-April and stay until September, when they migrate back to the tropics.
Take advantage of the 5 1/2-month window when hummingbirds are in our region by choosing a palette of plants that will provide nectar from early spring to late fall. Hummingbirds are attracted to large masses of flowers, so cluster your plants so that the birds will notice them. When selecting plants, choose native plants over introduced species. Natives have co- evolved a relationship with local pollinators and often provide more nectar.
Once your garden is established and flowering, it is fun to provide a hummingbird feeder to draw birds to a specific location for close observation. Hummer feeders are specially designed to dispense nectar or sugar water. Choose a red feeder that is easy to clean. Be ready to supply fresh nectar every 3-4 days. Nectar left in a feeder for over four days will spoil. Always clean the feeder before refilling. An old toothbrush is a great tool for scrubbing tiny crevices on the feeder.
Make the hummingbird nectar by mixing 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the water, and then pour it over the sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool to room temperature before pouring into the feeder. Extra nectar may be refrigerated for later use. Be sure to keep the ratio of sugar to water 1 to 4, stronger or weaker concentrations may sicken the birds. Never make the solution from honey because it may contain fungal spores that will infect the hummingbirds.
Now that you have welcomed hummingbirds into your garden, consider certifying your garden as pollinator friendly with the Penn State Master Gardeners. Visit the website: ento.psu.edu/pollinators/public-outreach/cert for more information.
For more information about plants for hummingbirds, download the free Penn State Extension publication, “Attracting Hummingbirds” at
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