Have you been fortunate enough to be buzzed by a hummingbird in the garden? Maybe it’s their small stature or shiny colorful bodies – the fact is, everyone loves hummingbirds.
More important, you can add “pollinator to over 300 plant species” and “vigorous insect eater” to their resume. For these reasons, hummingbirds are an important aspect of California’s ecosystem. Northern California is home to two nesting species – known as Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds – and roughly 12 other species according to the Audubon Society.
Ideally, a hummingbird garden will include plants native to the bird’s local region, as those flowers tend to be compatible with native hummingbirds. But there are plenty of non-California natives that are more than adequate as food sources. Both are included here, focusing on staggered flowering times and ease of growing.
Hummingbirds consume nectar, so you will want to pick plants with tubular flowers, which indicates a flower contains nectar. These birds are voracious consumers, eating up to twice their weight in nectar a day. Flowers are tricky, however, in that they only provide a bit of nectar per flower to ensure hummingbirds move pollen. As such, hummingbirds need to visit a lot of flowers a day: 1,000 to 2,000 flowers a day according to the Audubon Society.
In general, hummingbirds are attracted to red, pink and orange colored flowers, but they will visit other colors secondarily.
In addition to flower color, another attribute to consider when choosing plants is selecting ones with differing heights in order to provide nesting and resting habitats. Fuzzy leaves are also desirable for nest building.
Below are some of the easiest plants to grow that will have hummingbirds coming to your garden.
Aloes are native to South Africa where hummingbirds and other hovering birds do not exist. So what pollinates them in their native habitat? Hummingbird moths! Aloes contain nectar, which hummingbirds will consume when presented. Due to their late winter/early spring bloom period, Aloes are ideal as a food source when there are not many other plants in bloom. Two species I recommend are A. striata (Coral Aloe) and A. maculata. Both require very low water, even surviving with no summer water.
Ribes sanguineum (Red-flowering Currant)
One of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring, ribes will provide early season food for hummingbirds. These California native deciduous bushes grow roughly 6 feet by 10 feet. In hot inland climates, they do best in morning sun/afternoon shade or all-day dappled shade.
Hesperaloe parviflora (Red Yucca)
This southwest native is great for a xeriscape (minimal supplemental irrigation) garden. The plant itself only reaches 4 feet by 3 feet, but the tall flower spikes shoot up an additional 2 to 3 feet. The blooms open late spring into early summer. This is a very easy plant to care for.
There are many salvia species to choose from – California native and beyond – that will entice hummingbirds to your garden. The aptly named native pink hummingbird sage (salvia spathaceae) is great for a dry shade garden. Salvia nemorosa, salvia clevelandii, salvia leucantha, salvia canariensis and even the culinary sage, salvia officinalis, are ideal for the sun-loving dry garden.
Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)
This native milkweed not only provides food for hummingbirds but it’s also a food source for monarch butterflies. In addition, the fuzzy leaves and seeds can be used by hummingbirds as nesting material. The flowers, as the name suggests, are quite showy – bubble gum pink and large, about 3 to 4 inches across. Once established, this plant will spread throughout the garden; nicely, not in an invasive way. Requires full sun, low water.
Abutilon hybrids (Flowering Maple)
Flowering maples are the exception to the tubular shaped flower rule. Abutilons are not actual maples, but members of the hibiscus family (Malvaceae). Most members of this family – including hollyhocks – are visited by hummingbirds. I’m focusing on Abutilons because of their long bloom period (up to year-round). They work well in a partial-shade garden. Clementine is a reddish-orange variety that takes intense sun (unlike most) and blooms nonstop year-round.
Native and non-native penstemons are ideal for a hummingbird garden. Flowers range from white, pink, red to purple. The easy-to-grow California native P. heterophyllus (Margarita BOP) has vibrant blue/purple flowers spring through summer. Bright pink Parry’s penstemon is another easy to grow native which blooms starting in February (much earlier than hybrid varieties).
Zinnias are some of the easiest flowers to grow with the biggest return. Plant in spring and you will have flowers up until frost. Numerous flower colors entice hummingbirds to visit your garden. This is a full-sun annual, but will reseed in the garden.
Lonicera, Campsis Radicans (Honeysuckle, trumpet vine)
These two vines get an honorable mention. These vigorous vines can be a bit rambunctious in the garden, but if feeding hummingbirds is your goal then these are the two go-to vines. Lonicera (Honeysuckle) is abundant with nectar filled flowers. L. sempervirens is a showy orangish/red bloomer. The Trumpet vine can become weedy, but it has a long bloom period of large orange flowers.
Zauschneria californica (California Fuchsia)
This is a large sprawling shrub (2 feet by 4 feet), with a long blooming period. It will flower into fall when many other hummingbird flowers are done. It’s a low-water, no-fuss plant.