It's fun to watch hummingbirds drinking from red plastic feeders, but there's nothing like seeing them sipping from the flowers in your own garden. For the last few years, I’ve been observing hummingbirds in the hope of discovering their favorite flowers. But just when I think I’ve figured it out, the funny little birds change their minds.
One day, they spend all their time visiting the salvias, and another day, they prefer the zinnias. When I expressed my frustration at not being able identify which flowers were the best, my husband said, “Well, some days you feel like eating broccoli, and other days you want chocolate cake. Maybe it’s the same way with hummingbirds.”
Here’s my list of favorite hummingbird flowers. You might be tempted to plant only “chocolate cake”, but remember that “Variety is the spice of life”. So the more selection you have, the better. Try for plants that bloom at different times of the year, from spring through fall.
Agastache rupestris (Sunset Hyssop) -- A large, fragrant perennial with orange-pink, tubular flowers. Think of it as a low-maintenance hummingbird feeder.
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) -- Drought-tolerant perennial with bright orange flowers for hummingbirds and butterflies.
Aquilegia (Columbine) -- Spring-blooming perennial in a wide range of colors.
Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) -- Masses of pinkish-red flowers in late spring to early summer. Long-lived, self-sowing perennial.
Cleome -- This flower is useful in more ways than one. Hummingbirds like to perch on the horizontal seedpods.
Cosmos 'Ladybird Scarlet' -- I planted this near my hummingbird feeder, and I was surprised that the hummingbirds visited the cosmos more than the feeder.
Digitalis (Foxglove) -- The tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, and the plants grow in full sun or part shade. I was surprised to see a hummingbird sipping on the pale yellow Digitalis lutea. That's what I call "hummingbird broccoli".
Eupatorium (Joe-Pye Weed) -- Blooms in the fall, attracting both hummingbirds and butterflies.
Gaura -- The delicate pink-white flowers look great combined with red flowers, and the hummers will visit them, too.
Goldenrod -- One of the last flowers of the season. Provides nectar for beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Hesperis matronalis -- Violet or white flowers in late spring. The violet flowers seem to get more attention from the hummingbirds. Also attracts butterflies.
Hibiscus -- The huge flowers are a beacon of attraction.
Mirabilis jalapa (Four O'Clock) -- The flowers close up in the heat of the afternoon, so watch for hummingbirds in early morning or evening.
Monarda (Bee Balm) -- Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) -- Works sometimes. Smells nice, too.
Penstemon (Beardtongue) -- Most penstemons, especially the red ones, are chocolate cake for hummingbirds.
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) -- I was surprised to see a hummingbird return to this plant several times one day, especially since there was an agastache nearby that should have been more tempting.
Petunia -- Easy-to-grow annual. Nice in hanging baskets.
Salvia (Sage) -- Many salvia species attract hummingbirds. Some of the best are
Silene 'Jack Flash' -- One morning, I was pollinating a red daylily next to the patch of Silene 'Jack Flash', and a hummingbird tried to scare me off. When the attempt failed, he relented and agreed to share the space with me. He really wanted that silene!
Sweet pea -- Easy annual with wonderfully fragrant flowers.
Tithonia 'Torch' -- Large, bushy annual with orange-red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.