Choose nectar-rich,
shapely flowers
to bring hummingbirds to your garden

April 27, 2006

by Suzann Herricks,
Victoria County
Master Gardener
A favorite plant for attracting hummingbirds is the firebush, also called hummingbird bush (Hamelia patens.)
A pair of hummingbirds arrived in my newly landscaped yard last fall. I couldn't help but stop and watch them. A few days later another appeared, and I was hooked.
They stayed for weeks feeding on the nectar-rich flowers, and I began planning additional ways to lure more of them into my garden.
Hummingbirds can be found in our area almost year round, but late summer and early fall are when the greatest numbers appear. Once you get a glimpse of these beautiful flying jewels, you may also find yourself wanting to provide a suitable habitat for them.

A little knowledge of their needs will ensure success. Hummingbirds need sugar and protein - a lot of it. They can consume twice their weight in nectar and insects daily. They also need water and a place to rest. Nectar-producing flowers provide the sugar, and insects provide the protein, so go easy on the pesticides.

And don't simply plant bright flowers. Unless the flowers produce nectar, your efforts will be comparable to setting a beautiful table, inviting guests to dinner and then not feeding them.

Easy choices:  The following suggestions are drought-tolerant, perennial, have few if any pest problems and will thrive for the most inexperienced gardener. The three most important characteristics in plant choice are flower shape, nectar content and color. Red, orange and pink colors catch the hummingbirds' eyes, but they will feed from any nectar-producing plant once they arrive. They cannot smell, so fragrance is not an important consideration. Long, downward-sloped, tubular-shaped flowers are a perfect fit for their long beaks and tongues.

One of my favorite plants for attracting hummingbirds is the firebush, also called
hummingbird bush (hamelia patens). It has clusters of tubular reddish orange flowers, grows in full sun or partial shade and thrives in our heat. Give it some water until it is established.

It may freeze in winter but will sprout back in late spring. I planted two of these last year and they kept the hummingbirds in constant activity. Even though other flowers bloomed nearby, this was the star attraction for my tiny visitors.

Another great choice is
autumn sage (salvia greggi). Don't be fooled by its delicate appearance. This plant is as tough as Texas. This is one of my favorite salvias, but there are several varieties and colors available.

All will grow with minimum care, but choose those in the red spectrum for attracting hummingbirds. Cut them back when blooming slows, and they will quickly reward you with even more flowers. WARNING: It may be hard to work in your garden after you start watching the daily display of hummingbirds and butterflies around salvia.

The No. 1 choice of hummingbird vines is the trumpet vine, sometimes called
trumpet creeper (campsis radicans). There is little competition from insects because the nectar is found so deep inside the long red-orange tubular blooms.

The vine attaches itself by aerial roots and can do damage to wood, shingles or porous brick so you may want to grow this on a fence or trellis. In
"The Guide to Texas Gardening," Neil Sperry recommends the Madame Galen, a superior variety that has showier flowers and is less invasive.

coral honeysuckle, sometimes called trumpet honeysuckle (lonicera sempervirens), is a semi-evergreen vine with unscented salmon-red tubular flowers and will climb 10 to 15 feet. It likes sun but will tolerate deep shade though it will produce fewer flowers.

The berries that form will attract birds in the fall. Unlike other honeysuckles that can become difficult to control, this one is easily managed. Of these two vines, this one would be my choice for most garden areas.

Even though the botanical name of
Turk's cap or Texas wax mallow (malvaviscus arboreus) sounds like something from "Harry Potter," the magic is found in its attraction for both butterflies and hummingbirds. Turk's cap grows in alkaline or acid soil and in shade or sun and responds well to pruning and shaping.

Its red blooms seem to never be fully open, but the pistils and stamens that protrude draw the hummingbirds to its flower.

red yucca (hesperaloe parviflora) is an evergreen shrub that grows 4 feet tall with graceful spikes of coral flowers. This one grows throughout Victoria, even in gravel-filled beds, so it can give your gardening confidence a real boost.

Mexican honeysuckle (justica spicigera) is a small shrub that grows to about 4 feet. Prune to encourage fullness and it will reward you with hundreds of orange or red tubular flowers.

A friend of mine, who is also an excellent birder, recommends the
shrimp plant (justicia brandegeana). She has a hummingbird feeder that hangs above these plants and the birds feed on nectar from both. This plant has bracts that look like a shrimp.

A small flower extends beyond the bracts. Choose the one with the reddish-brown bracts rather than the yellow.

Hummingbird feeders Feeders are a good supplement in low bloom periods and an effective color magnet, but they are not a total substitute for nectar-producing plants.

A few dos and don'ts:

Don't use food coloring or honey.

Don't hang them outside a glass door or window where the birds see the reflection of the yard or sky.

Do clean them regularly and change the water frequently.

Keep them free of ants and wasps.

I hope you will try some of these plants and discover how easy they are to grow. Keep a count of how many hummingbirds they will attract in your garden in the fall.