Hummers of Summer

Summertime is hummer time! Flowers are blooming and hummingbirds are zipping around, collecting nectar and a few insects while they are at it. Last week I mentioned that they need more than just sugar-water feeders. (Gardening for the Birds – here) This week, let’s look at how to fill your landscape with happy healthy hummingbirds!

Female hummingbird enjoying a fountain. Photo courtesy of Judith Clark.

What Hummingbirds Need

Every living thing on earth needs food, water, and a place to live. Hummingbirds will need shelter along with their food. Plus they can often be seen basking in a fountain – bathing and sipping on a sunny day. Thus a thick shady tree and a gently bubbling fountain would be appreciated by hummers – and by humans too!

Food Plants

A sugar water feeder is fine, but, like humans, hummingbirds need a well-rounded diet. This includes the protein of insects to nurture and raise their young, and to build strong muscles, and healthy bones.

Sometimes you have to look twice to see theise zippy little birds.

Flowers Provide

If you look carefully in many flowers, you will spot tiny flower thrips – a great protein snack for hummers. Many other tiny gnats and the like inhabit your garden, most of whom you will never notice. But the hummers will!

Not just flowers – every so often my compost heap will have a cloud of tiny fungus gnats hovering over it. Then the hummingbirds appear and will swoop through the gnat cloud – catching dinner on the wing.

Plan for Swaths of Hummingbird Flowers

A visit to a local plant nursery (not a big box store) will offer any number of low-water hummingbird attracting plants.

BUT! Don’t simply get one of each kind! Your yard will turn into an unattractive hodge-podge of plants. Plus humming birds need many flowers to sip from when they swoop in for a visit.

Plan for a number of plants that can feed a number of hummingbirds. This Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) prefers a part shade location.

Better for your overall design, and for the hummingbirds ease of use, is to create a sweeping swath or swale of color. Maybe a swath of colorful “hummingbird trumpet.” I put hummingbird trumpet in italics because there are about forty-eleven plants with that name.

Your swath of color can have layers to it. Lower perennial plants in front, taller shrubs in back. Groundcover plants at their feet, filling in. Yes, hungy hummers will visit groundcovers – I have seen them hover within inches of the ground to sip nectar.

Hummingbirds pollinate flowers that have long tubeular throats, like this cut away of a South Ameriacn cactus flower.

Flowers All Year

The hardest thing to plan is for the seasonality of flowers in your landscape. No plant will bloom all year. Thus you need to plan your planting to have successive waves of color. Perhaps add some of the true aloe – with yellow flowers – they bloom in January, and hummingbirds adore them. Also consider a wildflower garden full of penstemons – they bloom in March and April. (How to Grow Wildflowers post – here).


Have an HOA?

You can still have hummingbird plants – even in your front yard. Plants like the low-water Baja fairy duster and hesperaloe are on most HOA’s okay list. If you like to cook then consider rosemary – the hummers visit it in my yard. Small yard? Consider a vine that can climb a trellised wall and offer hummingbird flowers.

Need More Ideas?

I recommend my free PDF Top Ten Pollinator Plants For the Southwest for ideas. (Just sign up for the mailing list below and I’ll send it to you.) 

I feel I should caution you that – on the web and even in books – most “Hummingbird Plants” information will tout plants that do NOT grow well in the Southwest. Local nurseries with Arizona Certified Nursery Workers can help you get appropriate plants. (Yes, add the need to write a SW Hummingbird plant book to the list of ones I need to write for our area.)

More about planning your landscape and growing plants for hummingbirds in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

Cover image courtesy of Eliza Soule.  Photographed at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum walk-in hummingbird aviary.  Worth the visit!

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