Using the right plants can make a garden inviting for both humans and native pollinators, including one of our favorites - hummingbirds. Sweetgum Horticulture founder Catherine says, “visits from these winged creatures add a surprise layer of movement, sound and color to my designs.” Read on for some of our favorite plants for attracting hummingbirds to your garden. We think you will enjoy these plants and their visitors too.
If you fill your garden with the plants below, you are likely to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, the only species of hummingbird native to Massachusetts (seen feeding at Monarda flower, left; image credit Christina Rollo). The humming noise you hear comes from the rapid beating of wings, on average 53 beats a second! In general, hummingbirds prefer flowers that have a long, thin tube shape and bright red or yellow colors, though there are some exceptions. These types of flowers also attract hummingbird moths, a large day-flying moth that looks like a half-sized hummingbird and is also a native pollinator. These pictures were taken either at Catherine’s garden or a client's garden.
This plant is Nicotiana, a flowering tobacco. These flowers open in the evening and are very fragrant. They are annual plants, but re-seed readily themselves.
Old-Fashioned Vining Petunia is also a highly aromatic, annual plant. Unlike the Flowering Tobacco, it has a slightly trailing habit. This variety comes from Seed Savers Exchange, and was very popular in Iowa around 100 years ago.
Here we have a European Balcony Geranium. These plants cascade beautifully out of planters or containers and can tolerate full sun and heat better than other types of vining geraniums. This vigorous plant blooms all summer without deadheading.
Another geranium that is attractive to hummingbirds is this Zonal Geranium with a gold, variegated leaf. This type is bushy rather than vining, it prefers full sun, and is perfect for adding variety and a pop of color to containers.
Next up is the Cardinal Climber Vine. This plant blooms all summer and is a hummingbird magnet. It can be grown in containers and will not grow too large.
The plant shown here is Agastache ‘Blue Boa,’ sometimes called Hummingbird Mint. This perennial is rabbit resistant and is one of the longest blooming in the garden. Both hummingbirds and hummingbird moths (seen left center in the 2nd picture) love these flowers.
Another native perennial for hummingbirds is Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). This plant prefers moist soil, and in the wild it is found near streams or in low lying areas. It can re-seed in the garden if you disturb the soil around the plant with a rake after it drops seeds in late summer.
In this picture we see another hummingbird moth, this time on Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine.’ Monarda, commonly called Bee Balm, is a native plant with fragrant foliage that is resistant to rabbits. This magenta variety can be easier to work into a garden than the typical bright red, depending on your color preferences.
Here a monarch butterfly gathers nectar from Pentas or Egyptian Starflower. This heat and humidity loving annual blooms all summer and attracts many different kinds of pollinators.
Next up is Nasturtium. Both the flowers and leaves are edible with a peppery flavor similar to mature arugula. This annual blooms all summer, and you can find many flower color options from yellow to red. Though not a true vine, it will hang beautifully out of baskets or weave and clamber up structures with a little guidance.
Pictured here is Lonicera ‘John Clayton,’ a yellow form of the native trumpet honeysuckle. This vine blooms all summer and is a great climber.
Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is native to the Eastern US and Canada, and it is a great addition to a woodland garden. This plant blooms in spring. A dwarf yellow form is available in addition to the red and yellow one shown above.
Another great plant for a woodland garden is Woodland Pinkroot or Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica, picture taken at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden). This plant is slow to develop, but it can fill in a small area nicely when mature.
We hope you enjoy these plants and all the visitors they bring to your garden!
- Liz P, Horticulturist at Sweetgum Horticulture