Hummingbird Gardening

Several species of hummingbirds are found in the St. Louis area, but the most common visitor is the Ruby-throated hummingbirds. The Green Violet-ear Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird have been spotted in the St. Louis area.

The natural diet of hummers is flower nectar, tree sap, and small insects and spiders that are often captured in or near flowers. This natural diet can be supplemented by hummingbird feeders, which dispense a sugar water solution. Flowers blooming through the season, however, are needed when hummingbirds are present to attract them and to provide the natural foods required for a complete diet.

Given the right plants, hummingbirds will frequent your yard, zooming around, beating their wings at 70 to 80 times or more per second. Hummingbirds need to eat about half their body weight daily in nectar and insects. Plant nectar provides instant energy and insect prey provides protein for muscle growth. As these tiny birds feed on nectar plants they also pollinate the blossoms.

Hummingbirds love nectar-rich flowering plants with bright red, orange or red-orange tubular-shaped blossoms. By planting a succession of nectar flowers, shrubs and trees that will bloom from spring to fall, you can give hummingbirds a continual source of food through the season.

Hummingbirds are garden jewels, as beautiful as they are valuable. Each weighing less than a nickel, hummingbirds play an important role in the garden as pollinators and insect predators.

Hummingbirds are strong fliers and re the only bird with the ability to fly backward. They have relatively enormous breast muscles that make up 30% of their body weight. Although most hummers are nonmigratory, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird flies great distances. Their migration most likely includes a 500 mile jaunt across the Gulf of Mexico. Contrary to myth, the migration takes place under their own power not on the backs of geese.

List of Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

Flowers add beauty and a place where hummingbirds can find both flower nectar and insects to eat.

The following plants provide a variety of flowers for hummingbirds. These landscape plants provide beauty as well as a natural foraging area where hummingbirds can find both flower nectar and small insects to eat. Select plants that provide flowers throughout the season, especially at times when you expect hummingbirds. Include red varieties of the plants listed because red tubular flowers appear to be especially attractive to hummingbirds. 

Annual Flowers

Common annual flowers that attract hummingbirds include: 

· Cannas - Bulb

· Impatiens – Impatiens wallerana hybrida

· Gladiolas - Gladiolus

· Nicotiana – Nicotiana alata

· Petunia – Petunia x hybrida

· Salvia – Salvia splendens

· Scarlet runner pole bean – Phaseolus coccineus

· Scarlet trumpet creeper – Campsis radicans

· Zinnias – Zinnia elegans

Perennial Flowers

Perennial flowers that attract hummingbirds include:

· Bee Balm – Monarda didyma

· Bleeding Heart - Dicentra

· Butterfly bush – Buddleia davidii

· Clematis – Clematis x jackmanii and other species

· Columbine – Aquilegia hybrids

· Coral bells – Heuchera sanguinea and other species

· Daylily – Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids

· Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea

· Garden Phlox – Phlox paniculata

· Hollyhock – Alcea Rosea

· Honeysuckle trumpet – Lonicera sempervirens

· Hosta – Hosta spp.

· Liatris – Liatris spp.

· Penstemon – Penstemon gloxinoides

· Sweet William – Dianthus barbatus

Shrubs

Shrubs provide habitat and in some cases minor nectar feeding

· Azalea - Azalea

· Beauty Bush - Kolkwitzia amabilis

· Currant – Ribes odoratum

· Gooseberry – Ribes speciosum

· Lilac - Syringa

· Quince - Chaenomeles

· Rose of Sharon – Hibiscus syriacus

· Weigela – Weigela florida

Trees

Trees used by hummingbirds include:

· Flowering Crab – Malus spp.

· Hawthorne – Crataegus spp.

· Tulip tree – Liriodendron

Commercial Nectar Feeding

Commercial "nectar" solutions for hummingbirds can be purchased or easily made by mixing one part granulated white sugar (common table variety) with four parts water. For example, mix 1/4 cup sugar with one cup water. Boil the water, dissolve the sugar, and then allow to cool before filling the feeder. Keep leftover portions refrigerated until needed. Change the mix every few days, more often in hot weather, and clean the feeder each time before refilling to prevent molds that can harm the birds.

Feeders can be cleaned by rinsing with hot water, filling with vinegar and uncooked rice and shaking vigorously, or soaking the feeder in a solution of two ounces household bleach mixed with one gallon of water. A stiff bottle brush may help but avoid soaps because residues may interfere with the capillary action of the feeder.

When selecting a hummingbird feeder, look for one that's easy to fill and clean and without too many nooks and crannies. Some red on the feeder is desirable because it seems to attract hummingbirds, and bee guards (grids or screens) over the feeding ports help discourage bees. Hang the feeder from a tree branch or on a deck or porch, preferably in partial shade, near flowers, and out of the wind. Consider using more than one feeder to prevent an aggressive male hummingbird from dominating and to add viewing opportunities. For example, place a feeder near your hummingbird flowers and another closer to your home or viewing windows. Place feeders out in time for expected arrivals and continue until hummingbirds migrate on.