How to Make Your Garden Hummingbird Friendly
An article written by Highlands County Master Gardener Volunteer: Charlie Reynolds
Hummingbirds are a great addition to any garden and are beautiful to watch flitting hither and thither. However, if you are another hummingbird you had better not poach another’s territory or you’ll get buzz-sawed by the first arrival. These teeny avians are pound for pound, the equivalent of an F-18 fighter jet with attitude to spare. They don’t believe in “sharesies” and will fight all interlopers with dives and swoops just like an old fashioned aerial dog fight.
Weighing in at around a quarter to half an ounce, about as much as a penny, they are little energy dynamos needing constant high-energy nectar from hundreds of flowers a day. They don’t feed at night so they hit the flower buffet hard just before nightfall then they find a perch while their heartbeat and body temperature drop sharply. They would probably starve before daybreak without this metabolic hibernation.
Hummingbirds are superbly adapted to a liquid diet with their long beak and an equally long tongue to get into trumpet shaped flowers easily. These tubular flowers hold a lot of nectar at their base so these are highly recommended for attracting hummingbirds. Artificial feeders are popular these days but unfortunately the sugar water the feeders call for isn’t very nutritious for the little guys. It satisfies their sweet tooth but they still must hit the flower beds for their main food source. Some garden centers sell little packets of nectar additive for hummingbird feeders so that may be an option. Be careful not to get your feeder solution too sugary by boiling it down, adding sugar substitutes or adding honey as this can make the birds ill and even kill them. Another problem is letting the feeder become stale and full of bacteria, this may also harm or kill a hummingbird. The University of Florida recommends changing the sugar solution every 3 to 5 days and cleaning the feeder with hot water and white vinegar. Do not use soaps or bleach. If you want to hang more than one feeder, remember, they are extremely territorial so place the feeders at least ten feet apart to avoid a Hatfield and McCoy scenario. Bees visiting your feeder don’t bother hummingbirds and they usually just feed alongside each other.
Hummingbirds have an affinity for red, orange or pink flowers which is why most feeders are red, I suppose. They have also been known to be attracted to red lipstick and bright red fingernails. To get the little guys into your garden the two main considerations are; red/orange flowers and tubular flowers. Below are a few Florida native shrubs and flowers they have developed a taste for, and their flowering times as well, because the hummingbird will nest from March to September in its little walnut sized nest hidden away in the shrubbery and will have to feed continually during that time. A variety of shrubs that bloom at different times ensures a meal for them at the ready.
- Bottle bush, Blooms Spring-Fall
- Coral Bean, blooms in the Spring
- Firebush (native variety), blooms Spring-Winter
- Red Star Hibiscus, native, blooms mid-Summer-Fall
- Wild Azalea, native, blooms Spring-Summer
- Cross-Vine, native, blooms Spring
- Trumpet Vine, native, blooms Spring-Summer
- Coral Honeysuckle, native, blooms Spring-Summer
- Perennial plants:
- Butterfly Milkweed, native, Spring-Fall
- Red Basil, native, blooms Spring
- Cardinal Flower, native, blooms mid-Summer-Fall
These are just a few to get you started, I’ve mentioned native varieties because that’s what they fed on before us retirees moved in and introduced other non-native plants. Hummingbirds don’t care where their food comes from as long as it’s a nectar plant with a tubular flower. Their food flowers do not have to be Florida natives, I just try to keep it Floridian whenever I can.
Try planting a hummingbird bush or two, the reward is a gorgeous little flier coming to say hello, even though you may only see a green and red blur whizz by your nose.