It's fun to watch hummingbirds drinking from red plastic feeders, but there's nothing like seeing them sipping from the flowers in your own garden. For the last few years, I’ve been observing hummingbirds in the hope of discovering their favorite flowers. But just when I think I’ve figured it out, the funny little birds change their minds.
One day, they spend all their time visiting the salvias, and another day, they prefer the zinnias. When I expressed my frustration at not being able identify which flowers were the best, my husband said, “Well, some days you feel like eating broccoli, and other days you want chocolate cake. Maybe it’s the same way with hummingbirds.”
So here’s my list of favorite hummingbird flowers. You might be tempted to plant only “chocolate cake”, but remember that, “Variety is the spice of life”. So the more selection you have, the better.
Agastache rupestris (Sunset Hyssop) -- Think of this large perennial as a low-maintenance hummingbird feeder. Also consider other Agastache species.
Aquilegia (Columbine) -- It sometimes works. Aquilegia formosa is a good red.
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) -- Not just for butterflies! Butterfly weed also attracts aphids, and hummingbirds eat aphids and other small insects.
Ceratotheca triloba (African Foxglove) -- If you need a tall annual for the back of the border, try African foxglove. The hummingbirds enjoy this rare flower.
Cleome (Spider Flower) -- Cleome serrulata and Cleome spinosa both attract hummingbirds to some degree. Hummingbirds will perch on the horizontal seedpods of Cleome spinosa.
Cosmos 'Ladybird Scarlet' -- I planted this near my hummingbird feeder, and I was surprised that some hummingbirds visited the cosmos more than the feeder.
Digitalis (Foxglove) -- The tubular flowers sometimes attract hummingbirds, and the plants are easy to grow in full sun or part shade. I was surprised one day to see a hummingbird on the pale yellow Digitalis lutea. That's what I call "hummingbird broccoli".
Ipomoea (Morning Glory) -- Hummingbirds prefer the red varieties, of course, especially if they're trellised up high, but all colors are good.
Ipomopsis rubra (Standing Cypress) -- Chocolate cake for hummingbirds.
Lobelia -- Hummingbird watchers rave over red-flowered Lobelia cardinalis. Combine it with the blue-flowered Lobelia siphilitica for variety.
Lupine -- This is a good hummingbird plant for early in the season before most of the others start blooming.
Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese Cross) -- Definitely, chocolate cake for hummingbirds.
Mirabilis jalapa (Four O'Clock) -- The flowers close up in the heat of the afternoon, so watch for hummingbirds in the early morning or evening.
Monarda (Bee Balm) -- Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Nicotiana mutabilis (Flowering Tobacco) -- Out of all my flowering tobacco varieties, this one is the most popular with hummingbirds.
Oenothera 'Lemon Sunset' (Evening Primrose) -- Hummingbirds visit these fragrant flowers in the morning.
Penstemon (Beardtongue) -- Most penstemons, especially the red ones, are chocolate cake for hummingbirds.
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) -- I was surprised to see a hummingbird returning to this plant several times one day, especially since there was an agastache nearby that should have been more tempting.
Salvia (Sage) -- Many salvia species attract hummingbirds. Some of the best are Salvia coccinea, Salvia 'Coral Nymph', Salvia azurea and Salvia farinacea.
Silene 'Jack Flash' -- One morning, I was pollinating a red daylily next to my patch of Silene 'Jack Flash', and a hummingbird tried to scare me off. When the attempt failed, he relented and agreed to share the space with me. He really wanted that silene!
Tithonia 'Torch' (Mexican Sunflower) -- A great butterfly magnet, but it sometimes attracts hummingbirds as well.
Verbena bonariensis -- Another one for both hummingbirds and butterflies.
Zinnia -- The zinnias are always a big hit!
Here are more flowers that I came across in my research that are worth trying:
Abelia, azalea, begonia, bleeding heart, bovardia, butterfly bush, canna lily, catmint, chelone, clematis, crabapple, crocosmia, dahlia, Dicliptera suberecta, eupatorium, flowering quince, fuschia, gaura, geranium, gladiolus, goldenrod, hawthorne, hesperis, heuchera, hibiscus, honeysuckle, hosta, impatiens, iris, kniphofia, lantana, liatris, lilac, lily, mock orange, nasturtium, pentas, petunia, phlox, physostegia, rose of sharon, scarlet runner bean, Stachys coccinea,
sweet pea, trumpet vine, veronica, weigela, wisteria, yucca, zauschneria.