How to Create a Hummingbird Garden

Overview

According to Stephen Kress, writing for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the ideal environment for hummingbirds has trees and shrubs alternating with meadow and lawn areas. Creating a hummingbird garden can be as simple as planting a few perennials that hummingbirds love in an existing garden or creating a large garden project. This is the gardener's option, allowing for creativity as well as the anticipation of hummingbirds in the yard. Once hummingbirds attach themselves to your yard, they may nest in your trees and return year after year.

Planning

Step 1

Choose a site for a hummingbird garden, or decide where in an established garden you would like to add flowers that attract hummingbirds. Your garden can be in the sun or the shade, but many of the plants hummingbirds like are sun lovers. If possible, choose a site with trees nearby for hummingbirds to perch in for a safe place to rest and raise their young.

Step 2

Make a rough sketch of the contours of your garden space in your notebook. Whether your garden is new or an established planting, a sketch and some design ideas you've jotted down can be helpful. Take stock of the plantings you already have in your yard. This way, when you're ready to choose plants, turn over the garden and dig holes, you'll already have a basic plan to go by.

Step 3

Check light levels periodically during a clear day. Indicate on your garden sketch which areas are in shade and which ones are in the sun.

Step 4

Research the types of plants hummingbirds prefer by consulting reference books on hummingbird gardening or online gardening sources. Keep your sketch handy to see where the shade and sun areas are, then choose plants according to light requirements. A full-sun situation is 6 hours or more of sun; partial shade is morning sun, and shade is dappled light with very little direct sun.

Step 5

Consider a mix of shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals to maximize textural effects, size, shape and to offer variety to the birds. Begin by considering native plants, as they are suited to your climate and require less maintenance.

Step 6

Choose plants that have trumpet-shape flowers. The optimum flower color to attract hummingbirds is red, but other colors work as well. Consider the plants' bloom times. The ideal hummingbird garden should have color throughout the season. As a basic design element, the heights of the plants should reflect where you will place them in the garden.

Step 7

Start with spring bloomers. According to Project Native, the North American native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)--with its nodding, red, lantern-shaped flowers--is a good choice for a partially shaded area of your yard. Another native partial-shade plant is wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). Try the nonnative red flowering quince (Caenomeles japonica). Plants for sun include the native lupine (Lupinus) and blueberries (Vaccinium).

Step 8

Choose plants for summer-into-fall bloom such as the partial-shade perennials Jacob Cline bee balm (Monarda "Jacob Cline") and the red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Choose the white-flowered glossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora) for shade and the nonnative butterfly bush (Buddleia) in purple, burgundy and pink for full sun. Try the sun-loving red petunias. The orange-red trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is a particular favorite of hummingbirds.

Step 9

Think "vertical," according to Stephen Kress. Consider decorative pots planted with zinnias for a sunny situation, or a trellis for morning glories. Place a bench in the general vicinity as a place to sit and watch hummingbird activity.

Step 10

Draw circles on your sketch to indicate the plants you've chosen and where you will place them. Add any features such as a trellis or container plants. Check your plant reference material for plant spacing guidelines. If your planned garden is an island bed, use the taller plants in the center as a backbone with the shorter plants in height sequence on either side.

Planting

Step 1

Prepare the garden bed. For new beds, remove the grass with a hoe or spade if you're planting in the lawn. Turn over the soil to a depth of 8 inches to give your garden a solid start.

Step 2

Amend with organic compost. For established beds, Natural Gardener, a soil supplier, recommends a soil mixture of 40 percent compost and 60 percent of the existing soil. For a garden 8 feet by 10 feet dug to a depth of 8 inches, you will need approximately 3/4 of a cubic yard of compost. Mix this in with the existing soil.

Step 3

Let the soil sit for several days while you obtain your plants. Purchase 2 or 3 of each variety to create a "drift" of flowers for the hummingbirds.

Step 4

Arrange the plants still in their pots on your garden space, following height and spacing guidelines. Fill in with annuals, as the garden may look sparse for the first year.

Step 5

Dig the holes for the plants twice as wide and 6 inches to 8 inches deeper than the root balls of your plants. Large shrubs may require 12 inches below their root balls. Add some of the existing soil into the hole and water until the soil is moist but not soggy.

Step 6

Remove the plants from their pots by gently tapping them on the bottom and easing them out. Loosen any roots that are tight around the root balls. Place the plant in the hole and backfill, tamping the soil gently around the plant. When you are finished, the plants should be at the level they were in the pot. Water the soil until it is moist, using about 1 gallon for perennials and 2 gallons or more for shrubs and vines. Water in the same manner every day for three days if the weather is dry.

Other Considerations

Step 1

Water your plants once a week if the weather is dry. Annuals may need daily watering during the summer. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Fertilize annuals every 2 weeks with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer for flowering plants. Prune off dead flowers to encourage further blooming.

Step 2

Use a hummingbird feeder to draw hummingbirds into your yard early in the season. Use a mixture of 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water.

Step 3

Wash your hummingbird feeder once a week with hot, soapy water and rinse well with hot water. During the heat of the summer, clean the feeder every 2 to 3 days. Refill with the sugar-water solution.

Step 4

Add bird baths for the hummingbird's water needs and for bathing. Clean the bird bath out once a week, along with your hummingbird feeder.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not use honey in your feeder, as it causes a fungus that is lethal to hummingbirds. Planting too much of any one type of plant limits the nectar source, especially for plants that bloom only during one part of the season.

Things You'll Need

  • Notebook
  • Pencil
  • Reference books on gardening for hummingbirds
  • Spade
  • Compost
  • Gallon container for water
  • Scissors
  • Shallow bird bath (optional)
  • Trellis (optional)
  • Decorative pots (optional)
  • Plants
  • Hummingbird feeder
  • Sugar
  • Water

References

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Designing a Hummingbird Garden: 15 Ways to Keep Them Coming
  • New Jersey Audubon: How to Create A Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden: Part 2
  • Project Native: How to Grow a Hummingbird Garden
  • Natural Gardener: Natural Gardener's Guide to Organic Gardening
  • New Jersey Audubon: How to Create a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden

Who Can Help

  • New Jersey Audubon Society: Recommended Plantings to Attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies and Moths
  • Garden Gate Magazine: Backyard Hummingbird Border
Keywords: hummingbird garden, creating hummingbird gardens, plants for nectar

About this Author

Janet Belding has been writing for 22 years. She has had nonfiction pieces published in "The Boston Globe," "The Cape Cod Times," and other local publications. She is a writer for the guidebook "Cape Cod Pride Pages." Her fiction has been published in "Glimmer Train Stories." She has a degree in English from the University of Vermont.