By Brian Kissinger, Director of Horticulture
Plants are of paramount importance to hummingbirds in the Sonoran Desert. They provide the nectar that fuels these fast-flying, bejeweled birds. By doing a little research, you can select plants for your desert garden that will transform it into a home with natural food and shelter for hummingbirds.
|Pay close attention to the movements and feeding patterns of hummingbirds. You will notice that they are typically attracted to tubular red blooms like chuparosa (Justicia californica), which blooms from January to April and again from September through October. I prefer to use this plant in mass plantings near or under a desert tree for dappled shade and as protection for possible nesting sites.|
|Another plant that hummingbirds are attracted to is autumn sage (Salvia greggii), which blooms November through March and sporadically during summer months. I like to keep this plant in a mass under dappled shade, and typically will trim spent blooms to encourage a compact growth habit.|
Here is a list of some plants that bloom from late winter into the tough summer months, providing food that will attract hummingbirds to your garden.
|Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) does best in dappled shade and looks good in a mass planting. The foliage of Mexican honeysuckle is almost a chartreuse color and can brighten up a shady spot. It can bloom sporadically throughout the summer.|
|Penstemon is a good selection for blooms from late winter into mid spring. Parry’s penstemon has dark pink blooms above purple-green rosettes, and is a good perennial for partially shaded, well-drained areas. Penstemons can self-seed and spread, which creates a more natural look.|
|Blue crown passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) is an evergreen vine that does best in dappled shade in the lower deserts. I like to train this vine near a gate or under a tree and let it grow up through the canopy. Hummingbirds love the nectar of this vine’s flowers.|
|Red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is a good summer bloomer that can be grown in full sun. This is a “tried and true” plant that does best if it is cut back to the ground in late winter.|
|Aloe blooms in late winter through spring and provides hummingbirds with a great source of nectar, with many different colors available. The flowering stems that rise above the succulent rosettes are perfect for viewing these fascinating birds.|
Water is also an important consideration in the life of hummingbirds in a garden. Hummingbirds seem to love to bathe in the dew of leaves, but I often see them line up on the lip of fountains where water is available.
If no flowers are available and you are setting up an artificial feeder, be consistent with their care. Hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned every other day in the summer, and once a week during the cooler months. Mold and bacteria can form in the feeder and can be very harmful to these little creatures. You also need to change the nectarmixture each time you clean the feeder. Nectarmixture should be a 1:5 ratio (¼ cup sugar to 1¼cups water).Never add red food coloring.
To view additional hummingbirds and get ideas about plants that attract hummingbirds, visit dbg.org/hummingbirds.