Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hummingbirds, Gardening to attract birds

What do hummingbirds eat? I want to attract them to my yard.


According to the Hummingbird Society, hummingbirds primarily eat nectar from flowers. They also eat small insects and spiders as sources of protein. For more information on their needs, see the website of the Hummingbird Society.

The City of Bellingham has a helpful guide to attracting hummingbirds which includes a list of plants which are nectar sources. Rainyside Gardeners also has a list of nectar plants for hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Extension's "Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden" by J. Olson and N. Allen (follow link "for more information" at the end of the article) is also a good starting point. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a thorough guide on their website.

The Miller Library has many books about creating a hummingbird garden, including a book published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that provides lists and descriptions of plants that attract hummingbirds, arranged by geographic region (Hummingbird Gardens, 2000, edited by Stephen W. Kress).

Date 2018-05-04
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hummingbirds, Animal-plant relationships

We have a dead cherry tree in front of our house. We're sad that it died since birds loved it and it bloomed starting early winter. We'd like to find someone to replace it for us and we'd like the new tree to be small to medium in size and be a draw for hummingbirds and other birds as the old cherry tree was. What tree would you recommend to replace our old cherry tree?


We recommend you select a certified arborist to remove the dead tree. There is a list online here where you can narrow a search to your area.

There are some evergreen, flowering shrubs which appeal to hummingbirds, such as Grevillea, which can reach 8 feet tall, depending on the variety. Arctostaphylos (Manzanita) species and Abelia grandiflora are also possibilities.

Trees which are attractive to hummingbirds (according to Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden, by Catherine Johnson and Susan McDiarmid, 2004) include Malus species (crabapple), Crataegus (hawthorn), and Sorbus sitchensis (Sitka mountain ash).

Here are some websites with more suggestions:
Backyard Wildlife Habitat
WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary
USDA National Resources Conservation Service's Backyard Conservation tips

Date 2018-04-21
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Campsis, Hummingbirds, Native plant gardening

I live in Bellevue and was thinking of planting a couple of Trumpet vines against a very tall wood fence in my yard (Campsis radicans). I found quite a lot of messages online about these plants being very invasive. Do you know that to be true for this area? If so, what other plants could I use against the fence and which attract hummingbirds as the Trumpet Vine claims to do.


Campsis radicans (trumpet vine)is not considered officially invasive in the Pacific Northwest, though it may be an aggressive grower that needs (or takes up) a fair amount of space. If you do decide to look for alternative vines to grow, scarlet runner bean is attractive to hummingbirds, as are honeysuckle (harder to grow than Campsis as it has occasional problems with aphids), and clematis, according to Naturescaping, published by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (2001).

The local website of Rainyside Gardeners has a list of nectar plants for Northwest hummingbirds. Of the plants on this list (which includes Campsis radicans, Honeysuckle(Lonicera), and Scarlet runner bean), Eccremocarpus scaber, Ipomoea, Jasminum stephanense, Mina lobata, and Tropaeolum are all vines, some of which are annual.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a plant list for attracting hummingbirds.

King County Natural Resources has a searchable native plant guide, and here are the native plants they recommend for hummingbirds:

  • Tree:
    • Madrone; madrona (Arbutus menziesii)
  • Vine:
    • Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)
  • Shrub:
    • Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
    • Black gooseberry (Ribes lacustre)
  • Groundcover:
    • Thrift; sea pink (Armeria maritima)
    • Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
    • Cooley's hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae)

In my own garden, the Italian Jasmine (Jasminum humile, a shrub grown against a wall, not a vine) appeals to hummingbirds, and in the fall they seem to like the Camellia sasanqua.

Date 2018-09-29
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Callistemon, Hummingbirds

I want to plant a Callistemon variety with yellow flowers in my garden, but will it still be attractive to hummingbirds (I know they like the red-flowered ones)?


I can't say with complete certainty, and it may take a little while for hummingbirds to discover this new addition to your garden, but according to the book Hummingbird Gardens by Nancy Newfield and Barbara Nielsen (Chapters, 1996), the genus Callistemon in general is attractive to hummingbirds. The authors quote a California gardener named Charlene Butler, who grows red, pink, and white-flowered varieties which "have flushes of bloom, and when they're in bloom the hummingbirds go nuts."

Just as insurance, you could plant perennials (such as Crocosmia 'Lucifer,' Salvia, Penstemon) which are known attractants near the Callistemon.

Date 2018-10-06
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Berberis, Hummingbirds

A couple of questions: first, what's the correct name these days, Mahonia or Berberis? Secondly, I'm trying to plant a succession of flowering Mahonia (or Berberis?) to attract hummingbirds to my Seattle garden. I have Mahonia X media 'Charity.' In what order do various species bloom?


The current accepted name for Mahonia is Berberis. I checked several local sources to compare flowering times for different species:

In approximate blooming order, here are several Berberis species:

  • Berberis x media 'Charity' and other cultivars (December-January)
  • Berberis repens (February-March)
  • Berberis aquifolium (as early as January but peaks March/April, into May)
  • Berberis bealei ("early spring," according to Gossler)
  • Berberis nervosa (May)

Date 2018-07-19
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Quirky, Honeybees and pollinators, Hummingbirds, Animal-plant relationships

I would like to know how the hummingbird's feeding affects the level of nectar in flowers. I already know about which flowers produce nectar that will attract hummingbirds. My main concern is whether hummingbirds can use up a plant's supply of nectar.


There has been some research which suggests that a plant's production of nectar is regulated by hormones. Sometimes the hormone attracts one creature in order to repel another. The article excerpted below suggests that rapeseed plants produce nectar to attract ants that will defend them against caterpillars. Source: Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (March 29,2010):
"Jasmonic acid and related molecules are constituents of molecular signal transduction chains in plant tissues. These compounds - generally referred to as jasmonates - are synthesized when caterpillars feed on plants; they are signalling substances and belong to the group of plant hormones. By producing jasmonates the plant regulates its defence against herbivores e.g. by stimulating the synthesis of toxins. Moreover, previous studies have shown that jasmonates regulate the production of "extrafloral nectar". This particular nectar, which is produced by special glands called "extrafloral nectaries", has nothing to do with pollination, but attracts ants to the herbivore-attacked plants as defenders against their pests. The sugars in the nectar reward the ants for defending the plant. The same principle applies to floral nectar: nectar production in the flowers attracts and rewards pollinators which in turn contribute substantially to the seed yield. However, up to now, it has not been clear how nectar production is regulated in the flowers."

In the book The Biology of Nectaries edited by Barbara Bentley and Thomas Elias (Columbia University Press, 1983), there is an essay called "Patterns of nectar production and plant-pollinator co-evolution" (by Robert William Cruden et al.) which states that "flowers pollinated by high-energy requiring animals [this would include hummingbirds] produce significantly more nectar than flowers pollinated by low-energy requiring animals, such as butterflies, bees, and flies."

Similarly, plants whose pollinators are active in the day produce more nectar during the day, and plants pollinated by nocturnal creatures will make more nectar at night. So clearly there is an intricate system of response between the needs of the plants and the needs of the hummingbirds, and the biology of individual plants has evolved to serve the plants' interests which are tied to those of pollinators. In effect, the hummingbird can't exhaust the nectar supply of the flowers, because the plant has adapted to meet its needs.

Date 2018-08-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Hummingbirds

I have a very large, mature Portugal laurel hedge. A tree service is coming out next week to see about pruning it. It is February and I heard that Anna's hummingbirds are beginning to build nests in our area. I have a hummingbird feeder near the hedge. So, my first question, is now an OK time to have the hedge trimmed for the health of the plant? Second, am I risking disturbing nests at this time? In addition, if the neighbors cut back a significant amount of hedge on their side of the fence last year, am I safe to cut some of the height now, or do I need to allow more time for the shrub to recover?


According to the American Horticultural Society's Pruning & Training (ed. Christopher Brickell, DK Publishing, 2011), the ideal time to prune Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel) is late spring or early summer. However, it can produce new growth easily from old wood, so if a plant or a hedge requires renovation, it shouldn't pose a problem. It's always best to avoid pruning on very hot days. The Royal Horticultural Society website has general guidelines for hedge pruning:

"Evergreen hedges
Formative pruning: In the spring after planting and for the first two years after planting
Maintenance pruning: Each summer"

If you are concerned about disturbing the Anna's hummingbirds, it makes sense in any case to wait until late spring or early summer. See this information on Anna's hummingbirds from Washington NatureMapping Program:

"Nesting: As is the case with other hummingbird species, male and female Anna's Hummingbirds associate only long enough to mate. The female is responsible for construction of the nest and care of the young. The breeding season begins in December and usually lasts until May or June. Females will lay a clutch of only two white eggs and will produce only one brood per season. The hummingbird eggs are roughly the size and shape of a small jellybean. The hatchlings will remain in the nest for three weeks."

Portugal laurel is generally considered pretty tough, but if you are concerned about pruning too much at one time, you might want to wait until it is in the height of active growth. To sum up, it seems best for both the hummingbirds and the hedge to wait a while.

Date 2018-06-22
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Hummingbirds, Phygelius, Salvia, Gardening to attract birds

Encourage hummingbirds to visit your garden by providing food and shelter. While hummingbird feeders bring the tiny birds close to the house for easy viewing, providing nectar from flowers is probably better for the birds. Phygelius, Salvia, and hardy Fuchsias in pink and red shades will make them happy. For winter food try the glorious Mahonia x media 'Charity' which tends to start blooming sweet yellow flowers in December. Everything you ever wanted to know about hummers: www.hummingbirds.net. This site has migration maps, ratings of feeders, and species descriptions with photos.

Date: 2007-04-03
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