This Garden is for the Birds -- Hummingbirds!

I have noticed late this summer that several hummingbirds are visiting some of the flowers in my garden. I am surprised – partly because it is late in the season and also because I do not have any hummingbird feeders set up in my landscape. 

Two species of hummingbirds visit Iowa gardens – the ruby-throated hummingbird and the Rufous hummingbird. The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most colorful since it has a bright red splotch at is throat. Both the male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds have an emerald colored back, but the female lacks the red spot on its throat.   The Rufous hummingbird is larger and rufous colored (or rusty red-brown). This male is predominately rufous colored on the throat, tail, head, back, and each side with a white breast.   The female Rufous hummingbird also has a white breast like the male, but unlike the male the female species has a green head and back and its tail feathers are rufous, tipped with white.

In watching these hummingbirds zip around I have realized several things. First – they are fast! Sometimes too fast for me to tell which species of hummingbird is visiting. The second thing I noticed is the variety of flowers that they visit. Since I am a gardener, I want to know which flowers they find most attractive. Since I can't ask them (or at least I don't expect a response), I am stuck with watching them instead. 

Many garden books suggest planting red or orange, tubular flowers in a sunny site to attract hummingbirds to the garden. Yet, I see them visiting pink, white, and lavender flowers too! I have even seen hummingbirds visit zinnias or coreopsis which have a daisy-like flower instead of a tubular flower.   And are sunny sites a requirement? I don't think so, especially when I see them visiting hosta flowers in my garden this summer.

Maybe hummingbirds aren't as discerning as we initially thought. Maybe they are like us and like a diverse palette of plants. Or maybe they try these different plants simply because they are available. Regardless of their preferences, I like having them visit my garden and/or landscape.

While it may be a bit late to put out a hummingbird feed this year, generally late summer and early fall is a great time to install a hummingbird feeder – especially if you don't have a variety of flowers for them to visit. Hummingbirds are migratory birds that travel great distances from early spring to late fall. They are often in Iowa in April and May as they head north for the year and back again in August and September as they migrate south for the winter.

Below is a list of plants often referenced as attracting hummingbirds to your garden.  But don't worry if many of these are not planted in your garden, because I can attest that they will visit other flowers too!

Plants to attract hummingbirds to Iowa gardens


        Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)

        Fuchsia (Fuchsia x hybrida)

        Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)

        Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

        Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata)

        Petunia (Petunia x hybrida)

        Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

        Red Salvia (Salvia splendens)

        Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)

        Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)


         Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

         Canna (Canna x generalis)

         Tube and vining Clematis (Clematis sp.)

         Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

         Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea)

         Delphinium (Delphinium x elatum)

         Daylily (Hemerocallis species)

         Gladiola (Gladiolus x hortulanus)

         Hibiscus (Hibiscus species)

         Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

         Hosta (Hosta species)

         Liatris (Liatris spicata)

         Lily (Lilium species)

         Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis)

         Penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)

         Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

         Lupine (Lupinus hybrids)

         Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

         Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)


        Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

        Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

        Lilac (Syringa species)

        Weigela (Weigela florida)


        Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

        Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers.  Photo by Cindy Haynes.
Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers. Photo by Cindy Haynes.


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