Creating a Native Hummingbird Garden

Creating a Native Hummingbird Garden

With their tiny, lightweight bodies, long beaks, and incredible metabolism, hummingbirds are evolutionary marvels on a miniature scale. These fascinating birds — one of just a handful of non-insect pollinators — can be seen flitting between flowers in search of nectar, and their skills in the maneuverability department are unmatched! Not only can they zip through the air at speeds surpassing 50mph, but they are also the only birds able to fly backwards, hover in place, and stop and turn on a dime. Here in Portland, two species of hummingbirds can most often be spotted in our gardens: The Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) and the rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), the former of which can even be seen in the winter!

Gardening for Hummingbirds

When gardening for hummingbirds, many of the same principles of pollinator gardening and wildlife gardening apply. Although many exotic plants attract the attention of hummingbirds — and can be used with great success in a pollinator garden — it is important to include a diverse mix of PNW natives that support the complex, interdependent food webs that have developed here over the course of geologic time spans. Our native hummingbirds, and many of the insects they eat, have evolved alongside the flora of our region and seek them out for food and shelter. And in return, these little birds play a pivotal role in pollinating many of these plants.

Check out our tips to help you transform your yard into a hummingbird haven filled with native plants.

1) Include a diverse mix of native plants with a variety of bloom times. This will help to ensure a constant supply of nectar in your garden year-round, making it attractive habitat to your local hummingbird population. With that said, it may be hard to avoid "gaps" between bloom times with a palette of exclusively natives, making this an excellent criterion to consider when choosing non-natives to incorporate into your planting scheme. In fact, exotic ornamental plants are one of the reasons Anna's hummingbirds are able to successfully overwinter in our climate when historically, they did not; it turns out that many of the winter-blooming plants appreciated by gardeners in urban landscapes also just so happen to feed our hummingbirds. However, there are several good native (or near-native) options for blooms in winter and early spring, including Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and many of the Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.).

2) Choose flowers with tube-shaped blooms favored by hummingbirds — especially in hues of red, orange, and pink. Native options include scarlet monkeyflower (Erythranthe cardinalis) and our native honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa). Beardtongues (Penstemon spp.) are also a hummingbird favorite, and with more than 80 species native to the PNW, there's no shortage of options to choose from, in hues ranging from brilliant scarlet to electric blue.

3) Create a garden with multiple "layers" of canopy. Mimicking the plant communities you see in nature — from ground covers and shrubs to understory and overstory trees — will help to make hummingbirds feel most at home in your garden. Trees, in particular, help hummingbirds feel safe, providing them with protection from both predators and the elements. At the Nursery, you will often see — and hear — Anna's hummingbirds perched in the Alaska cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) planted near the Patio, periodically darting down to the many flowers below for a quick snack. Trees and shrubs like this not only provide perches for these tiny birds, but also secure locations for them to build nests during the breeding season.

4) Keep in mind that a bug-friendly garden is a bird-friendly garden! While it's true that hummingbirds drink nectar, virtually all of the protein in their diet comes from small insects like aphids. They also depend on spiders to provide webbing with which to build their nests, so the health of the insect (and arachnid) life in a garden is incredibly important for hummingbirds in more ways than one. As such, we encourage you to avoid using pesticides and other chemical remedies in your garden whenever possible. This is especially important for flowering plants visited by pollinators. If you have to apply a chemical remedy, we encourage you to choose an organic solution and to ensure that you follow the directions printed on the packaging in order to limit any potential harm to pollinators. Consider imposing a physical barrier to keep pollinators from being able to access flowers that have been recently treated.

To help you create a hummingbird-friendly garden filled with natives, check out the following plant list we've put together for you, and be sure to scroll to the bottom of this blog post to find a shoppable collection of the varieties we currently carry at the Nursery.

PNW Native Plants for Hummingbirds

* = Hummingbird Favorite

Annuals, Perennials, and Vines

  • Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
  • Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)*
  • Goat's Beard (Aruncus sylvester)
  • Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
  • Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
  • Great Camas (Camassia leichtlinii) 
  • Common Camas (Camassia quamash)
  • Paintbrush (Castilleja spp.)*
  • Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia amoena)*
  • Columbian Larkspur (Delphinium trollifoliium)
  • Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)*
  • Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)
  • Scarlet Monkeyflower (Erythranthe cardinalis)
  • Yellow Monkeyflower (Erythranthe guttata)
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)
  • Small-Leaf Alumroot (Heuchera micrantha)
  • Yellowleaf Iris (Iris chrysophylla)
  • Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana)
  • Oregon Iris (Iris tenax)
  • Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum)
  • Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)*
  • Hairy Honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)
  • Large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)
  • Streambank Lupine (Lupinus rivularis)
  • Firecracker Beardtongue (Penstemon eatonii)*
  • Meadow Beardtongue (Penstemon rydbergii)*
  • Mountain Beardtongue (Penstemon strictus)*
  • Rose Checkermallow (Sidalcea malvaflora ssp. virgata)
  • Meadow Checkermallow (Sidalcea campestris)
  • Cusick's Checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii)
  • Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Shrubs

  • Pacific Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
  • Hairy Manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana)
  • Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
  • Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
  • Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)
  • Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • Cascade Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa)
  • Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)
  • Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)
  • Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale)
  • Wild Gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum)
  • Gummy Gooseberry (Ribes lobbii)
  • Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sangiuneum)*
  • Red Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum)*
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
  • Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
  • Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)*
  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa)
  • Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea)
  • Sitka Mountain-Ash (Sorbus sitchensis)
  • Douglas Spirea (Spirea douglasii)
  • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
  • Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)*

Trees

  • Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
  • Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
  • Black Hawthorne (Crataeagus douglassii)
  • Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana)

Supplemental Food & Water

A hummingbird feeder can be a great way to supplement the flowers in your yard, or cover any gaps in bloom time you may have — especially in the winter, when flowering plants are few and far between, and insects are harder to find. Pre-mixed hummingbird food is a convenient option, but it's also relatively easy to create your own at home. All it takes is a kettle of boiling water and some granulated white sugar, combined at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. After the mixture has completely cooled, you can add it to to your feeder or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. (If you do choose to purchase artificial nectar, opt for the kind that doesn't contain red dye; it isn't necessary to attract hummingbirds, and can actually harm them.)

For the health of our feathered friends, it's important to be conscious of cleaning your feeder often. A shadier site will help to keep your sugar water from spoiling as quickly, but no matter where your feeder is located, it's important to clean it out every few days and replace the sugar water inside — especially in the heat of summer. A good scrub and rinse with hot water is generally sufficient, but every so often, it's good to deep-clean with a solution specifically formulated for this purpose.

While hummingbirds' hydration needs are met by the nectar they consume, they still appreciate access to clean water for bathing and preening. They far prefer moving water that is dripping or splashing to standing water, so they aren't often seen visiting bird baths. That said, you can provide water for hummingbirds that meets these requirements with a fountain, bubbler, or even a sprinker or hose set to "mist." (As with hummingbird feeders, if you set up a water feature for your backyard birds, be sure to clean it regularly to keep them safe and healthy.)

At Cornell Farm, we have a wide variety of plants and supplies to help you create a hummingbird haven in your own backyard — including a fantastic selection of PNW natives. For more ideas and tips on pollinator gardening, check out Josie's Top Five Hummingbird Plants. (Images of rufous hummingbirds courtesy of the Alaska and Mountain & Prairie Regions of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)


Native Hummingbird Plants