My Favorite Plants for Attracting Hummingbirds

I’ve been thinking about Hummingbirds a lot lately. This may seem odd in that the snow along my curb is piled about 4′ high and the temperatures lately have varied between really cold and brutally cold – not exactly Hummingbird weather. But perhaps that is why thoughts of Hummingbirds are such a pleasant diversion.

Plus, now that we are making garden plans it is a good time to consider adding flowers that attract Hummingbirds. In our garden Hummingbirds were a lot more common last year, which is good because it was such a disappointing year for butterflies. Even though we had lots more Hummingbirds, I’m sorry to say that Judy was never able to get a single picture – she just never seemed to have the camera in hand at the right time. 

In our region we have only one species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but I am always amazed to watch these birds hover, then fly straight up or down or backwards. They are such tiny creatures, but every fall they migrate from the eastern US to winter homes in Central America.

For pictures of Ruby-throated hummingbirds, click on this link to All About Birds.

In my garden there are four plants that stand out when it comes to attracting Hummingbirds.

Trumpet honeysuckle
Trumpet honeysuckle growing against brick wall in our back garden.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). This is a native perennial honeysuckle vine that is not invasive like the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). The flowers of the species are tubular and coral-colored. There are a number of cultivars with yelllow, red, or orange flowers. 

Trumpet honeysuckle has a big flush of  blooms in late spring, then flowers sporadically throughout the season. It tolerates part shade and is a pretty tough plant in my experience. Unfortunately it is not fragrant, but it does have berries for the birds in fall.

Pentas, Cigar Plant
Star flower, with cigar plant in the foreground.

Star flower (Pentas lanceolata). This is an annual with clusters of red, lilac, pink, or white star-shaped flowers (I like the red ones). Hummingbirds made their first appearance in our front garden after I planted these in containers on the front steps. Star Flower is grown as an annual in Chicago, but is hardy in USDA zone 10. In full sun it blooms profusely and over a long season, but in cool weather it will sulk. 

Cigar plant
Cigar plant in a container by the front walk.

Cigar plant (Cuphea ignea). Another plant from the tropics grown as an annual. Hummingbirds love this plant, which will get big and bushy over the course of a hot summer – but not so large that it doesn’t make a good container plant. Another common name is firecracker plant, which is a good description of this annual when covered with small, tubular red-orange flowers with yellow tips. Last summer is the first time I saw this plant at our local nurseries, and I will grab more if I see them again next year.

Cardinal flower
Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). This North American native is a beautiful plant but not easy to grow if you don’t have the right conditions – moist to wet soil with at least part sun. In my experience it is short-lived, even where I planted it near the end of a downspout. However, the uniquely shaped flowers are a dazzling red in late summer. About 3′ tall, it often requires staking.

Do you have hummingbirds in your garden? What are your favorite hummingbird plants?

60 Comments on “My Favorite Plants for Attracting Hummingbirds

  1. I have not had much luck attracting hummingbirds to my yard. I love the trumpet honeysuckle and have to see if I have a spot for one. Where do you find the star flower? Looks like I may have had them in a pot, but didn’t grow anywhere near as big as yours.

  2. We have oodles of hummingbirds here, I see lots of them in my garden every year. I have one bed in particular that they fight over. I love them, they are so magical. I try to take photos too, but I’ve only ever taken one that was any good. Sometimes it’s really just as much fun to be in the moment and just stand there and watch them fly around, rather than ruin it by desperately trying to capture a pic.

    • You have more hummingbirds and many different species, I’m jealous! As to the photos, I feel like we need to produce evidence of their existence!

  3. I know well only Lobelia and others are unknown for me, Jason. Wherefore I liked Cigar plant that you grow n a container, nice color and shape. Hummingbirds are not here as well but I think bees will like it!

  4. No humming birds here in Europe but I was excited to see them in California a couple of years ago. Closest we get is the humming bird hawk moth!

  5. We don’t get humming birds, but we do get the colourful butterfly-like moths that hover in a similar way and are often almost as big! I have Valerian for them and want to try Zinnia this summer too. I think I have seen Pentas sold as a houseplant here – will have look out for one. Wish I could grow that gorgeous Lobelia, but the slugs and snails simply love it!

  6. What a lovely post, we do not have any Hummingbirds in the UK and only very rarely does the Hawk moth visit. The link to the Cornell site was great and very informative. I have tried to grow Lobellia cardinalis here a few times and always lose it in a cold winter. Nice to see some summer flowers on a very wet and windy day here.

    • It may not have been the cold that killed your Lobelia – they are quite hardy – but otherwise finicky. I have lost quite a few over the years.

  7. All your plants look spectacular. There’s just one thing that really depresses me: I have no hummingbirds (and no red cardinals either for that matter!). So while you’re at it, would you mind putting a few in the envelopes with the cardinals, Jason? It would make my day!!!

  8. You are lucky to have humming birds, they are delightful. I’m not surprised that they are attracted to those gorgeous flowers; I love them all, I wish I could grow Pentas and that Cuphea is amazing. Lobelia cardinal I do grow and I love it but you are right it is short-lived.

  9. My hummers think beebalm ‘Jacob Kline’ to be a must have, but they also enjoy the honeysuckle you featured. They seem to like to nest in privet (short privet at that, not particularly smart of them given feral cats), lilac, and white pine. Annual nicotianas seem to attract them, but it is certainly not the color. They will also work over the phlox pretty good. But it is probably the beebalm that made my garden the nesting site for at least two pairs of hummers, if not three this last year.

    • We have a large privet bush (or the neighbors do, actually) in the west hedge, also some young lilacs out front – but I have not spotted any hummer nests. I have beebalm ‘Raspberry Wine’ also lots of wild bergamot and some phlox ‘David’ – but I have never seen hummers feeding on them.

  10. I get so excited when I see a hummingbird in my yard, but unfortunately that does not happen often. I think they are attracted to more woodsy areas than I have, but I keep trying to attract them with plants and food.

  11. I’ve seen quite a few in past years – they’re such a fun surprise and I never tire of them. They particularly love Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ in my garden. Luckily, I have a clump planted outside of my kitchen window so I’m fortunate to have a good viewing point from which to see the birds.

    • I just planted another trumpet honeysuckle just off our back porch window so we could watch the hummers from the comfort of our porch chairs.

  12. What pleasant thoughts for a wintery day. A plant I might add would be the Salvias. I grow black and blue salvia as it winters over most years. This winter will be a real test for it. This is the most severe winter we have had in decades. It comes up late and flowers well into fall. It takes a stiff frost to put it down for the winter. Tell Judy that she isn’t the only one that misses shots due to not having the camera with her. Even with the camera I am often enthralled with what I am seeing that I forget to take the picture. Try to keep warm.

  13. Nice post. I wouldn’t know how to deal with 4′ of snow. Just another day of rain is annoying me today. I may try the honeysuckle along my fence. Hummingbirds love Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm) in my garden.

  14. Even when I don’t see hummingbirds all summer, the one set of blooms that always attracts them is salvia ‘black and blue.’ Just wish it flowered earlier in the year! As in your garden, hummers also go to my native honeysuckle (I grow ‘Major Wheeler’ , which is especially floriferous) and cardinal flowers. Once I saw a hummer go inside a tall daylily, ‘autumn minaret’, which really surprised me. I’m going to try to tropical milkweed this summer to see if I can attract the birds earlier in the season.

  15. I have a garden row along my driveway with agastache and salvia. The hummers just go from plant to plant to plant there. They also dive bomb me if I get near THEIR Zauschnerias or mahonia. I love them though, such beautiful bullies!

  16. I just can’t imagine the idea of actually having such stunning little birds in my garden, what a thrill it must be to see them. The honeysuckle is perfect for their beaks isn’t it…..xxx

  17. For me, the best hummingbird plant ever is Abutilon “Orange Hot Lava,” although probably any kind of abutilon would work. The funny thing is, the bees and other pollinators have no interest in. Only the hummingbirds. I highly recommend it for a container plant in Chicago, where there is no way it would survive the winter.

  18. I have honeysuckle, too, growing up our front porch and love to watch the hummingbirds when sitting out there. I used to have some Cardinal flower but it has disappeared – thank you for the reminder – I must replace it! The hummers here (also only the Ruby Throat) are attracted to Obedient Plant late in the season. This past summer my Trumpet Vine bloomed for the first time and sure enough, there were the hummingbirds! I also keep a couple of feeders in different areas of the garden as they can be quite territorial. I can’t wait for their return as we are in the midst of yet another snow storm. How nice to browse through your beautiful photos and see tropical!

      • It might be … stay tuned … I have a lot of rampant plants in my garden and a machete should be my next garden tool. I say it’s worth it! The trumpet flowers are so beautiful it’s difficult to believe it is not a Tropical and can withstand our Winters! I have a friend who has trained several vines on vertical structures spaced evenly along her property line – stunning! My true hope is to train mine to the rustic arbor it is growing on so that when the arbor begins to rot, as it will eventually (made from tree branches), that the vine will take on its shape and become a living arbor!

  19. The hummingbirds like lots of things here but their very favorite plant is Brazilian blue sage. They are forever bickering over it, lol! They also love columbine, honeysuckle, trumpet vine and bee balm.

  20. I’ve never seen hummingbirds in my garden, but I’d sure love to! According to many birders in the area, last year was a good one for hummingbirds – I would have thought that after the floods, food sources might have been scarce, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Interesting.

    Really love that star flower, very attractive.

  21. In our garden the plant the hummingbirds like best is black currant! The flowers are minute, you have to look for them to see them, but you know when they start blooming because the bushes get abuzz with hummingbirds.

  22. Salvia’s are a hit in my garden, especially ‘Black and Blue’. Lobelias too. I would like to try a honeysuckle this year but they seem to get covered in aphids in this area so not sure I want to introduce it to the garden…

  23. We are envious of your hummingbirds, we don’t have them over here in York UK! But we do grow a lot of the plants that attract them. I guess the Atlantic gets in the way. A botanist friend was telling me today that the colour red often attracts birds but does not attract bees. Over here our only red native flower is the poppy!Your hummingbirds seem to visit all colours of flower. I guess the ones they go for have lots of nectar
    I have just returned from holiday in Costa Rica and in addition to loving the hummingbirds we met plenty of your countrymen.

  24. I have to get that honeysuckle plant. It has been in my get list for a long time. I only saw one hummingbird last year. I don’t think they exist in this northern,mostly urban part of NJ. But, this year I am planting plants to attract hummers.

    • Well, we live in an old suburb right on the Chicago line, so I doubt your area is more urban than ours. Plus hummingbirds range as far north as Quebec, so if you plant it, they may well come!

  25. Cardinal flower is short lived unless you take cuttings and plant more to keep it going. Of course it lives longest where there is wet soil. Hummers love so many flowers….mine go after phlox and coneflower too.

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