Hummingbirds love bright color.
Although more than 300 known species of hummingbird grace gardens around the world, only about a dozen species routinely migrate through North America, and even fewer remain year-round in the warmest areas of the West Coast. These amazingly tiny birds—the smallest bird in the world is the bee hummingbird, which weighs less than an ounce—mostly prefer the warmth of the tropics in Central and South America.
These voracious flying gems have the highest metabolic rate of any animal on earth and spend most of their waking hours in search of the sugary nectar that provides most of their energy. A single hummingbird might visit as many as 2,000 flowers in one day, lapping up nectar with its extremely long tongue. They are particularly attracted to brightly colored flowers with a tubular shape.
If you live in an area visited by hummingbirds during the spring and summer months—typically, that’s the ruby-throated hummingbird in the East, and Costa’s, Anna’s, Allen’s, black-chinned, and rufous hummingbirds in the West—you can encourage them to visit your garden by growing some of the many plants that attract hummingbirds. The following 12 plants are irresistible to hummers, plus they’ll add bright, cheerful color of their own to your spring and summer garden.
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lantana’s exuberant flowers—the individual blooms are tiny, but burst forth in tight clusters—attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Some lantana varieties display just one color of flower per cluster, but most feature clusters that combine hot pink and yellow or orange and red. Grow lantana in a sunny spot, and let the soil dry slightly between waterings. In areas with winter temperatures below freezing, lantana survives as an annual, but it thrives year-round in the warmest climates.
Related: 4 Tips for Attracting Hummingbirds
Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)
A large family of North American natives, penstemon species appear in many colors and heights, but all produce tubular blooms that hummingbirds love, especially if you choose purple, red, or pink varieties. Two particularly good varieties are firecracker (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi). Penstemon is a fairly easy perennial to grow in a sunny location with excellent soil drainage. Don’t fertilize often; penstemon prefers slightly poor soil.
Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Also called trumpet creeper, this glorious vine explodes in summer through fall with bright orange flowers that hummers simply cannot resist. A native to eastern North America, trumpet vine grows quickly and vigorously, and needs a strong arbor, trellis, or fence for support. Cut it back as needed to keep it under control, and don’t water or fertilize too frequently; this hardy vine prefers slightly poor, dry soil.
Petunia (Petunia spp.)
One of the most popular spring-through-summer annuals, petunias are available in just about every color of the rainbow, as well as bicolor varieties. Grow these easy-care plants in hanging baskets, containers, or along a garden border; just be sure they get plenty of sun, keep the soil moist but not soggy, and feed once or twice during their growing season. Hummers are especially fond of red, purple, and pink varieties.
Salvia (Salvia spp.)
Salvia is a large genus of plants in the mint family. They produce tall spikes of clustered flowers and have lance-shaped leaves that give off a distinctive fragrance when cut or crushed. While butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds flock to just about every variety of salvia, you can count on hummers visiting Salvia microphylla “Hot Lips,” which has 2-toned red and white blooms, and Salvia greggii, often called autumn sage. This North American native produces red, purple, pink, or white flowers summer through fall. All salvias prefer sunny locations and are moderately drought resistant.
Lupine (Lupinus x hybridus)
Most lupines sold in garden centers are hybrids of various wild lupines. These North American natives feature a wide range of colors and sizes, but all produce spikes of tubular flowers that attract all types of pollinators, including hummingbirds. Plant lupine in a sunny location with good drainage and slightly acidic soil, and don’t fertilize it often. While lupine is a tender perennial, in many areas, especially hot climates, it is treated as an annual.
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
Although columbine appears delicate, this perennial beauty is actually fairly easy to grow in areas that aren’t too hot during its summer bloom time. While there are many cultivars and hybrids of columbine, all of which attract hummingbirds, one that is especially appealing is red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Plant columbine in a partly shady spot and keep it moist but not soggy. Cutting spent flowers encourages repeat blooms.
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Hummingbirds find the bright red tubular blooms of cardinal flower irresistible, and the tiny fliers are the primary pollinator of this North American native. While technically a perennial, cardinal flower does not live long, but does reseed prolifically. This woodland flower likes some shade and does best in moist soil; covering the soil with mulch helps the plant thrive. As a bonus, deer rarely bother this garden showstopper.
Hosta (Hosta spp.)
A mainstay of the shade garden, hosta varieties appear in an excellent assortment at most nurseries. And while most people think of hosta as a foliage plant—thanks to the many leaf colors and patterns available—it does bloom during the summer, mostly in small white or purple flowers. Hummingbirds love the tubular blooms, which add beautiful contrast to the plant’s greenery. Keep hostas mulched and water them regularly. Watch out for snails, which love to nibble the leaves.
Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea)
Also called firecracker plant, the cigar plant has long, thin, bright orange flowers that hummingbirds love. A native to Mexico, the cigar plant blooms exuberantly through the spring and summer. In cold climates, cigar plant generally serves as an annual, but it will thrive year-round in warmer areas. Water the plant regularly, pinch it back occasionally so it doesn’t get leggy, and grow it in a full-sun to part-shade spot.
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
Most varieties of flowering tobacco grown in the garden are annuals, although some can survive year-round in mild-winter climates. These delicate beauties bloom summer through fall, with the flowers opening during the evening to release a wonderful fragrance. Hummingbirds and other pollinators love the white, red, pink, or even green blossoms. Flowering tobacco does best in rich soil that drains well, and prefers not to be too hot or too cold. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage a longer bloom time.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
Another native to North America, bee balm is a member of the mint family, featuring red, pink, purple, or white flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds like a magnet. A perennial, bee balm does best when grown in full sun, although it will tolerate some shade. It likes fairly moist soil, and requires good air circulation to ward off its arch nemesis, downy mildew. Deadhead spent blooms to keep flowers coming all summer long.
Related: How to Make Hummingbird Food
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