Gardening for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are magic creatures. We are lucky they are present in the Pacific Northwest year-round, and if you plant their favorite flowers, humming visitors will likely follow. You can, of course, put up hummingbird feeders, but if you do, you should maintain them every couple of days and make certain the nectar is fresh and the feeders are clean. If you are not willing to go to such lengths, then the best and easiest option is to garden with these creatures in mind. 

At Joy Creek Nursery where we grew thousands of plants, year after year I observed many hummingbirds defending the penstemon, salvia, agastache, ribes, hardy fuchsia and epilobium (zauschneria) sections on the tables when they were in bloom. These, I would say, are the immediate favorites. There are many choices other than these, many native, that are regularly visited too. What follows are a few highlights in my garden that really cater to the hummingbirds (primarily Anna's and Rufous in our neck of the woods). You can provide year-round for them with plants and it's a win-win because so many of these plants are also attractive to other pollinators, not just hummingbirds.

Some people are surprised we have hummingbirds this far north, especially year-round. A note from Portland Audubon regarding hummingbirds in this region:

The first Anna’s Hummingbird recorded in Oregon was on the south coast in 1944. By the 1950s and 60s, their range extended throughout Western Oregon and north to Vancouver B.C., but it wasn’t until the 1990s that Anna’s Hummingbirds became a widespread and familiar backyard bird in the Portland area. The Anna’s Hummingbird builds a soft cup nest, bound with spiderwebs and exquisitely decorated with lichen, mostly from January-July. As with most hummingbird species, nest building and parental care is left up to the female. Two eggs are incubated for about 16 days, and the hatchlings fledge in about 20 days. The female continues to feed her young for another 10 days or so, after fledging. Anna's hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds to stay in Oregon year-round.

 Now for the flowers. Ribes sanguineum, or native flowering currant is one of the earliest of the spring blooming plants. This is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that comes in shades of pinks and white, other species such as R. x gordoniaum and R. aureum have yellow tones to the flowers and bloom a little later in the season. 

A definite favorite are penstemons. Pictured is Penstemon kunthii, a later blooming summer perennial. When in bloom (which is a long time) the birds defend individual plants with vigor. Nearly all species of penstemon are native to North America, many native specifically to the American West. P. kunthii is native to Mexico. Penstemons are generally either herbaceous perennials or subshrubs depending on the species. Many of our native alpine penstemons are evergreen subshrubs.

This is a hybrid garden penstemon, P. 'Rich Ruby', an especially attractive and floriferous cultivar with large wine-red flowers. This photo makes them appear more purple, it's the lighting. 

Penstemon pinifolius, an evergreen small penstemon with fine needle-like leaves, hence the species name. This useful front-of-the-border sun lover is native to the American Southwest.

Penstemon pinifolius 'Melon' is an especially attractive color. Note the fine needle like leaves.

Another garden hybrid, Penstemon 'Firebird' with electric flowers with wine-red stems.

Penstemon heterophyllus 'Electric Blue'

A very prostrate evergreen penstemon, native Penstemon davidsonii is only an inch or so tall with pretty large flowers for its size. Its found naturally from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest.

Another native penstemon and a favorite of mine, Penstemon cardwellii is an evergreen subshrub with prolific blooms in lean dry soil. This is not an ordinary garden penstemon, its native habitat is alpine rocky soil near Mount St. Helens, for example. It wants open and well-drained sites in sun.

Just to prove that salvias are a favorite, I share a rare leucistic hummingbird, likely an Anna's. This little one stayed with us one late summer well into autumn in 2019 and claimed this Salvia microphylla. Salvias in general are herbaceous perennials, sometimes subshrubs. I leave them standing until late winter before doing any cutting back or cleaning up. This is to protect the crown from winter rot.

Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy' is a very late blooming salvia that keeps on going until first frost. This last year it was blooming in December until we had snow. Our resident hummingbirds claim this as their own through late autumn.

A second shot of Salvia microphylla and its vibrant flowers.

Even though I'm not a huge crocosmia fan (for its tendency to take over), I do have some more well-behaved species that I keep for the hummingbirds. This is Crocosmia pottsii, a flower with a slight coral blush to it.

Here are a couple different versions of Ribes sanguineum, this is 'White Icicle' and is lovely in a woodland setting, although it does fine in sun. 

A second R. sanguineum with lighter pink flowers. The species does vary in its depth of pink, I have found.

Lonicera ciliosa is a Pacific Northwest native honeysuckle common to our woodland areas. Most vining honeysuckle seem to be attractive to hummingbirds.

Displacus aurantiacus (syn. Mimulus aurantiacus) is a West Coast native subshrub. This particular plant was a seedling and has much paler flowers than its parent which was much darker orange.

Agastaches or licorice mints are definitely a frequent stop for hummingbirds. This is A. 'Apricot Sunrise', an herbaceous perennial as are all agastaches in my garden.

Agastache 'Kudos Red'

Agastache 'Kudos Mandarin'

Agastache 'Licorice Candy' is an especially tall plant, reaching some 6' or so at maturity. Agastaches can be tricky to get started, I have found that they do like regular summer irrigation when newly planted (think late afternoon monsoons as many species come from the Southwest), then the following year I really leave them alone and they do fine for drought tolerance. They're a little prettier with some summer irrigation. I also try to leave the stems standing until late winter for additional protection of the crown.

Our native columbine Aquilegia formosa has bright colors that even in a woodland setting stand out for hummingbirds.

Scarlet runner beans, an annual vine, not only produce an edible crop, they are beautiful and very attractive to pollinators and hummingbirds. We plant them for the critters and for a little beauty in the veggie garden every year.

Nicotiana 'Hot Chocolate' seedling - I purchased the plant from Annie's Annuals years ago but has long since perished. However, its seed remained in the soil so when we moved here, it resurrected itself in many places. A charming if a little abundant plant, we leave them primarily for the hummingbirds.

Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californica) or California fuchsia is another West Coast native plant that is high on the top ten favorites for hummingbirds.

Epilobium (syn. Zauschneria) 'Bowman's Hybrid' is a slightly more upright plant with rather silvery foliage. These lovely groundcover type plants bloom later in the season and many spread to form a tallish groundcover. They prefer well-drained soil in full sun and are an excellent choice for tough full sun areas out of reach of the garden hose.

Hardy fuchsias bloom a good portion of the summer well into autumn and often into December if it's mild enough. They are definitely visited and defended by hummingbirds. This is Fuchsia speciosa.

Fuchsia magellanica 'Aurea' in quite a bit of shade. It would have much more golden foliage in more sun. Fuchsias are great to extend not only the flower season well into autumn but also to extend it for our hummingbirds.

Lobelia in general are fabulous hummingbird attractors. This happens to be the gigantic Lobelia tupa. These red flowers are a super attractor, often with many hummingbird battles occurring in the airspace above.

Kniphofia thomsonii in the meadow garden. Kniphofias in general are excellent for attracting hummingbirds.

Grevillea lanigera 'Coastal Gem' is a prostrate grevillea blooming sporadically throughout the year, especially floriferous in the winter months. It is an evergreen plant, cascading in downward sprays. Borderline hardy for us, give it great drainage and a protected site. Mine has been going now for 8 or so years with no issues.

Grevillea x 'Neil Bell' is a Xera Plants introduction. It is a now rather large evergreen shrub, some 7' tall and covered in coral flowers in winter, especially, although it does like other grevilleas bloom periodically throughout the year. 

To extend the flower season (these bloom from October to late winter) don't forget mahonia species! This happens to be Mahonia 'Soft Caress' but our native species - M. aquifolium, M. nervosa and M. repens have similar yellow flowers and are definite staples of the Pacific Northwest hummingbird diet. We have dozens of the mid-sized Mahonia nervosa on our property and allow them to spread where they will. Speaking of evergreen native woodland plants for the Pacific Northwest, salal or Gaultheria shallon is another that hummingbirds visit.

One of the earliest (or latest) plants to bloom is arctostaphylos in late winter into spring, right before Ribes sanguineum. This happens to be A. 'Sentinel', but any species or cultivar is welcome. The Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' closest to their hummingbird feeders on the deck is well-used for cover for these little birds. They regularly hang out among its branches resting and awaiting a turn at the feeders. When it's in bloom they also feed on the flowers. A cousin of arctos, Arbutus unedo or strawberry tree is another evergreen tree/shrub with similar flowers. Hummingbirds tend to hang out in it when in flower which is also in the off season, October through December.

Rufous hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird with gorgeous gorget (the sparkly patch of feathers).

Same bird with a different angle of light

Here's a quick video of a few Anna's hummingbirds at their feeders in December. (Please note the feeder is blackened on the outside edge due to plastic burn, it's not dirt or mold. It was burned years ago when we were trying to melt frozen nectar.)

This post has been a pleasure to put together because, in the middle of winter, I get to visit flower photos as well as a few of our feathered buddies. A common theme you may notice is the tube-shaped flowers often in vibrant shades of reds and pinks (although not exclusively, they'll go for any color but red is a favorite). Think of that long beak especially adapted to harvesting nectar from long tubular blooms.

Other flowers not pictured here that are favorites of hummingbirds as observed at Chickadee Gardens are liatris species, Salvia elegans (pineapple sage - a fantastic super late blooming plant in the Pacific Northwest), monarda species, cardinal creeper (annual flowering vine), lupine species, hosta flowers believe it or not, Dicliptera suberecta (firecracker plant), Hesperaloe parviflora (and in warmer climes aloe species), nepeta species, heuchera species (sanguineum forms with bright red/pink flowers, especially), Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree) is very popular, too.

It's important if you are wanting to attract these jeweled little miracles to your garden to consider habitat and create spaces for them to rest, to hide, to nest and to have fresh water. Also, I have observed hummingbirds taking fluffy clematis as well as aster and liatris seeds for nesting material. Another reason not to clean up the garden too much in autumn. 

Again, fresh feeders if you go that route are crucial, you can kill a hummingbird with sour or old nectar. And please, no red dye! They don't need it and it can't be good for them. The recipe is simply 4 parts water to 1 part white sugar (nothing else, no honey, no sweetener, no coconut sugar, no corn syrup - just white sugar), boiled for a minute or two and cooled down. We literally go through a batch every two days and are committed to keeping it fresh for them. They slow down in summer, of course, and we'll take a couple feeders inside as they have plenty to eat in our garden. We do keep at least one up year round as they do continue to visit it and it's kept clean, especially in hot weather.

For more information about gardening for hummingbirds, here are a few links:

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all! Share with us what flowers are attractive to hummingbirds in your garden!


  1. This is an excellent accounting of the beautiful plants to support these beautiful birds. Cuphea, as well as Arbutus and Lobelia laxiflora, are important sources of nectar for the hummingbirds in my garden but they squabble the most over the large-flowered Grevilleas, particularly G. 'Superb'.

    1. Those are great additions to the list, Kris. Grevilleas are a definite favorite around here, too.

  2. Salvia 'Black and Blue' has been a massive winner in my summer and fall gardens for the hummingbirds. They pump out the blooms and last until the first hard frost (sometimes that December for us!) They are hardy - returning year after year. Great post T!

    1. Oh, yes, Salvia 'Black and Blue' is a great one, thank you for adding it to the list! And your blog has some excellent hummingbird information - I encourage others reading this to check out Jen's blog.

  3. Wonderful floriferous topic. This is the first year I used a hummingbird feeder on my patio and experienced many joyous moments with those 'jeweled miracles' as you so aptly called them.
    I have not been successful growing Agastache but I'm prompted to try it yet again... third time is a charm, right?
    I am pretty sure I have the native Penstemon cardwellii, and it's gearing up toward another gorgeous display of blooms.
    If I had the right condition, I'd give Grevillea lanigera 'Coastal Gem' a try as well as any Arctostaphylos, they are so gorgeous.

    1. Thank you, Chavliness! It's thrilling you have had visitors already. Yes, the third time is a charm with took me at least that many.

      Watch to see if the hummingbirds go for your penstemon, hopefully they'll find it!

  4. Beautiful photos and solid information, of course! Since I am not a flower gardener I am surprised how consistent the hummingbird visitors are to my garden. Sometimes I don't even realize something is in bloom—Embothrium coccineum for example—until I hear that familiar "click click". Sadly it appears the late February freeze zapped the interest right out of my Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Nanjing Gold', usually it's my hummingbird watching station right in front of the kitchen window. Since things warmed up I haven't seen a single one there.

    Should you find yourself with an extra Nicotiana 'Hot Chocolate' seedling this spring I would love to try and get that beauty established here in my garden.

    1. Thank you, Danger. You may not call yourself a flower gardener, your plants - many of them - have flowers whether you like it or not! Ha long as you don't cut them off (as in with Brachyglotis grayi - as I do too sometimes).

      Too bad about your Edgeworthia. They are popular with the hummingbirds. Darn! And yes, I'll happily share some nicotiana with you. I'll pot a couple up for our next swap.

  5. Great post. Hummers are such wonderful little birds. They pass through my garden mid summer right when the Penstemon barbatus are flowering and hang around until September. Love their boldness, how they 'talk' to me while I am in the garden and how they hover outside our windows watching us. So cool to have them grace your garden year round. Great post for a very chilly and snowy day. Thanks

    1. Thank you luv2garden. Ah, Penstemon barbatus is a great one! They are also fun companions in the garden as you point out. Very entertaining and endearing. We are lucky to have them year round and thank you for your kind words! As I mentioned it was a fun post to put together because it reminds me that flowers are not far off.

  6. Amazing that the Annas are now year-round in the PNW! And what a good caretaker you are, to keep the feeders going even in summer. Here it's the grevilleas year-round, aloes, kangaroo paws, blooming succulents, salvias, passifloras -- I seem to have the same taste in plants as the hummers!

    1. Year round grevilleas are a favorite. You do have the same taste in plants as the hummers...I wonder if there's some kind of hidden meaning in that...! I mean aloes, kangaroo paws, it sounds fabulous to me.

  7. Anonymous9:03 AM PDT

    Great Post!, so many fantastic plants! Love your blog, which I have been following since your move from Portland. It was only on my second reading of this post, did I realize that one plant, that I found to be irresistible to the hummers and which is hardy to the west side of the Cascades is tropaeolum speciosum. Its not the easiest to get established and doesn't care for extended drought, but it is definitely worth a try and between the incredible red of the bloom the metallic blue seeds that follow, I found it to be worthy addition to my hummingbird garden. Thanks again and keep up the wonderful posts! e

    1. Thank you, E!

      Thank you for commenting and reading! I would LOOOVE to try Tropaeolum speciosum - what a wonderful suggestion! I will seek it out. How long have you successfully grown it in your garden and do you have any tips? Thanks again!!


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