Middle TN wildlife can be fascinating! One of the questions we get the most at Needham’s Nursery is “What do I plant to attract hummingbirds or butterflies?” While there is not a single answer to this question, we hope to give you some ideas and tips that will help you become a hummingbird hotspot! Many of the same or similar plants will attract both hummingbirds and butterflies, this section is focusing on the hummingbirds.
The recognizable hum of a flying humming bird, never fails to delight those who eagerly await their arrival in the spring. You may see some other species in TN, but one of the most popular and prominent is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. This is the only species of hummingbirds that nest in Tennessee. The Ruby-throats winter in Central America and Southern Mexico, and begin to arrive in Tennessee as early as late March. Some Ruby-throats stay here and settle in, but most are just traveling through to breeding areas that can extend into Canada.
It is not a difficult task to attract these Ruby-throated beauties. The key is to make your yard a hummingbird dreamland! We will look at what flowers and colors attract them, and address some other things that will make your yard worth the travel each year!
When hummers first arrive, it is too cold (and still a good chance of frost) to plant annuals. To welcome hummers in first thing, it would be a good idea to have some native wildflowers. Some that are particularly attractive to hummers would be wild columbine and wild blue phlox, both are perennials that are early spring favorites! If you have a trellis, or post, you may want to add some Carolina Jessamine or early blooming crossvines. You can also, of course, plant some Million Bells (Calibrachoa) in a hanging basket. Make sure the vibrant colors can be seen from above, as this is the view the hummingbird sees.
This is your yard’s time to SHINE! Late April is the time to plant a large variety of annuals. A variety of flowers will provide nectar-rich blooms to support the hummingbirds from spring until late fall. Your flowers should include some red blooms. Hummingbirds associate red with nectar-rich food sources. Make your yard a red and orange beacon to draw the hummers in. Considering accenting your landscape with window boxes, hanging baskets, or large flower pots. Be sure to fill these with brightly colored plants with tuberous blooms. Some examples of what to plant include, but are not limited to, petunias, fuchsias, geraniums, lantana, or pentas. You can also try some honeysuckle on a mailbox, trellis, or post.
Summer is the time to have hummingbird vines. Cardinal Climbers provide many small, tubular, red flowers. You can plant them in window boxes, hanging baskets, climbing a trellis, or even flowing over a wall. In an open sunny area, try bee balm. It has a mass of tiny nectar-bearing tubes. Despite the name, butterfly bushes are a fave for hummers because of their long-lasting blooms. Some other double-duty flowers include hibiscus, verbena, and lilies.
This is when you will probably see the most hummingbirds. They are trying to get ready for their travels, they will feed heavily in preparation for fall migration. For many this includes a non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Some things you want to have planted this last part of the season include, cardinal flowers, butterfly weed, lantana, marigolds, impatiens, native wildflowers, salvia, autumn sage, and pineapple sage. These are just a few things that will thrive through the heat of the summer.
We have offered many nectar-rich flower options to help draw in some hummers. Even if you have these plants available, it is good to keep a feeder to supplement when food is scarce, or competition is high. By supplementing the natural diet hummers can meet their high-energy needs, especially during high migration periods. Hummingbirds prefer a 20-30 percent nectar solution.
Here is a standard recipe for sugar-water to use to fill your feeder: Dissolve 1 cup of white sugar cane in 4 cups of water. Make sure to use room temperature water and stir well. You can store extra solution in the refrigerator, but make sure to allow it to come back up to room temperature before putting out for the hummingbirds. While some people will color the water with red food coloring, we DO NOT recommend this. The red dye is NOT necessary and could be harmful. Most feeders are red, so it is not worth the risk.
Water: All birds need water, hummingbirds included. While they get most of their drinking water from nectar, they also need bathing water. Hummingbirds will bathe in shallow water, about ¼ inch is enough! If you have a bird bath they will use that, but they will also bathe in broadleaf plants that have collected water.
Perches: Hummingbirds have very tiny feet. They require small branched shrubs for resting. The ultimate thickness would be that of an old-fashioned wire hanger. Some shrubs that they may like include forsythia and butterfly bushes. Hummingbirds may find a favorite perch and return to the same shrub repeatedly!
Safety: Hummingbirds use evergreen trees and shrubs as protection from wind, rain, and even predators.