Northscaping For Northern Gardeners
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In this continuing series of info sheets on the color pink, I will describe how to attract hummingbirds into you garden. Of course in keeping with the theme, pink flowering plants will be my focus. With respect to hummingbirds, it is a widely held misconception that they are solely attracted to red flowers. So leave it to me to set the record straight!

My first experience with a hummingbird did not happen until I was in University. I was on a course at a beautiful boreal forest park a couple of hours from home. One morning I awoke and walked out of the cabin where I was staying.

Hummingbirds are a welcome addition to your garden

Never having camped in the wilderness before, I performed the stereotypical yawn ritual; arms outstretched and mouth open wide. As I opened my eyes, there hovering at my face with a slight humming noise was a male hummingbird. I can only assume that the red shirt I was wearing, combined with the gaping hole my yawning mouth made, told this bird that it had just found the mother-lode of nectar supplies. Before I discovered what 'Hummingbird al Fresco' tasted like, I darted inside and changed my shirt immediately. It wasn't until some many years later that I realized how much a prize I would have been for this little guy!

My second experience occurred one evening as I was walking through the beautiful gardens at our major city park. As I strolled along, checking to see if my staff had forgotten any tools behind in the gardens, I heard a funny noise that sounded like the clipping of a pair of scissors coming from behind a spruce tree. Half expecting to see a patron of the park helping themselves to the flowers of a large bergamot (Monarda didyma 'Jacob Kilne') that was growing there, I was pleasantly surprised to see two male hummingbirds dueling for the possession of this plant.

For the most part, Hummingbirds are extremely territorial. It is in fact because of this that it is very wise to scatter hummingbird-attracting plants throughout your garden where the birds cannot see each other, as opposed to locating them in a single spot.

Hummingbirds prefer plants that are adorned with tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers. While the primary food for hummingbirds is flower nectar, many species of hummingbirds have been known include tree sap from evergreens and small insects such as aphids, mosquitoes and tiny beetles. Unfortunately, some good insects like spiders also round out the hummingbird diet.

shell pink flowers of beautybush
Hummingbirds are attracted to the shell pink flowers of beautybush

I would venture to say that it is not singly important to provide some well placed spring bloomers in order to attract hummingbirds into your garden. Instead, due diligence is necessary to ensure a constant supply of food in the form of plant nectar and a fresh source of water, as their high metabolic rate demands continuous feeding throughout the day and the season. Vegetative cover for their nest sites, as well as for protection from any predators, is also essential. It is my opinion that the natural combination these two very important factors; adequate food and shelter is the explanation as to why many riverbanks and lakefront properties are more abundant with these divine creatures.

Planning a garden for hummingbirds will require some very strategic placement of flowering plants, including trees, shrubs and herbaceous flowering plants that provide a source of nectar from late spring until early autumn. Some pink flowering trees and shrubs that are ideal for attracting and keeping hummingbirds in colder climates include:

Flowering crabs (Malus spp.) zone 3 early spring
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) zone 5* summer/early fall
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.) zone 5 early spring
Spring heather (Erica spp.) zone 5 spring
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) zone 5 summer
Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) zone 4 early summer
Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) zone 2 late spring
Rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) zone 4 spring
Lilac (Syringa spp.) zone 2 late spring
Cardinal shrub (Weigela florida) zone 3/4 early summer

* - will survive in colder zones if treated as a perennial

Centennial weigela
Centennial weigela is a hummingbird favorite

My favorite is the Weigela florida or cardinal shrub, as it is available in a wide variety of sizes and foliage colors, as well as white, pink and carmine colored flowers. The flowers on this plant do have a tendency of reblooming later in the season and the selections of plants are suitable for both sunny and lightly shaded locations.

I would mention though, that not all cultivars are hardy for all cold climate zones. Of the varieties available, I find 'Centennial', 'Red Prince' and 'Minuet' are among the hardiest. Having tried both the variegated form as well as the newer cultivar 'Wine and Roses' in my zone 3 gardens, I feel they are hardly a good choice for anyone living in hardiness zones colder than 4b.

So get planting and bring on the hummingbirds!

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