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All About Hummingbird Gardens  

Have you ever witnessed the tiny wings of an exquisite hummingbird in flight? Or marveled at its incredible acrobatic ability to fly backward or forward, to hover, or to ascend vertically at will?

A hummingbirds’ wings can rotate 180 degrees, either up, down, forward, or back. Their wings beat about 80 times per second during regular flight. Miraculously, this speed increases to a mere 200 times per second when the male hummingbird performs his display dive. When resting, hummingbirds take 250 breaths per minute!

If this isn't amazing enough, imagine some of these miniature winged creatures, the Ruby-throated hummingbird in particular, flying 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to overwinter in Georgia and other parts of the country. Ruby-throat hummingbirds weigh in at about three grams, and their eggs are about the size of a large pinto bean.

Is it any wonder that these unique garden acrobats have captivated the attention of both hummingbird gardeners and “watchers” for centuries?

Planting a hummingbird garden is a great way to capture the birds on film or video, and makes a much nicer backdrop for your photos than just the typical plastic feeder.

What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

What do these resplendent little creatures dine on? How can you best attract them to your backyard garden?

Like butterflies, hummingbirds receive most of their energy requirements from the sweet nectar found in the blossoms of flowers. They also ingest small spiders or soft insects they spy on the leaves of plants, providing them with protein.

Another source of nectar often found by hummingbirds is in feeders containing a simple sugar water mixture. Would you believe that a single hummer needs the nectar of approximately 1,000 blossoms each and every day to sustain life?

Wilson Bros. Nursery is now stocking the 'BEST 1' hummingbird feeder.The 16 oz hummingbird feeder is a product of many years of experimenting and field testing to provide the best hummingbird feeder on the market today for the least investment to you. Extremely easy to fill and clean!

Low Price: $10.97

With Gift Box: $12.97


A word of caution is in order if you use feeders alone or in a garden as a nectar supplement. Nectar feeders need to be cleaned at least every other day during the hot summer months. Otherwise, the sugar will ferment and could cause deadly salmonella poisoning to hummingbirds.



The Plants Hummingbirds Like

There are many varieties of flowering plants in North America that attract hummingbirds. Here, we will be focusing on growing the plants hummingbirds like in Georgia.

It is essential to keep in mind that hummers prefer tubular flowers that allow their long, needle-like bills to fit inside these tubes. Thus, their tongues can easily lap up the sweet nectar found deep inside the flower tubes. We will primarily be focusing on perennial plants here, however there are many annuals, shrubs, and trees that also attract and are good sources of food and shelter for hummingbirds.

Planning & Designing Your Hummingbird Garden / Habitat

One good way to enjoy the company of hummingbirds is planting a hummingbird garden. In addition to providing them a natural diet, a hummer garden is an excellent way to attract birds to your nearby feeder: since hummingbirds feed by sight on regularly-followed routes - called traplining - their inquisitive nature will quickly lead them to investigate any possible new source of food.

The perfect hummingbird habitat is a simple one, and even the smallest garden can provide the food, water, perches, shelter and nesting sites that hummingbirds need. It's easy to lure these beautiful birds into your backyard - and keep them coming back year after year.

Plants - If you are creating your hummingbird garden from scratch, you should consider planting a mix of perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, and vines. Hummingbirds are very adept at sipping nectar from any or all these plant groups. Since perennials take several years to mature, plant a variety of your favorite annuals as fillers the first year. With such a large assortment to choose from, you won’t have a problem choosing those plants that will thrive the best.

Annuals & Tropicals: Bird Of Paradise, Browalia, Fuschia, Geraniums, Impatiens, Pentas, Salvias, Spider Flower (Cleome), and Zinnias to name a few.
Perennials & Vines - There are many perennials and vines that will return year after year to feed our friendly hummingbirds. Bee Balm (Monarda), shown to the left is one of many hummingbird magnets that do well in the south.


Garden Shape & Location - An important consideration when designing your hummingbird garden is its shape and where it will be located. Sites that receive all day sun or morning sun with afternoon shade are preferred. Curved, narrow flower beds are best, because hummers can access the blooms from all sides of the plants. Plant your garden near decks, patios, porches or just outside windows of your home so you can view them in action, up close.

Sample Hummingbird Garden Designs

Don’t crowd your garden with large trees or shrubs, but do arrange to have several in or near the garden. Hummingbirds need room to accommodate their wings as they whir about the blossoms. Select a variety of levels of flowers, trees, or shrubs, from low to medium to tall in height. Male hummers like to have tall trees to perch on, as they use them to watch for predators while the females are feeding.

If you plan carefully and select a variety of plants that flower at successively later dates, you will be rewarded with hummers throughout the season.

Feeders - Hummingbirds don’t depend upon scent to locate nectar, but are attracted most often to brightly colored flowers, especially red. This is why hummingbird feeders are primarily red. There is a huge selection of hummingbird feeders on the market today, and new ones are always being designed. When buying a hummingbird feeder, as with anything else, you often get what you pay for.

GOOD NEWS! Not to worry. Leaving feeders out will NOT prevent hummingbirds from migrating. Conversely, removing feeders will NOT convince birds to migrate! Hummingbirds migrate when their hormones tell them to, and generally after they've fattened up for the trip. If they're not ready to leave, they will just search for food elsewhere -- removing your feeder doesn't do them any favors... Furthermore, if you have a feeder out in Kentucky, rest assured that a western hummingbirds do not fly to your home all the way from Idaho just because your feeder is still out. Feeders simply bring into view some birds that are already in the neighborhood.

Perching Sources - In addition to food sources, convenient perching opportunities will make your yard more hospitable to hummingbirds, since they spend around 80% of their time sitting on twigs, leaf stems, clotheslines, etc., between feeding forays and sorties against trespassing rivals.

Winter Hummingbirds! If you said that phrase a few years ago, most folks would think you were crazy, and those living east of the Mississippi River would think you were talking about a sick Ruby-throated. But hummingbirds aren't the feeble waifs people once thought; significant numbers of several western species survive in the eastern US each winter. The most common are Rufous Hummingbirds, with over a thousand now reported annually. Most are noticed at feeders after Ruby-throateds have departed. They can, and have, occurred in every eastern state, often annually.

If you want to increase the odds of seeing a winter hummingbird, keep fresh nectar (3 or 4:1, water:white table sugar) in at least one feeder all winter. It also helps if your garden is chock full of hummingbird flowers (at least until frost!) and your yard has lots of "cover," such as evergreens shrubs.

Planting Your Hummingbird Garden

There are different methods for planting hummingbird perennials in the garden. Visit Instructions For Planting Perennials to find the way we like to plant them. Some folks say its best to till up the entire garden area, however, we've found that this usually brings lots of buried weeds seeds to the surface and also promotes invasiveness of certain types of perennials. Of course you can till the entire area if you like. We prefer not to disturb all the soil surface in the garden. Instead we do the following:

  • Plot the perimeter of the garden out with marker paint, flour or a garden hose.
  • Spray to kill any existing weeds or grass with Killzall Super Concentrate. You'll have to wait a week or so to make sure the weeds have been killed. Respray if necessary. For tough to kill grass such as burmuda, you should use Over-The-Top spray by Fertilome.
  • While waiting the week or so for the weeds to die use the time to develop a plan by investigating what type of perennials, other plants, feeders, and fixtures you will want to use in your garden. While investigating make sure to write down a list of plants that you like. Note height and width so that you will know how to space them in the garden.
  • Once all the weeds are dead run over the area with a lawn mower or weed eater to cut down and remove dead growth. Now you are ready to begin planting.
  • Before planting, arrange the perennials and any other plants or trees you have purchased in garden: placing taller varieties (48"' + height) towards the back (Center if the garden will be viewed from all sides). Place mid-size plants (18-48' height) in front or nestled bewteen taller ones. (Ouside and around taller plants in gardens that will be viewed from all sides.) Place lower plants at the fround or along the outside edge of the bed.
  • NOTE: When setting the plants out in the bed make sure to space them properly. If a perennial grows 18 inches wide mark out a circle on the ground with an 18" diameter (orange marker paint works great for doing this.) Set the plant in the center of the circle. After placing all of the plants step back to take a look.
  • When you are satisfied that everything is in place, remove one plant at a time from its container and plant it. For planting, dig holes three times or more as wide as the container the plant came in. Mix in an good composted soil ammendment such as Claycutter or mushroom compost at a 50/50 ratio with the soil removed from the hole. Add a little Bloom Start flower fertilzer to the mix.
  • Give your newly planted perennials and other plants a good soaking when you've finished planting.
  • Mulch the garden with pinestraw or wood mulch. We prefer wood mulch at 2 inches deep.
  • Make sure you check every day for a period of two weeks to see if plants need water.

The base of your perennial hummingbird garden is now complete. Remember, the first year, you might want to plant some annuals here and there in the garden for extra-added color.


Maintaining Your Hummer Garden

Summer Care of the Garden - Your garden will need attention throughout the growing season. Weed control and provision for adequate moisture are two important cultural necessities. When rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, provide additional moisture to the plants that are not drought tolerant. (You will be happy to find that many of the perennials in our Perennials For Hummingbirds listing are extremely drought tolerant, while others prefer mosture retentive soils.)

The use of a mulch is an attractive and effective means of controlling weeds and maintaining constant soil moisture and temperature for the root systems of your plants. Mulches that you might consider include bark chips or shredded bark. To be effective, the mulch should be applied at least 2 inches deep around the plants.

Fertilization - Fertilize your annual and perennial plants about every 6 to 8 weeks during the growing season with a good granular flower food such as Bloom Start. Fertilize shrubs and trees as recommened here. If you make your own compost you can substitute or ammend fertilizer with the compost. Discontinue fertilization of perennials in late summer to allow the plants to go into dormancy during fall.

Pruning and Deadheading - You may deadhead (remove spent or faded flowers) all season long. Deadheading often encourages the development of new flowers.

In late fall or early winter, when your perennials have died back, you may remove dead foliage. WARNING: Do not prune back Lantanas in the Fall, doing so will ensure death of the plant. Wait until spring when new growth begins to emerge to prune back Lantanas. At this time prune them back to just above where new growth has emerged.

After cutting back dead foliage in late fall or winter you may want to winterize your perennial garden by applying an inch or two of loose mulch or compost over the perennials.


Pest Control

As with butterfly gardening, DON’T use pesticides on your hummingbird plants! They can be deadly to hummingbirds if sprayed directly onto your flowers. Instead, select organic pest control substances to help control unwanted garden pests.

Killing garden pests will also eliminate the small insects hummingbirds rely upon for protein. Remember: if you wouldn't eat it yourself, don't feed it to a hummingbird! (Well, maybe not the bugs...)


In Summary

Notice that we sometimes use the term Hummingbird Habitat rather than "Hummingbird Garden." A garden may contain just a few nectar-producing plants, while a Hummingbird Habitat includes all types of hummingbird flowers (herbaceous plants, vines, shrubs, and trees of varied heights and bloom dates) and provides space for hummingbirds to nest and locations in which they can roost and find shelter from the elements. The well-designed Hummingbird Habitat also includes several properly maintained feeders and a water element such as a mister in which hummingbirds can bathe. The most effective Hummingbird Habitats attract and nurture tiny insects and spiders that hummingbirds use as sources for fats and proteins.

Happy planning and planting! Get your camera ready for a deluge of hummers AND butterflies to photograph.



Q: When should I hang my feeder?
A: View the hummingbird migration map.

Q: What should I put in my feeder? Should I add red dye? What about ants and bees?
A: The best thing we have found is a mixture of 1/2 cup evaporated organic cane sugar, or raw cane sugar to 3-4 cups of hot water. Allow to cool and serve.

Q: How long before the eggs hatch?
A: 2 to 3 weeks. The chicks will leave the nest about 3 weeks later.

Q: Help! I found an injured / orphaned hummer.
A: See this page.

Q: How fast do hummingbirds flap their wings?
A: For small hummers like Ruby-throated, about 55 times per second. Normal flight speed is about 25 MPH.

Q: How long do hummingbirds live?
A: About 4 years on average. The record is 12.

Q: Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
A: In a word, no.

Q: Did I see a baby hummingbird? It was very small and had stripes/spots/antennae.
A: This is a type of moth that resembles a hummingbird. Looks more like a colorful flying crawfish to us.

Q: Why do my hummers seem so hateful? All they do is fight.
A: They are extremely territorial. More feeders, out of sight of each other, can help.

Q: Do you have plans for a hummer house?
A: Hummers won't use a house.

Q: When should I take my feeder down?
A: Hummingbirds migrate in response to changing length of daylight, not the availability of food. Taking your feeder down is not required.

Q: Can I tell how many hummers I have by the amount of syrup they consume?
A: Not with wild hummingbirds, because you can't know how much they're eating elsewhere. Instead, just count the most you can see at once, then multiply by four. That's as accurate as any other method.

Q. Wat kind of hummingbirds come to Georgia?

A. Ruby-throated, Rufous, Black-chinned, Magnificent, Allen's, Broad-tailed, Anna's.

More Information abot Hummingbirds:

The Hummingbird Society


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