In the Garden with Jackye

hummingbirdsIt is too early to expect hummingbirds in our gardens. There are a few hummingbirds that have wintered over, but they are rare. However, we can prepare our gardens for their arrival.

To entice more glittering hummingbirds into our gardens, we can provide a habitat that supplies their needs. They will need food, water, and shelter.

One sure attraction in the desert is to provide water. Of course, hummingbirds do not drink at birdbaths. However, they will catch water from spray such as a sprinkler or drip system. They also will bathe and drink in the water that catches in the leaves of plants. It is quite easy to set up a mist system in the garden for these birds.

For the earliest blooming flowers to attract hummingbirds, fill the garden with penstemons. There are hundreds of species of this wildflower, with many native to the Chihuahuan Desert. If we add the flowers native to the Sonoran Dessert and the Southwest, we have a wide range of penstemon choices.

Native penstemons include the Superb penstemon (Penstemon superbus) and Parry’s penstemon (P. parryi). The Superb penstemon has coral flowers on stems that grow more than three feet tall, while Parry’s penstemon has bright pink flowers on stems to two feet tall. Gardeners also can add Desert penstemon (P. pseudospectabilis) and Hill Country penstemon (P. triflorus). For flowers later in the summer, add Firecracker penstemon (P. eatonii) and Del Rio penstemon (P. baccharifolius Del Rio).

A number of flowers and shrubs, both annuals and perennials, will attract hummingbirds. Fill the garden with Desert honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), California fuchsia or hummingbird flower (Zauschneria californica), lantana (Lantana camara or L. montevidensis), and many others.

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflorus) also blooms quite early and is attractive to hummingbirds. This tough plant will grow in most soils with low to regular water in full sun to part shade. Look for the new variety called Brakelights, which has a deeper red flower.

Salvias, particularly the red species, attract hummingbirds quite well. In perennial salvias, look for red and pink cherry sage or autumn sage (Salvia greggii). Hummingbirds also are attracted to flowers that are not red, including blue salvias, such as Chaparral sage (S. clevelandii) or Mexican bush sage ( S. leucantha).

Many flowering vines can attract hummingbirds, including trumpet vine and honeysuckle vine. Cardinal flower (Ipomoea quamoclit) is an annual vine with a red flower that attracts hummingbirds in the summer.

Shrubs can provide both food and shelter for these delicate birds. Shrubs that entice hummingbirds, include Mexican Fire (Anisacanthus quadrifidus v. wrightii), which produces orange to red tubular flowers in late summer. Butterfly bush, bottle brush, and yellow bird of paradise also attract hummingbirds.

Do not overlook flowering trees, such as our native desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) for attracting hummingbirds. The desert willow’s flowers range from pale white to deep burgundy. Hummingbirds visit the flowers often and perch on the branches.

For the safety of the hummingbirds, it is best not to use pesticides in the garden. Hummingbirds eat hundreds of small insects, and baby hummingbirds are fed an insect diet in the nest. Hummingbirds also use spider webs to build their nests.

While we wait for warm weather, we can prepare our gardens for the arrival of hummingbirds in mid-March. I always recommend having the hummingbird feeder up for St. Patrick’s Day. In the meantime, we can plant trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals to entice these sparklers through spring, summer, and fall.

Jackye S. Meinecke is a freelance writer, garden consultant and designer. You can reach her at or call 323-0903.