Can we really plant Hummingbird gardens ?

male Ruby-Throat Hummingbird

I believe the answer is "yes". It would be safe to say that, as with butterfly gardens, it is not a plant-a-few-plants-and-they-will-arrive scenario. As with butterflies, hummingbirds enjoy sunlight, plenty of plants to feed on, and instant availability of shade cover in which to escape from predators. Planting a wide variety of plants attractive to butterflies often nets the added benefit of attracting 'hummers'.

In this section of the country, we have a small selection of hummingbird species, even during migration season. By far the most common species is the Ruby-Throat, and if you're really lucky, you'll see the emerald green flash of a male bird, about the size of a small dragonfly, and moving even faster. The bird's ability to defy the laws of aerodynamic flight is simply amazing. The birds can start and stop in no time at all, and they are fun to watch if a group gets together in a feeding area. The border wars for feeding areas between dueling male hummers is quite a show. 

The Hummingbird Tree
Sesbania grandiflora
 Attracting these flying jewels is a game of patience and skill. They take a long time to find new plants to feed on, and are wary of intruders, especially pets. The birds feed on a very wide range of plants, as long as there is ample nectar to feed on. A lot of bird books state that the birds feed mostly on red, tubular flowers. Our hummers at Pinecrest gardens feed on yellow shrimp plants, purple Hong Kong Orchid Trees, blue bromeliads, orange heliconias, and anything else in their range of vision.  I am convinced that our local birds are illiterate, and have not read the books ! It is true that red tubular flowers such as Lobelia, Salvia, Russellia and Bignonia are on the list of favorites.

Firecracker Plant
Russellia equisetifolia

In South Florida gardens, there are lots of flowers for hummers to feed on, and a few of my recommendations include the blue-flowered bromeliad Portea petropolitana ; a Dwarf Orchid Tree , Bauhinia divaricata; Yellow Shrimp plant, Beloperone guttata; and Firecracker Plant, Russellia equisetiformis. Install attractor plants in large groups of 8-15 plants, in areas where the birds can dash under cover fast ( they do everything fast). A better term for such a garden would be "wildlife garden", since a wide range of flowering plants will attract many types of wildlife, including hummers, butterflies, nectar-feeding birds, and a range of others. 

Yellow Shrimp Plant
Beloperone guttata
 It is best to mix plants that need shade as well as those needing a lot of sunlight. An attractive garden can be made that will serve many needs; attract wildlife, have a wide range of colors and provide shelter for birds. Rather than plant a garden for just one purpose, plant a garden that does a lot of things at the same time. Fragrance and color and even edible plants can be mixed without trouble, and the availability of interesting plants has never been better. 

Hong Kong Orchid Tree
Bauhinia x blakeana

Portea petropolitana
whose flowers literally drip nectar
 If we start to look at gardens as a holistic part of your home, where plants have form, function, and beauty, then gardens take on the importance I feel they should have. So many people have a house and "some landscaping". They are part of each other, and should be cared for and budgeted as such. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest gardens        


  1. How do you prevent plants being 'killed' by caterpilars? Thanks.

    1. Greetings, if you are interested in suppressing caterpillars and are not concerned with killing the ones you want for a butterfly garden, then use a biological insecticide called DiPel, also known as BT. It is very safe for the environment and can be used on vegetable gardens, but will kill any caterpillar which eats it. It is specific to caterpillars, and nothing else. If you are cultivating a butterfly garden, don't use this product, but if you are cultivating a hummingbird garden and need the plants alive to feed the birds, Dipel will work. It's available at most garden centers, home improvement stores, and online.

      Good hunting,

      Craig Morell
      Pinecrest Gardens