Welcome hummingbirds with feeder, flowers [Master Gardener column] | Home & Garden


Plan now to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds to your garden! These small birds migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter. Their way back north coincides with flowering plants. They should start arriving in Lancaster County in late April. Some will continue further north, but many will make our region their summer home until September.

Little treasures

Although there are 16 species of hummingbirds in the United States, only ruby-throated hummingbirds nest in Pennsylvania. They are iridescent green with wings that appear fuzzy in flight. The fiery red throat only appears in mature males. Hummingbirds are prized for their acrobatic flight and pugnacious behavior at feeders. Like all native species, they perform an important function in our ecosystem. As they feed on nectar with their needle-like beaks, they pollinate plants. They also consume small insects, some of which are considered pests, such as aphids, fruit flies and mosquitoes.

Start with a feeder

Specially designed feeders will help attract hummingbirds to your garden or balcony. Feeders usually have a reservoir containing liquid that flows through supply lines. Feeders are usually red, a color that mimics most flowers that hummers feed on.

Make your own hummingbird feeder mix by combining one part granulated sugar to four parts water. Boil this simple syrup to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool before pouring into the feeder. Extra nectar can be refrigerated. Change the nectar and clean the feeder every three to five days. Do not alter the formula by adding red food coloring or using a sugar substitute, such as honey. These ingredients can be extremely harmful to hummingbirds. Hang the feeder where you can easily reach and see it, and where there are trees nearby for shelter.

Feeders and flowers will keep hummingbirds hovering around your garden.

Follow up with flowers

The ideal way to attract and support hummingbirds is with plants in your garden. In other words, they may come for the feeders, but will stay for the flowers! Research has shown that hummingbirds choose flowers that are easy to spot and contain high-energy nectar.

Here is a list of easy-to-find plants that will attract and support hummingbirds; note that botanical names are given when different from common names.

native perennials: Lemon balm/bergamot (Monarda spp.), flame star/gay feather (Liatris spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and phlox (Phlox paniculata).

Annuals: Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana), Fuchsia, Lantana (Lantana camara), Petunia, “Black & Blue” Salvia (Salvia guaranitica) and Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea or Salvia splendens).

Vines: Native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).

Lancaster County master gardeners who frequently host hummingbirds say native honeysuckle, cardinal flower and “black and blue” salvia are local hummingbird favorites.

For more details and a complete list of plants, see “Attracting Hummingbirds”, by Margaret C. Brittingham of Penn State University. Find it online at lanc.news/Hummingbirds. For tips on planting hummingbirds or other spring garden tips, contact the Lancaster Helpline at [email protected] or call 717-394-6851.

Lois Miklas is area coordinator, for several counties including Lancaster, for the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program.


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