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How to Create a Hummingbird-Friendly Yard

Attract flashy flyers to your garden with nectar-rich flowers.

Part One By Rachel Kupfer

If you blink, you might miss tiny hummingbirds flitting around your desert garden, but there are many ways to keep them around for the long run. With as many as 18 species living in Phoenix throughout the year, crafting the right conditions may earn you some face time with these jewel-toned aviators. Nancy Biggins, a former zookeeper who oversaw the hummingbird collection at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, offers tips for creating a hummingbird-friendly yard.


Possessing a metabolism that is 100 times that of an elephant, hummingbirds are small but hungry, eating 1.5 to 3 times their body weight per day. Providing nectar and a variety of flowers encourages them to pay a visit to your garden. Biggins stresses that brightly colored—especially red—tubular flowers, are the most attractive color to the birds. When flowers aren’t in bloom, be sure to offer a constant supply of nectar.


Make your own nectar from refined sugar and water in a 1-to-4 ratio. Because hummingbirds generally weigh about 0.12 ounces, food coloring and preservatives found in commercial nectars can be especially toxic, as are unrefined sugars, Biggins warns. If you prefer to purchase nectar, buy Sweet Seed, a concentrate infused with flower extract.


Change nectar daily, especially during the hottest months, to prevent fermentation, which causes dangerous mold and fungi to form. Small feeders reduce waste, and pipe cleaners are great for keeping feeding ports tidy. Biggins does not recommend using dish soap, which can leave a residue that can be harmful to hummingbirds, to clean feeders.


Hummingbirds in this area can be territorial and don’t like to share. Put visual barriers, such as trees or porch posts, and lots of room between feeders.


With wings that beat an average of 53 times per second, your animated garden guests can use a break. Hummingbird swings let these petite critters perch and keep watch over their favorite feeders.


When introducing a new feeder, add a flower blossom to the port to invite hungry birds in. Town lists penstemon and fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) as hummingbird favorites. You also can tie a red ribbon to the feeder or port, Biggins adds.


Woodpeckers are the only species with the same narrow tongue as hummingbirds. Placing a wire cage around your feeder will prevent them, as well as other determined avians, from stealing nectar, Biggins suggests. Small feeder ports will also keep bees away—a sting is deadly to a hummingbird.


These beauties will come close if you sit still in the garden, and they may even be enticed to eat out of your hand. “You can hear the air in their wings,” Biggins says. “They’re like little gems.”

5 Hummingbird Havens

Part Two By Cathy Cromell | Photography by The Hummingbird Society

Baja fairy duster

  • Attracts: Anna’s hummingbird
  • Blooms: Spring through fall; year-round in mild winters
  • Elevations: Low, middle

Covered in powder-puff flowers during its lengthy bloom season, fairy duster is a premier hummingbird magnet. A low-water-use workhorse, this shrub suits xeriscapes as well as patio gardens with tropical ambience. In cold microclimates, site near a wall for reflected heat to inhibit frost damage at 20 degrees. ‘Maricopa Red’ and ‘Sierra Starr’ hybrids are cold-hardy to 15 degrees and feature compact shapes suited to small spaces.

(Calliandra californica)

Parry’s agave

  • Attracts: Costa’s hummingbird
  • Blooms: Summer
  • Elevations: Low, middle, high

Most agaves die after blooming, so they may not seem like ideal plants for a hummingbird garden. However, their flowers are loaded with nectar and the towering dried flower stalks are preferred hummingbird perches for surveying their territory. Before dead stalks tip over, saw them off at the base. Bury a 2-foot length of PVC pipe in the ground as a protective “vase” to prevent rot and insert the base of the stalk; both will last for years.

(A. parryi)


  • Attracts: Black-chinned hummingbird
  • Blooms: Spring to summer
  • Elevations: Low, middle

Native to the Chihuahuan, Mohave and Sonoran deserts, ocotillo can be slow to establish in landscapes, with its tall thorny canes, often taking a year or two to leaf out after being transplanted as bare-root specimens. Container-grown seedlings are faster to get growing. Transplant either type in well-drained soil and water deeply about every two weeks during warm weather (if no rain) to develop roots. Do not water during winter dormancy, which promotes root rot. Once established, it will survive on rainfall.

(Fouquieria splendens)

Golden columbine

  • Attracts: Black-chinned hummingbird
  • Blooms: Varies from late spring to summer
  • Elevations: Low, middle, high

Native to habitats ranging from 3,000-11,000 feet, this perennial is surprisingly tolerant of varied exposures despite its delicate flower appearance. Transplant in organically rich, moist soil (never soggy). At low desert elevations, it needs filtered light or shade, regular water and several inches of mulch to retain soil moisture. Removing spent flowers encourages another round of blooms. Let a few flowers go to seed and columbine will spread readily.

(Aqualegia chrysantha)

Ava’s hummingbird mint

  • Attracts: Rufous hummingbird
  • Blooms: Midsummer to fall
  • Elevations: Middle, high

Horticulturist and Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest David Salman discovered this vibrant hybrid hummingbird mint in his Santa Fe display garden and named it for his wife. Dozens of other hummingbird mint varieties showcase clumps of blue, orange, pink, purple or red flower spikes against a backdrop of green, gray or silver foliage. Also called licorice mint or anise hyssop, it deters rabbits and deer due to its aromatic foliage.

(Agastache ‘Ava’)


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