Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Winter Blooming Plants for Hummingbirds

Anna's hummingbird stays year round in the Pacific Northwest
Photo credit; Mike Yip,

I was elbows deep in soil and roots when I heard the persistent whirring of tiny wings. Looking up I spotted an indignant hummingbird making it quite clear that she did not appreciate my removing the summer buffet from ‘her’ container gardens! Thankfully the homeowner had also provided a beautiful glass hummingbird feeder so this little prima donna could still have its nectar fest. It did start me wondering, however, what plants I could add to the garden – and container gardens, that would provide food for Anna’s hummingbirds which overwinter here in the Pacific Northwest.

Mahonia 'Charity'

Top of my list has to be the Oregon grape, specifically ‘Charity’ and ’Arthur Menzies’ (Mahonia x media). These evergreen, shade loving shrubs have stiff holly like leaves on strong stems. Fragrant, yellow flowers explode like yellow shuttlecocks in winter – an olfactory siren that has hummingbirds jostling for position. These are fabulous shrubs for large containers or an open woodland garden.

Several other shade plants are hummingbird favorites – fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca sp.) and our native salal (Gaultheria shallon) both have tiny bell shaped white flowers, dispelling the myth that hummingbirds only gravitate towards red flowers. Either they’re color blind or not as picky as we have been making them out to be.

'Arnold promise' witch hazel.
Photo credit; ngawangchodron

Likewise they are known to be attracted to tubular flowers yet the open faced blooms of both hellebores and camellias are popular, especially ‘Yuletide’ camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ ) with its large boss of yellow stamens surrounded by scarlet petals. Another surprise is their attraction to the spidery flowers of witch hazels (Hamamelis sp.). These open in mid-winter and perfume the air with a delicious spicy scent. Diane, Jelena and Arnold Promise are three deservedly popular varieties (of gardeners as well as feathered friends).

Kaffir lily (Schizostylis coccinea) seems to bloom year round which is great news for the hummingbirds. These spread easily to form colonies of spear shaped foliage. I especially like the variety ‘Oregon sunset’ with its deep coral flowers. It can be used to create a color echo under the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’) or to come up through a loose groundcover such as the delicate, white flowering geranium ‘Biokovo’.

Darwin barberry
Photo credit; David Fenwick

In full sun the Darwin barberry (Berberis darwinii) is sure to dazzle human and avian visitors alike with its bright orange flowers, and which together with the flowering currant (Ribes sp.) heralds the start of spring, welcoming the return of the migrating hummingbirds.

"Who took my begonias?"

Hummingbird feeders are easy to use and a good supplement to plants or as a way to show them where they are! I had been filling containers on this balcony with dozens of hummingbird favorites for several years, but it wasn’t until this red feeder was hung that they got the memo - and now enjoy nectar a la carte.


  1. I wish we could have these beauties all year round because I love their presence. It has taken mine a while to find a new feeder, but they eventually find them. Red certainly helps. Great post!

  2. Thanks Sage Butterfly! I'm envious of the stunning photographs you have of hummingbirds on your own blog - wish my reflexes (and abilities) were as good.

  3. oooooooooooooooooh I wish we had hummmingbirds here.

  4. When we first moved here from England I had to ask what they were! We were at a lodge in the mountains and these wonderful hummingbirds were EVERYWHERE. Just beautiful.

  5. Good info on your blog! thanks
    If you are ever looking for info re flower blubs- thats my specialty!

  6. Hi Karen,
    Sadly, there has not been as many hummingbirds in my garden this year. I am not sure why that is. Usually, they go mad for my bee balm, but this year I have only seen a few.
    Here in Canada hummingbirds have departed for warmer spots south of us. I hope there are lots of other gardeners out there following these excellent tips on providing winter food for them. I look forward to many more hummingbirds returning to my garden next spring.

  7. How sad you didn't see as many this year. I assume you didn't do any major landscaping changes?
    I was concerned twhen we had to completely rip out EVERYTHING from our front border and knew it would be 12 months before we could replant it. I added a feeder as an olive branch and apology, then planted a container underneath which seemed to satisfy them. The border is replanted now but I do need to specifically add more hummingbird food, deer resistant, rabbit resistant, drought tolerant plant into the mix.


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