Hummingbirds were here in Southern Arizona before gardeners and would stay even if no one cared to feed them. A hummingbird garden is actually a way to draw the naturally occurring birds into a place where you can easily relax and watch them.
Most of a hummingbird's diet is small insects. Nectar or sugar water is a treat and an energy boast but probably isn't a daily necessity. Without it you will see an occasional hummer, but with a well-designed and properly maintained feeder you will have a delightful year-round experience. (Watch for next month's article on hummingbird feeders.)
Bright hues of red, purple, pink, and orange are noticed and explored by the birds. Try planting anything with these colors. If you walk outside wearing a red hat or shirt you will soon hear a buzzing hummer checking you out. Even a tiny bit of color will be of interest to them. You don't need a mass of color. Simply remember that hummingbirds look for reds. Bees, moths, and butterflies head towards yellow and white.
Your hummingbird garden needs to be comfortable for birds, people, and bird food (i.e., small insects). Dry stone over plastic with home perimeter insect control and regular weed killer won't provide a reliable supply of little birds. A shady, or for the winter sunny, irrigated patch of insecticide free grass will provide masses of little gnats which you will barely notice, but which will be necessary bird dietary protein. Spiders will also feed on the gnats and provide webs which are used as hummingbird nest glue.
Red and orange flowers will bring the hummers. Even a geranium in a pot will be investigated. Salvia, nasturtium, coreopsis, impatiens, amaranth, and penstemmen were of interest to the birds in my garden. Sweet smelling flowers like honeysuckle and cosmos will draw both hummers and insects.
Hummingbirds like to perch within sight of feeders while they chirp out a territorial song. Bare branches on medium to high trees and bushes give them a place to sit where they are easily reserved. Unsheared bushes provide open sheltering networks of leaves and branches for nest building and weather protection.
Put out a feeder, plant nasturtiums and coreopsis seeds, put in red flowers, and sit in the shade in your unweeded, unpoisoned, untrimmed, unsheared (naturally-shaped, therefore) garden and have a great bird watching rest this summer.
DID YOU KNOW...
The wing beat of at least one species of hummingbird is up to 4,800 strokes a minute.