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How to Create a Hummingbird Garden above 7,500′   arrow

How to Create a Hummingbird Garden above 7,500′

Leslee T. Alexander, Mountain Master Gardener, Gilpin County, May 2007

Alpine environments above 7,500′ provide a great opportunity to attract hummingbirds to the garden. A backyard filled with native plants reflects the natural beauty found in most mountain communities. Sites designed for wildlife are attractive and easy to maintain, freeing time to enjoy the blooms and the hummingbirds. With some careful planning, there is no need to maintain hummingbird feeders to get a variety of these small “winged jewels” in your yard.

The design of a Hummingbird garden is quite simple. Windbreaks, nectar-laden tubular-shaped flowers, confiers for nesting sites and puddles of water draw hummingbirds in and continue to satisfy their needs throughout the summer. Hummingbirds depend on nectar from plants and insects for food.

There are four native hummingbirds that can appear at high elevations in Colorado. The Broad tailed migrate to the area in April or May, and stay through the summer, whereas Calliope, Black Chinned, and Rufous make occasional or short appearances.

Your garden site may have some facets of a wildlife garden already, or it may be an empty space, barren backfill from recent construction (to garden here, the soil will probably have to be amended). Look around: take note of the sunny areas, rocks and pools of water. Sun encourages flowers to bloom, and sun-warmed rocks encourage plant growth. Determine where water naturally pools, because hummingbirds will need water. Offer shelter from the sun, wind and rain.

Before planting, amend the soil with two inches of compost and till it in six inches. The plants should be mulched, and it is good to fertilize in the fall and the spring Grow organically. Do not use pesticides. Hummingbirds eat many insects, and use spider webs to help build their nests.

There are plants that work well at elevation, and plants that attract hummingbirds. The goal is to find which combination of these plants works best. Use plants and shrubs that bloom at different times of the season.

Arrange the plants in groups; large clusters of flowers are easier for the hummingbirds to locate. Arrange the plants by color and height. Allow space for annuals, biennials and perennials. Keep track of the garden to determine which plants draw hummingbirds.

Mountain living demands a new approach to gardening. Our landscapes are rocky. Water is scarce. The season is short. Nonetheless, the beauty of aspen leaves fluttering above boldly-colored wildflowers entices and encourages gardeners and hummingbirds back each year. We have all had our days trying to keep the critters out, so consider nurturing a space to draw them in.

List of Suggested Hummingbird Garden Plants for the Mountains

Table 1: Perennials

Botanical Name Common Name Color Characteristics, Planting Guidelines
Agastache Giant Hyssop Various Also know as Hummingbird Mint. Plant in the hottest, sunniest spot you can find (such as near a south-facing wall). May not bloom in cooler locations.
Alcea rosea Hollyhock Various Tall spires of flowers on a biennial plant. Plant in a warm spot, preferably protected from the wind. Only the single varieties (old fashioned look) attract hummers.
Aquilegia spp Columbine Purple, red or yellow Flowers appear in late spring, above the foliage. The round end of the spur contains the nectar for the flower and is sought after by hummingbirds. Amend soil with compost. Plant in full sun to part shade.
Castilleja spp. Indian paintbrush Red Try this from seed. Generally, the only plants you can buy are lower elevation species. Plant near other plants, as these are hemi-parasites, and need other plants to survive.
Delphinium spp Delphinium spp Blues, purples, white Tall varieties may need staking. Plant in full sun and compost enriched soil.
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding heart Pink and white Heart shaped flower in spring. Plant in compost enriched soil and part shade.
Digitalis Foxglove Various The flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in colour with species, from purple to pink, white and yellow. Biennial
Heuchera sanguinea Coral Bells Red Low growing leaves with delicate spikes of red flowers. Amend soil with compost. Plant in full sun to part shade.
Ipomopsis (Gilia) aggregata Scarlet gilia Red, pink, or white This is a biennial plant. The pink and red colors attract more hummingbirds than do the white ones.
Lychnis chalcedonica Maltese cross Red Tall plants with small red flowers. Prefers full sun and compost enriched soil.
Lupinus Lupine Various Native species:Silver lupine (Lupinus argenteus).Tolerates poor soil. Full sun. Others should be planted in compost amended soils.
Monarda spp. Bee balm Reds, pinks M. fistulosa is native. Others also do well. Loved by hummingbirds. Prefers full sun to part shade, enriched soil and moisture.
Nepeta Cat mint Blue,purple Even though this is a blue plant, it still attracts hummers. Full sun. Tolerates poor soils. Drought tolerant.
Penstemon spp Beard tongue Red, blue, pink Natives: P. linaroides, P. pinifolius, P. procumbens, P. strictus, P. virens, P virgatus, P. barbatus. Full sun. Tolerate poor soils.
.Ribes spp. Currants Pink or yellow Currants provide some of the first flowers for hummingbirds in the spring. Natives include Golden currant (Ribes aureum) and Wax currant (Ribes cereum)


Table 2: Annuals to attract hummingbirds in the mountains (Put outside after danger of frost is over)

Botanical name Common name Color Characteristics, planting
Cleome serrulata Rocky mountain bee plant Pink Tall spires of pink attract bees and hummingbirds on these fast growing, tough natives.
Fuchsia Fuchsia Red, purple


Grow in a pot with rich potting soil, and keep it well watered in part shade.
Pelargonium Geranium Red, orange, pink Plant in pots. Bring in for the winter for a nice houseplant.
Salvia spp Salvia Blue, pink, red Annual sages. Need full sun.
Petunia Petunia Various Some are sweetly scented. Beware, chipmunks may eat the flowers!

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