Dahlias are favorites of gardeners, with their potentially huge flowers returning each year as garden perennials. Even in cold climates, their roots can be saved through the winter to brighten garden beds each year.
Those who are gardeners and wildlife lovers are always looking for ways to optimize their gardens for the birds as well as beauty, so many will ask, do hummingbirds like dahlias?
What Are Dahlias?
Dahlias are flowers in the Dahlia genus native to Mexico and Central America. In fact, the dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.
They belong to the Asteracae family, which also includes daisies, sunflowers, and zinnias, among others.
They’re perennial plants in their native range, though that’s not realistic in most of the United States. Expect them to return as perennials in much of the Sun Belt, but northern climates will have to re-plant.
Perennials are flowers that will regrow each year, while annuals don’t last through the winter and require re-planting in the spring.
Hummingbirds are often said to prefer tubular flowers. Dahlias aren’t tubular, but they do have tubers. Tubers, often called “bulbs,” are thick brown roots from which dahlias grow. Sweet potatoes are famous root tubers, and potatoes are stem tubers.
In the fall, those hoping to bring back their dahlia plants next year should carefully remove these bulbs from the ground and store them out of the sun. Next year, you can return them to the soil and grow your dahlias again.
Dahlias come in many colors, including pink, orange, red, white, and yellow, and their flowers vary greatly in size from what the Old Farmer’s Almanac describes as “petite 2-inch lollipop-style pompoms to giant 15-inch ‘dinner plates.’”
Dahlias were also eaten by the Aztecs but never caught on in Europe. Today, research published in Life Metabolism has shown that dahlia flower extract may have anti-diabetic properties.
So, humans don’t eat them, but do hummingbirds like to eat their nectar?
Do Hummingbirds Like Them?
Dahlias don’t meet the typical expectations of hummingbird favorites, often thought of as long, tubular flowers that are usually red, orange, or yellow.
Dahlias can grow in these colors, but their shape isn’t reminiscent of what you’d expect a hummingbird to visit. Some people report good luck getting hummingbirds to visit their dahlias, but they won’t make too many lists of hummingbirds’ favorite flowers.
Those lists are likely to include red tubulars like honeysuckle, bee balm, hummingbird trumpet, cardinal flower, and the like, but which flowers an individual hummingbird visits will come down to simple economics: what will give that bird the most amount of nectar for the least amount of effort?
For some gardeners and bird watchers, it may seem that hummingbirds frequent dahlias, whereas others will see their dahlias preferred by other pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Most gardens are likely to be made up of multiple garden plants, so dahlias probably still have a place in your hummingbird gardens, especially surrounded by other types of flowers and hummingbird feeders that may be more conventionally attractive to hummers.
Does Other Wildlife Like Dahlias?
As mentioned earlier, dahlias never really caught on as a food for Europeans after they arrived in the Americas.
SF Gate’s Katherine Grace Endicott wrote that the bitter taste of the dahlia was the reason for their relative lack of popularity in the Old World, and it’s that bitter taste that may also turn away mammals like rabbits and deer.
A hungry animal isn’t likely to be picky, but those with multiple choices for food may pass up dahlias in search of better-tasting plants.
This can be a positive for gardeners who don’t like to see their garden beds ravaged by wildlife.
Smaller wildlife can cause problems, however. According to the American Dahlia Society, dahlias are particularly vulnerable to slug damage as well as Japanese beetles and other insects.
How To Grow Dahlias
We’re not gardening experts, so let’s take it from the experts at the American Dahlia Society, who explain the basics of getting your dahlia garden started and can provide more specifics on what it takes to be successful.
The group suggests planting once the chances of frost have mostly gone in locations with lots of sun and good drainage. Dahlias will often need to be staked, they say, and given about two feet between plants to give them room to grow. For more on growing dahlias, click on the link above.
By mid-to-late summer, you should hopefully see your flower beds start to come to life with blooming flowers.
As mentioned earlier, dahlias grow from tubers, and in colder climates, their tubers must be taken out of the soil and stored out of the sun throughout the winter.
Dahlias aren’t usually thought of as the type of flower that hummingbirds are most likely to visit, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t like them.
If you plant them in your garden in a yard full of nesting spots, cover from predators, and other food sources like insects and nectar-rich plants, you may just attract hummingbirds throughout the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Flower Is Most Attractive to Hummingbirds?
Flower preferences will change based on location, species, and even specific birds’ nesting locations in relation to different food offerings.
Generally, it’s believed that hummingbirds have an increased sensitivity to the color red and prefer flowers of a tubular shape that are good sources of nectar.
What Flowers Do Hummingbirds Not Like?
Gardeners across the globe love their lilies, roses, and sunflowers, but they’re all kinds of flowers that hummingbirds don’t prefer.
Any flower that produces nectar will have at least a chance to attract a hummingbird, but not all flowering plants are pollinated by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. The only ones that truly have no chance of attracting hummingbirds are those without nectar.
Do Dahlias Need Full Sunlight?
Dahlias grow best with a lot of sun, whether that’s full or almost full sunlight.
Are Dahlias Difficult To Grow?
Dahlias are native to Mexico and Central America, so they’re not meant for certain cold climates. While they will work as perennials in colder climates, they may require some extra care.
For them to return in cold climates, you’ll need to take extra care of their tubers through the winter and replant them each year.