A flower-filled garden will be great for hummingbirds and other wildlife. But if you want to make a special effort to attract hummingbirds to your garden, you should select flowers that hummingbirds particularly like.
Sunflowers are indeed one of those types of flowers. If you have sunflowers and hummingbirds where you live, you may well already be well aware that these stunning flowers can be a magnet for these beautiful and impressive birds. Do hummingbirds like sunflowers? Yes, they very much do!
Why Are Sunflowers Attractive to Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds like sunflowers for a range of reasons. Sunflowers are suitable for a hummingbird-friendly garden for several reasons.
Sunflowers Produce A Lot of Nectar
These flowers can produce a lot of nectar over a relatively long summer blooming season.
The Florets on a Sunflower Are Shaped For Hummingbird Access
The florets on a sunflower are shaped so that hummingbirds can easily access the nectar. The nectar is produced within the complex flowers in little tube-shaped receptacles that develop at the heart of each bloom.
Hummingbirds can use their beaks and tongues to access this nectar and have excellent coordination, which allows them to hover and sup from these little tubes.
Sunflowers Grow Tall, Stand Out, and Are Easy for Hummingbirds to Spot
Many sunflowers will grow very tall indeed. And this makes them stand out to flying species, like hummingbirds and other pollinators. Hummingbirds will more easily spot these from on high and be drawn into your garden.
Many Sunflowers Come in Shades Which Catch a Hummingbird’s Eye
Sunflowers are often bright yellow but can also come in red or orange shades, which draw a hummingbird’s attention. Yellow is eye-catching for bees and other insect pollinators, but red hues often best catch a hummingbird’s attention.
Sunflowers Turn to Face the Sun
Sunflowers are heliotropic. When young flowers first emerge, they turn to face the sun. This is believed to help attract pollinators, as many are more attracted to warm buds. When mature, sunflowers face east to be warmed by the morning sun.
Sunflowers Attract Other Pollinators and a Range of Insects Hummingbirds Eat
Sunflowers don’t just provide a source of nectar for hummingbirds. These flowers are also great at attracting a range of insects which are an additional food source for these birds.
One interesting thing is that sunflowers can be a useful ‘trap crop.’ They attract insect pests (as well as the insects that eat them) and can help keep them away from edible crops and other prized plants.
Ants have been known to ‘herd’ aphids onto sunflowers, where they ‘farm’ them for a sweet sticky substance they exude.
However, because of this association with insect pests and ants, and because they attract bee and wasp species, it might be best to keep these flowers away from sugar-solution filled hummingbird feeders so that you don’t have pest issues with your feeder.
Why Are Sunflowers a Good Choice for US Gardeners?
Sunflowers can be an excellent choice for US gardeners because they are attractive to hummingbirds, and they also draw in a range of other native bird species and other wildlife.
Remember, the more beneficial wildlife you can attract to your space, the easier it will be for you to manage and maintain your organic garden.
Sunflowers can be a good companion plant for your vegetable garden and can, in their own right, provide you with edible yields.
In the US, sunflowers can be great native flower options for hummingbirds and a wildlife-friendly garden.
Which Sunflowers Should You Choose?
Sunflowers are members of the Helianthus genus. There are around 70 different species of annual and perennial plants within this group of flowering plants.
The best known is probably Helianthus annuus, the annual sunflower, which is native to most of the United States and Canada.
Another common crop sunflower is ‘Jerusalem artichoke,’ also known as the sunchoke, H. tuberosus. This native of central North America is grown for its edible tubers.
Many perennial sunflowers are native to some or all of the US, including, for example, the Maximilian sunflower, H. maximiliani.
It is also worthwhile to seek out other Helianthus species native to your particular area. For example, in California, you might consider H. bolanderi, H. californicus, H. ciliaris, H. cusickii, H. exilis, H. gracilentus, H. lenticularis, and H. niveus.
Researching native plants for your area should give you a list of some sunflowers native to your state.
The reason why native sunflowers are excellent options is that they should be well adapted to the environmental conditions in your area. Native plants are often a water-wise choice and will also help the wildlife that has evolved alongside them to thrive.
Remember, while annual sunflowers are a wonderful choice for a hummingbird-friendly garden, you will need to sow them each spring, and they will bloom only over a single summer. On the other hand, perennial sunflowers can bloom annually over several years. So perennial types can be a good choice for a wild and relatively low-maintenance garden.
When choosing sunflowers for your garden, think about where precisely you would like them to grow.
If you are looking for a companion plant for a vegetable plot or kitchen garden, annual sunflowers are your option. These may also be combined with other annuals in a meadow scheme or in a bed or border specifically designed to attract hummers to your space.
Perennial types of sunflower can work well in herbaceous borders crammed with plenty of other perennial plants to attract and provide nectar and insects for hummingbirds to eat.
You might also include them in edible landscaping or an eco-friendly and wildlife-friendly forest garden – a type of planting scheme that hummingbirds, other birds, and a range of wildlife will love.
Does Sunflower Color Make a Difference?
When you think of sunflowers, you’re probably thinking about most species’ cheerful, sunshine yellow hue. Today, however, sunflowers (especially cultivars of annual types) come in different tones – from reds to oranges to browns.
Many hummingbirds will visit yellow flowers. And hummingbirds can be seen feeding from flowers with a wide range of hues. However, these birds are particularly drawn to vibrant red and orange colors and may prefer those blooms.
So you might consider growing red sunflowers in your garden to serve as a beacon for these birds and draw them in to feed on natural nectar sources.
Will Hummingbirds Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Hummingbirds eat nectar, sometimes sap or fruit juices, and also a wide range of insect prey. But they will not eat seeds.
However, if you yourself do not harvest the seeds from your sunflowers, the seed heads, left in place, will attract a range of other insect-eating birds, such as American goldfinches and northern Cardinals, for example.
Which Other Flowers Attract Hummingbirds?
While sunflowers are an excellent choice for a hummingbird-attracting planting scheme, you need biodiversity for a truly wildlife-friendly garden. So choose plenty of other flowers, and don’t forget to include plenty of native, rather than exotic, species.
Opt for vibrant red or orange blooms with a tubular flower shape and plants that bloom throughout the year.