Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport


3 Simple Things You Must Do to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden

While there are so many things I love about time in the garden each summer, the daily ritual we call “Hummingbird Watch” is my favorite. During this 90 minute period, just before the sun sets from late April until early September, the hummingbirds – all ruby-throated in southern NH – can be seen flitting from feeder-to-feeder and flower-to-flower — and sometimes even from gnat-to-gnat — across my garden.

I’ve never met a person who isn’t delighted to have these tiny creatures visit and take up residence in their gardens. But interestingly, even the most savvy nature lovers I know often wonder how to continuously attract hummingbirds to their outdoor sanctuaries.

There’s a lot of information online about techniques, tips, and tricks to draw more hummingbird visitors to your garden or yard. However, I’ve found that some important details are often omitted behind the headlines that offer advice for attracting and keeping hummingbirds nearby. Here are three proven tips I’m sharing from my own experience that will hopefully set you up to start your own Hummingbird Watch Ritual.

1. Keep Your Hummingbird Feeders Clean – ALWAYS!


A male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird visits one of our garden feeders in early spring.

In mid-May, when I ask my neighbors and friends how many hummingbirds they’ve seen since putting up their feeders, they often tell me that they haven’t seen any at all. They sometimes even blame me for keeping them in my garden (which is not a valid argument for their lack of visitors!)

The first questions I ask are, “How often do you change the food, and what are you using in your feeder?”

The response is almost always that the feeder has had ‘food’ in it for weeks, or even months and is never emptied. So, that’s a BIG RED FLAG as to problem number one. The best advice I can provide is to keep your feeders clean – which means emptying them, cleaning them, and refilling them with fresh nectar aka: sugar water at least weekly – twice a week during heatwaves in mid-summer.

If your sugar water is cloudy – that’s a hint that you’re overdue to change the food. Same thing if you see black particles or scum floating in the water. That’s mold and fungus and can poison the hummingbirds that visit your feeder. I’ve found when I clean my feeders (with a few drops of Dawn dish soap) every five to six days, there is less buildup of mold in the feeder.


If I see any, I use a diluted bleach solution and small brushes to clean my feeders thoroughly. (The other incentive to keeping them clean weekly, is that it’s a lot less work, and sometimes a quick rinse of hot water is all that’s needed.)

2. Create Your Own Sugar Water for Feeders – And Skip the Red Dye

What are you feeding your hummingbirds? Are you buying packaged mixes from the store? Or do you make your own nectar? To save money and provide food with no chemicals, start making your own fresh sugar water with basic white sugar – sucrose. When mixed with water, it most closely resembles the natural nectar that hummingbirds get from flowers. Don’t use honey because it will promote fungal growth. And stay away from raw or organic sugar as it contains a higher amount of iron that can harm your little visitors.


At first glance, this appears to be a female hummingbird. Look closely for the speck of red plumage on the neck. This is juvenile male Ruby-Throated during a late summer feeder visit.

The Audubon Society instructions advise using 1 part sugar (plain, white sugar) to 4 parts water to feed hummingbirds – and no red food dye. Boil the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Then let cool before filling your feeders.

Since I fill several feeders, I use 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. During early spring, when the hummingbirds first arrive and late summer and as they fuel up for their mid-September trips back to Mexico and Central America, I make the mix just a little sweeter/stronger and cut back on the water by about a half cup. I have a friend who uses a much stronger mix, but have read that this isn’t good because too much sugar can damage the liver of hummingbirds.

If you make extra sugar water, you can refrigerate it for about a week. This will save you time as you fill your feeders weekly – even more so when experiencing heatwaves that will require more frequent food changes.

Finally, I keep my feeders up until the end of September. While most of the hummingbirds who visited all summer leave by September 10, we get stragglers from up north as they join the annual migration. It’s fun and honestly, a little bit rewarding to see an occasional visitor stop by to fuel up on sugar water and nectar from late blooming zinnias through September 30.

3. Plan Your Garden to Attract Hummingbirds – They Love Red & Pink

The gardens at our house are primarily well-established perennial gardens. They’ve always attracted hummingbirds, but after putting a little extra thought into new plantings (all gardeners add new plants to their gardens every year, right?), we always think about what will attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

While there are three feeders across the garden, I look at them as supplemental to the flowers that are planted to provide a continuous bloom for our enjoyment – and food for the hummingbirds throughout the summer. This not only makes the garden look beautiful throughout the summer, but it’s also one of the best ways to keep hummingbirds coming back to visit. Did you know that hummingbirds eat as much as half of their weight every day – and feed five to six times per hour?

Over the past few years, I’ve learned to pay attention to what flowers and trees the hummingbirds like to visit for their feedings and for resting. One of the resting areas that I know to look up to is the very top of the Weeping Cherry tree in the back garden. When I see one up there, I know that there are at least three more in the nearby flowers.


Lookout Point at the top of the Weeping Cherry tree. A sign if the hummingbirds are active.

Add These Flowers to Your Garden and Attract More Hummingbirds

The past two summers, I’ve kept my camera with me while in the garden, especially during the daily hummingbird watch ritual I mentioned earlier.

While I’ve caught great shots of these incredible creatures at the feeders, I’ve wanted more ‘natural’ photos of them visiting the flowers in our garden. (I post many of these on my Instagram page, also called Garden with Grace).

Here are some of my favorite new shots of the hummingbirds enjoying the flowers in our gardens over the past year. You may be inspired to add some of these to your own landscape. Keep in mind to plant flowers for your specific zone. We are in zone 5B in Nashua, NH. So you may or may not have success with all of these.

In addition to the photos captured here – other flowers the hummingbirds visit include Purple Siberian Iris and Purple Lilac in the spring. And Zinnias! They love the secret zinnia beds scattered across the back gardens. Zinnias are annual flowers, but I keep the seed heads each autumn to start next year’s garden. If there’s not a butterfly flitting among the zinnias, you can usually find a hummingbird. (I’m hoping to catch that photo next summer! – UPDATE- On September 21, I captured a good photo that includes a zinnia and have added it to the end of this post.)


Cardinal Flower aka: Lobelia Cardinalis


Lucifer Flower, aka: Sword Flower, aka: Crocosmia. This is new this year and big hit!


Lucifer Flower, aka: Sword Flower, aka: Crocosmia. This is new this year and big hit!


Here’s another of the Lucifer Flower, with St Francis (Patron Saint of Animals)


One of the few annual flowers – Fuschia. This always attracts the hummingbirds late summer.


My first and all-time favorite action shot of a hummingbird above a trellis of Alabama Crimson Honeysuckle on a clear, cloudless late summer afternoon.


Alabama Crimson Honeysuckle. Resting on a leaf while enjoying sweet nectar.


Looks closely to see this bird’s tongue sample the new buds of the Endless Summer Hydrangea.


I finally captured a photo of a hummingbird visiting a zinnia in my garden on Sept 21 – well after I assumed they left for the season.

“May my faith always be
at the end of the day
like a hummingbird…returning
to its favorite flower.”
~Sanober Khan, Turquoise Silence

The photos in this post were all taken in my garden in the summers of 2017 and 2018 and belong to the owner of this post. If you’d like to use any of these photos, please request permission via a comment on this post.

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A Happy Return to the Boston Flower & Garden Show

It’s been about 20 years since I last attended the Boston Flower & Garden Show.

I finally returned for the 2014 show with my mom.

We’re both glad that we made the decision to give this event another try.

The Garden Marketplace
The vast array of exhibiting vendors was impressive. One of my favorites was the book area with titles like this!

Loved seeing titles like this one at the Boston Flower Show.

Great book titles, like this one, at the Boston Flower & Garden Show.

This book was one of my first finds, but I was holding off on purchases at the start of the show. Unfortunately, I forgot to go back to pick up a copy.  I think that I need to order one online for my own library.

Speaking of a library, my vote for most artistic vendor goes to the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Their seed packages are also amazing works of art – definitely suitable for framing.  Since I’m not sure yet what I want to start from seed this year for my own garden, I held back on any purchases, but definitely plan to place an order soon (even just to have these little works of art displayed in my backyard garden shed!)

Loved the artistic packaging for the Seed Library's offering.

Loved the artistic packaging for the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s offering.

I also enjoyed stopping by the display for Peony’s Envy. (The company name, of course, was a draw!) I’ve never seen such a variety peony plants in one small location.  My mom immediately recognized this vendor from the dozens of gardening and landscaping magazines that she’s been browsing. A Peony’s Envy peony is now at my home, tucked in the back of the ‘fridge until it’s ready to plant in the garden in a few weeks (or as soon as the snow melts!) 

One of my early blogs entries shared information about the peonies that have been in my garden for the past 40+ years.  It’s always nice to add something new to the mix!

Dozens of Peonies for sale at Peony's Envy

The new peony from Peony’s Envy is going to make my neighbors jealous!

Spring’s Arrival at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center
The highlight of our visit was the feeling of being outside in so many beautiful gardens, all under one big roof.

Walking through these indoor gardens, on a cold Friday in early March certainly made it feel like spring. It also smelled like spring. So much so that a dose of Benedryl was required while walking through the expo.

One of the more interesting and surprising landscaping themes was the inclusion of many outdoor bedrooms in the garden.  While this is far from practical (imagine mosquitos and other nocturnal critters crawling into your outdoor bed – it gives new meaning to bedbugs), it was fun to imagine and displays like this one fulfilled the overall show theme of ‘Romance in the Garden’!

Sweet Dreams in the Garden.

Sweet Dreams in the Garden.

Something I wasn’t expecting to see was a landscape filled with ceramic fish, provided by a vendor called Fish in the Garden.  There was discussion in this display area amongst other show spectators.  We all thought that this garden looked like we were peering into an aquarium.

Garden Aquarium - Just missing the castle and treasure chest.

Garden Aquarium – Just missing the diver, castle,  and treasure chest.

The inclusion of sculptures into the garden is especially appealing to me — I enjoyed seeing a variety of stone, ceramic, metallic and other types of sculpture (including the giant rope spider web that you can see in the background of in one of these photos.)

Stone Sculptures (look to the far left for the rope spider web!)

Stone Sculptures (look to the far right for the rope spider web!)

Gate posing as sculpture in the garden.

Gate posing as sculpture in the garden.

Back to Life. Back to Reality.
With spring only a few days away, our happy return to the 2014 Boston Flower & Garden Show provided a nice dose of hope and optimism, even for just a few hours, before returning home to my (still) snow covered garden.

Back to Reality! Garden is still covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Back to Reality! Garden is still covered in a thick blanket of snow.

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”

~Victor Hugo