With their tall statures and bright golden blooms, sunflowers are an iconic flower. But do darting, nimble hummingbirds seek out these mammoth blossoms? Sunflowers have some attributes that attract hummingbirds, but also limitations. Understanding their appeal and integrating sunflowers smartly can make your garden more hummingbird-friendly.
Sunflower Nectar Appeals to Hummingbirds
Here’s what makes sunflowers an attractive nectar source for hummingbirds:
- Nectar-rich – Once mature, sunflowers mass produce nectar to attract pollinators. A single head may secrete 1-2 teaspoons per day.
- High sugar content – Sunflower nectar has sugar concentrations of 15-50%, ideal for rapid hummingbird energy needs.
- Continuous blooms – Sunflowers bloom continuously for 4-6 weeks on each plant, providing ongoing nourishment.
- Bright color – The golden yellow petals act as a visual bullseye, drawing hummingbirds’ attention.
- Sturdy perches – The thick stems and wide seed heads give hummingbirds a stable place to feed and rest.
With their sweet, abundant nectar and eye-catching color, sunflowers offer key features hummingbirds cue into when foraging.
Drawbacks of Sunflowers for Hummingbirds
However, sunflowers also have some characteristics that deter hummingbirds or limit their access:
- Thick nectar – The more viscous nectar can be difficult for smaller hummingbird species to efficiently extract.
- Blossom shape – The flat, broad flower heads block access for hummingbirds that prefer tubular blossoms.
- Height – Larger varieties can tower 6-12 feet making nectar challenging to reach, especially after heads droop downward.
- Pesticides – Commercial crops may be heavily treated with chemicals toxic for hummingbirds.
- Limited seasons – Most sunflowers bloom only in summer and fall, providing no winter or early spring nutrition.
These downsides mean hummingbirds tend to prefer smaller, clustered flowers with seasons-long availability. But sunflowers can supplement.
Do Hummingbirds Pollinate Sunflowers?
Hummingbirds do visit and pollinate some sunflower species, though bees perform most of the pollination:
- Larger species – Giant disk sunflowers are adapted for hummingbird pollination.
- Tubular blossoms – More closed, elongated flowers suit hummingbird beaks and heads better.
- Red shades – Hummingbirds key into warmer-colored tubular sunflowers.
- Native plants – Wild uncultivated species rely more on hummingbird pollination.
- Nectar production – The ones hummingbirds pollinate make significantly more nectar.
So while bees pollinate most crop sunflowers, hummingbirds play a key role for wild sunflower reproduction, especially the red tubular varieties.
Tips for Attracting Hummingbirds to Sunflowers
If you want to maximize hummingbird visits to your sunflowers, these tips can help:
- Choose smaller, dwarf and pollen-free varieties under 5 feet tall.
- Select single-headed varieties, which produce more nectar than multi-headed types.
- Look for traditional open-faced flowers versus “doubled” discs, which block access.
- Plant clusters of different sunflowers together to concentrate resources.
- Position feeders on poles above or amidst sunflower rows.
- Grow both annual and perennial types to extend season availability.
- Avoid pesticide use so blossoms are safe for hummingbirds.
- Include other hummingbird favorites like bee balm and trumpet vines nearby.
With smart variety selection and garden design, your sunflower patch can better provide for hummingbirds.
Best Sunflower Varieties to Attract Hummingbirds
Specific sunflower types known for hummingbird appeal include:
- Sundance Kid – Yellow-petaled 3-4 foot bicolor with tubular blossoms
- Autumn Beauty – 5-6 feet with striking fall-blooming red-orange flowers
- Valentine – Vibrant red petals on multiple small heads reaching just 2 feet tall
- Elf – A dwarf plant under 2 feet sporting single-stemmed yellow blooms
- Ruby Eclipse – Cherry-red petals on 18-inch stalks blooming midsummer
- Starburst – Multibranching red-yellow flower heads on plants 5 feet maximum
Prioritize short, brightly colored tubular varieties. Mix sunflower types to extend peak bloom periods.
Companion Plantings That Attract Hummingbirds
Sunflowers will draw more hummingbird attention paired with these complementary plants:
- Bee balm
- Cardinal flower
- Trumpet vine
- Butterfly bushes
- Rose of Sharon
Choose clusters of red, orange, and pink blossoms with continuous summer to fall blooms. Interplant throughout the sunflower beds.
While not their absolute favorite, hummingbirds will visit and pollinate some sunflower types, especially smaller tubular red varieties. They are drawn by the plentiful nectar but deterred by height, limited seasons, and shape restrictions. Smart garden design using dwarf, colorful blooms and supplemental feeders can enhance your sunflowers’ appeal. When paired with suitable companion plants, sunflowers can contribute to a diverse, hummingbird-friendly space. Their bright blossoms commercialized sunflowers, but wild uncultivated species still rely on hummingbirds for pollination. With conscious planning, we can include sunflowers to both beautify gardens and support hummingbird needs.
Do hummingbirds pollinate sunflowers?
Hummingbirds pollinate some wild sunflower species, especially red tubular varieties. But most commercial sunflower crops are pollinated by bees.
What types of sunflowers attract hummingbirds?
Dwarf, short, single-headed and tubular petaled sunflowers in reds, oranges and yellows appeal most to hummingbirds because they can access the nectar.
How can I get hummingbirds to visit my sunflowers?
Choose small varieties under 5 feet tall, cluster different types together, avoid pesticides, and supplement with feeders and favored companion plants like bee balm.
When do sunflowers bloom?
Most sunflowers bloom in mid to late summer into early fall. A few perennial types extend the season with late summer through frost blooms.
Do hummingbirds eat sunflower seeds?
No, hummingbirds feed only on nectar, small insects and spiders. They do not eat seeds or bird seed from feeders. The nectar inside sunflower petals attracts them.
What plants should be near sunflowers for hummingbirds?
Good companion plants include salvia, zinnias, fuchsia, bee balm, trumpet vine, butterfly bush, weigela, and other tubular flowers providing season-long bloom.
How can I keep hummingbirds visiting my yard?
Provide a continuous sequence of flowering plants from spring through fall. Supplement with clean hummingbird feeders, water features, and native trees and shrubs that attract insects they eat.
Do all varieties of sunflowers attract hummingbirds?
Some tall large commercial types are difficult for hummingbirds to feed on. Prioritize smaller, tubular petaled varieties in bright shades of red, orange and yellow.