Flowers for Beneficial Insects
by Diane Linsley
Why should vegetable gardens be unattractive and boring? There's simply no excuse for it when there are so many beautiful flowers and herbs available. For those of us who tend to feel guilty if we plant anything "impractical" in the vegetable garden, here are two reasons why we should plant flowers:
1. Many flowers attract beneficial insects.
2. Some flowers are edible -- a very practical reason!
Beneficial insects are unbeatable for controlling bad bugs. A few years of reading Organic Gardening magazine convinced me to avoid pesticides and seek out safer alternatives. Not only are beneficial insects good for your garden, but they're also nice to have around when teaching children about nature.
If you have small children, consider planting only edible flowers in the vegetable garden, so they don't get confused about what's safe to eat. Other flowers can be planted in a border outside the vegetable garden. Be cautious and well-informed before eating any plant or flower. Some people have allergic reactions to certain flowers.
It's usually best to stick with annual flowers inside the vegetable garden, since you'll be rotating your crops every year. It's nice to have a special section for perennial flowers, maybe as part of the herb garden. Some herbs are perennials or biennials, so they need a permanent spot where they won't be disturbed by digging or rototilling.
Here is a list of some of the best flowers for attracting beneficial insects. You can also plant flowers for hummingbirds and butterflies. These garden visitors are good pollinators. And hummingbirds eat aphids!
Annual Flowers for Beneficial Insects
Alyssum 'Carpet of Snow' (Lobularia maritima) -- Masses of tiny flowers that attract hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. Basil -- A popular herb with flowers that attract beneficial insects and bees. The aromatic foliage may repel aphids and tomato hornworms. Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower) -- Good flowers for attracting beneficial insects, including bees, lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic wasps. Cosmos -- Flowers for lacewings, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
Dill 'Mammoth' -- This herb can be used as a trap crop for aphids. The umbel flowers attract ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. Marigold -- For bees and hoverflies. The roots produce a secretion that kills root-eating nematodes in the soil. The flower petals are edible. Morning Glory (Ipomoea sp.) -- Showy flowers that attract syrphid flies and ladybugs. Grow this vigorous vine on a trellis. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum sp.) -- One of the best flowers for bumblebees. Zinnia -- Brightly colored flowers that attract beneficial insects, including bees, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
Perennial Flowers for Beneficial Insects
Agastache foeniculum (Anise Hyssop) -- Perennial herb with licorice-flavored leaves for tea. Spikes of blue flowers that attract beneficial insects and bees. Blooms the first year from seed. Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) -- Edible leaves and seeds. One of the best flowers for attracting beneficial insects: bees, hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs, syrphid flies, tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. Common Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) -- The flowers attract hoverflies, bees and parasitic mini wasps. The leaves and flower buds are used in recipes. Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) -- Used in herbal medicine as an immune stimulant. The flowers attract praying mantis, bees and parasitic wasps. The seedheads attract birds. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) -- A traditional herb used to treat migraine headaches. The white daisy-like flowers attract hoverflies. Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) -- The flowers attract beneficial insects and bees. The leaves have a nice, strong garlic flavor. Allium species make good companion plants for roses because they repel aphids. Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) -- One of the best flowers for attracting beneficial insects in late summer to fall. Attracts assassin bugs, big-eyed bugs, bees, ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, praying mantis and parasitic wasps. Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket) -- The young leaves are edible. The flowers attract bees and butterflies (pollinators). Lavender 'Lady' (Lavandula angustifolia) -- The flowers attract hoverflies and bees. The fragrant foliage is used in potpourri. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) -- The lemon-flavored leaves make a good tea. The tiny flowers attract tachinid flies, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. Parsley 'Giant of Italy' -- The umbel flowers attract ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic mini wasps. Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) -- Spikes of vivid blue flowers that attract ladybugs, hoverfiles and bees. Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) -- Golden-yellow, daisy-like flowers for attracting lacewings and bees. Salvia -- For bees, butterflies and hummingbirds (pollinators). Thyme -- English thyme is a kitchen herb. Creeping thyme is a perennial groundcover. The tiny flowers attract hoverflies. Viola tricolor -- I let these self-sow wherever they like. They don't disturb the vegetables, and the edible flowers make nice cake decorations. Attracts a variety of small beneficial insects early in the year before most other flowers bloom.
Yarrow (Achillia) -- Umbel flowers that attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic wasps.