Monday, March 26, 2012

Bees, butterflies and beneficials

Not only do flowers provide nectar for bees that pollinate my fruit trees and crops, and beneficial insects that help control unwanted pests, but they also make my garden a beautiful place to water, weed, plant and harvest. In my front yard, they create a welcoming pathway for visitors and they make my edible landscaping (persimmon, peaches, apples, watermelons, squashes and peppers) more attractive.

However, it's not the typical large flowers that attract the bees and beneficials. Instead, I plant a variety of perennials, annuals and shrubs with small flowers that bloom from spring to late fall, and I let some plants (like kale) flower and set seed in my garden, so my bug buddies will always have something to eat. In order to use a beneficial bug strategy for insect control, I don't spray pesticides, which would kill the beneficials along with the pests.

I'm not expanding my garden this year - much - but I've noticed several spots that could host herbs and flowers to provide habitat for beneficial insects that help control unwanted garden pests. I plant marigolds, sunflowers, and lantanas in my garden beds, but I tend to choose perennials for landscaping because they don't need re-planting every year. (In fact, my bright pink salvia is already in full bloom in March). I try to select varieties that need little water once they are established and have a long bloom period.

This year, I plan to plant some combination of the following:

Coreopsis - bright yellow flowers bloom all summer
Catmint - spreads, interesting odor, purple flowers bloom in spring and again in fall
Purple sage - edible herb, purple foliage until frost
Butterflyweed - drought tolerant, yellow/orange/red flowers attract butterflies and ladybugs
Sedum - fall blooming, tough
Yarrow - ferny foliage, attracts a wide variety of beneficials
Tansy - bright yellow flowers, tall herb, multi-use, attracts a wide variety of beneficials
Thyme - evergreen in my area of Oklahoma, tough
Golden marguerite - small chamomile-like flowers, attracts a wide variety of beneficials

For a much longer list of plants that attract beneficial insects, see this Mother Earth News article. What flowers are you planting for your bees, butterflies and beneficials? Have you used a beneficial bug strategy to control your pests, and has it worked for you?

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