While the main goal of a vegetable garden is obviously to grow vegetables, there are other things to grow that will benefit the garden. A variety of herbs and flowers can improve yields by attracting beneficial insects to the garden, and protecting your plants.
Flowers aren’t only for decoration. Many flowers are planted because they attract a variety of beneficial insects. Beyond bees and various other pollinators, there are many insects that actually feed on things like aphids, to keep the populations down. This is a tremendous bonus for the gardener.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a system in which the bad bugs are controlled without using chemicals, and flowers, as well as herbs, play an important role in that. Different flowers and herbs attract and repel different insects, so diversity is key.
In my garden last year, I planted calendula, marigolds, nasturtiums, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, borage, and cosmos. I also like to let some plants go to seed. The flowers of brassicas, cilantro, and dill attract certain species of beneficial insects – and they taste good, too (the flowers, not the insects)! So don’t pull up plants just because they’re past their prime. They still have a job to do in the garden.
Flowers for the garden
Calendula flowers are one of my favorite flowers, and they brighten and cheer a vegetable garden. Their vibrant yellows and oranges are striking against the green backdrop of the vegetables. But they’re more than just decorative.
Calendula plants exude a sticky substance that acts as a trap for small insects such as aphids. This in turn attracts the insects that feed on those smaller insects. Watch for an influx of lady bugs, and a wide variety of flies and beetles, depending on where you live.
I have read that you can make an insecticidal tea from the leaves and flowers of calendula plants, to spray on the garden – I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to this year. And growing them amongst your brassicas can reduce damage from cabbage moth.
Calendula’s fast and furious growth habit makes them an ideal candidate for cover cropping. And they make so many seeds, it’s easy to save them and fling them around the garden in late summer.
I also use calendula flowers to make an infused oil, which I then use in a skin lotion, with other infused oils, and some essential oils and beeswax. It’s super nice on the skin. And it feels good to make it using things I grew myself.
Marigolds suppress or kill soil nematodes, and may repel some pests, such as asparagus beetles and tomato hornworms, Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, and whiteflies.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow, and they make an excellent ground cover to suppress weeds. Besides being a good cover crop, they have edible leaves, flowers and seeds.
Nasturtiums can act as a trap crop for aphids, which attracts ladybugs and other beneficials that eat aphids. They also attract and provide food for other beneficials, and hummingbirds love them. They may deter cabbage moth, squash bugs and beetles.
Sweet alyssum is another flower that makes a good cover and mulch crop. It smothers weeds very well, while attracting beneficials and pollinators. It also smells REALLY good when you brush past it, so I plant it along the garden paths.
There are many flowers that are good for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, such as cosmos, California poppy, sweet peas, borage, and more. Pick your favorites and plant them around and throughout the garden. Their beauty will please you, and their scent and color will please the beneficial insects. WIN-WIN!
Herbs for the vegetable garden
Herbs are generally very strong smelling, which makes them excellent companion plants in the garden. The strong smells ward off some insects which are destructive, while attracting other insects which are beneficial.
Letting your herbs flower is a great way to attract those beneficial insects that can help protect your garden plants from nasty critters that want to eat them. Well, not us, but other nasty critters.
Here are just a few herbs that are easy to grow, and helpful in the garden. And they’re also tasty!
Whether you love it or hate it (I happen to love it), cilantro can be a very useful herb to grow in your vegetable garden. Its strong smell can repel or confuse pests, so that they can’t find their target plant. And it has deep roots for mining nutrients. The flowers and leaves of cilantro attract beneficial insects, so let some of your cilantro flower to reap the benefits.
German chamomile attracts beneficial insects. It also has deep roots, which may mine nutrients from deeper in the soil than most vegetable roots reach. German chamomile is great to add to the compost. I’ll be growing it in the herb garden, and might put a few plants into the vegetable garden as well.
Growing lavender in your garden helps repel ticks and green cabbage moths. It has even been suggested that it will repel mice. It also smells divine, and is a lovely herb to dry and use in the house.
I don’t have lavender in the garden, but there is a straggly ol’ plant on the property that I will be taking cuttings from this year. I’ll put a couple into the garden, and we’ll see how it works.
This popular herb is excellent to grow amongst the veggies in your garden. It repels many insects that want to eat your garden harvest, and will also attract beneficials if you let it flower. Chives repel aphids, and confuses pests with it’s strong onion scent.
Another herb that attracts beneficial insects to the garden, dill is easy to grow, and delicious to eat. It grows well with most veggies, and is another strong smelling herb that works to confuse pest insects, disguising the scent of the surrounding veggies.
That’s just a short list of herbs that are beneficial in the garden. Most herbs work to, at the very least, mask the scent of your garden veggies so they can’t be found by the garden pests that want to eat them. And all the while you can be harvesting them to use in the kitchen for flavoring and adding nutrients to your food.
Natural pest control for the garden
You will never entirely avoid insect damage in the vegetable garden. That’s just not the way nature works. But you can minimize the damage by planting a variety of flowers and herbs, and brighten up your garden at the same time.
The key to pest management is to create a balance. It might seem like an infestation is going to ruin the garden, but it generally doesn’t. Once the pest insects arrive, you’ll soon see an influx of beneficial insects, coming to feed off of the pest insects. You can also purchase some insects, such as ladybugs and hover flies, if you’re having a particular pest issue.
But if you plant flowers and herbs that the beneficials like, you will help to create that balance in your garden. You may lose a few plants, or end up with some bug eaten leaves, but that’s not the end of the world. It is nature, after all.
There is always much to learn about a subject, and this article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to natural pest control for the garden. If you have any questions or suggestions, I’d be happy to hear from you. Just pop your thoughts into the comment box below.
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