We all know the critical role that bees play in pollinating crops. But there are other beneficial bugs that make a garden go ’round.
There are insects that feed on plants and those that feed on other insects. In your garden, you want as many of the carnivores as possible so that the herbivores won’t devour your crops. Unfortunately, the predators don’t always show up in time to save your broccoli seedlings from those little white bugs sucking the life out of them. But if you create the right habitat, you’ll increase the chances that the good bugs will be on hand when the bad bugs show up to feast.
Praying mantises, ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, pirate bugs, parasitic wasps — these are the folks you want to attract to keep the aphids, leafcutters, squash vine borers, cabbage worms and whiteflies in check. This means providing food and shelter to them. Fortunately, a number of lovely flowering plants offer both. The beneficial insects hide out and raise their families in the foliage, and some also subsist on nectar at certain stages in their life cycle or when high-protein insect snacks aren’t available.
Many flowering species provide habitats for beneficial insects, but there are a few rock stars in the “insectary” arena that are known to excel at this task.
This perennial flower attracts a wide array of predatory bugs, along with butterflies who delight in the large nectar-rich blossoms. The flowers, which come in a range of red and yellow shades and white, rise from a spreading mat of lacy foliage that has a pleasing herbal fragrance when crushed.
A petite annual, this orange- and yellow-flowering species is easily mixed in with vegetable beds to add color and pest control services. In addition to helping with aboveground pests, marigold roots are toxic to root-knot nematodes, a common pest that attacks vegetables from below.
3. Sweet alyssum
Honey-scented white flowers completely cover this ground-hugging annual for months on end during the growing season. Because it is small and low-growing, some gardeners plant it as a groundcover around taller vegetables, such as kale and chard. Sweet alyssum often seeds itself — plant it once and it will sprout again year after year.
Also known as echinacea, these two-foot-tall flower stalks are best positioned in a perennial border adjacent to a vegetable garden. You’ll likely see butterflies touching down for a sip of nectar, but the elegant purple blossoms also attract a range of smaller, beneficial insects that quietly go about their work.
The flowers above bloom mainly in spring and summer, while goldenrod starts blooming in late summer and continues into fall. This is crucial, as beneficial insects are likely to move on if the habitat is no longer optimal. Its loose yellow blossoms are a striking late-season addition to a cottage-garden-style flower border.