Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adding Flowers To The Vegetable Garden

Are you on a mission to grow your own food? Become sustainable, or at least, less dependent on your grocer? I understand that desire and realize many people want to utilize every square inch of their garden for growing vegetables, but there are several good reasons for adding flowering plants, mixing them right in with your veggies.

Photo Credit

Flowers Attract Pollinators

It's amazing how many of our vegetables actually require an insect to pollinate them: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, kale, melons, okra, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, squash, and tomatoes! And while all of these don't necessarily need pollinating for you to enjoy them, those that produce fruits definitely benefit from happy pollinators.

For example, did you know that tomatoes (which have been considered wind pollinated by many) actually produce more fruit when visited by a bumblebee? And then there is the squash family. No honeybees, no squash. A quick google search will produce a few hits on how to hand pollinate - a sure sign that bees are on the decline and not visiting every vegetable garden each summer! 

Some of the plants in your veggie patch really don't need pollinating for you to enjoy eating them because we eat them before they bolt and go to seed. Lettuce is an example as well as most greens. Root and bulb vegetables are other examples of food we eat without pollination. However, on some of these, if we wanted to collect and save their seeds, we would need pollinators to do their work first.

Photo Credit

When thinking of pollinators, we typically have bees in mind. And they certainly do a huge part of the job each spring and summer. But other insects and flying species pollinate as well: butterflies, bumblebees, mason bees, beetles, hummingbirds, lacewings, wasps, moths, bats, and even some flies! 

I'll admit, that when I'm enjoying a dinner on the patio, I don't want to be disrupted by an onslaught of flying pests, but neither do I want to get rid of them entirely! We need to start considering what we're doing when we try to eradicate an entire population of insects. And we need to start thinking how to attract them to where we want them.

By having a little "color insight" and planting the right flowers, you can encourage these pollinators to hang out in your vegetable patch: 

• Bees see blue or purple flowers the best. They don't see red. 
• Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to red, yellow and orange flowers the most. 
• Nocturnal pollinators, such as moths, see white flowers the best. 

Here's a list of just a few flowers you might want to include in your garden:

Photo Credit

• Larkspur
• Lavender
• Cosmos
• Sweet Peas
• Zinnias
• Purple Cornflower
• Blueberry bushes
• Huckleberry bushes
• Milkweed
• Bee Balm
• Honeysuckle
• Sunflowers
• Sedum
• Salvia
• Penstemon
• Goldenrod
• Chives

Flowers Attract Beneficial Insects

Beneficial insects differ from pollinators by eating pests that plague your plants. The beneficial beauties include Lady Bugs, Lacewings, Parasitiod Wasps, and Ground Beetles. Here's a few items to plant inorder to attract them...

• Parsley
• Dill
• Coriander
• Asters
• Cornflower
• Cosmos
• Zinnias

Photo Credit

Flowers That Repel Garden Pests

Certain flowers seem to have the ability to repel bad insects. Give a few of these a try and see how they work fo you. Even if they don't repel the pests 100 percent, the plants will look lovely and perhaps they will at least keep the pest population down...

• Marigolds (repel Asparagus Beetles and Nematodes)
• Sage (repels Cabbage Moths and Carrot Rust Flies)
• Scented Geraniums (repels Japanese Beetles)
• Catmint (repels Aphids and Squash Bugs)
• Borage (repels Tomato Hornworms)

The lists above certainly aren't exhaustive, but they should get you started. A garden rich in biodiversity (as opposed to a single monocrop) can either attract beneficial insects by planting things they love by your vegetables or deter pests by planting things they won't touch next to your prize tomatoes! And doesn't it make the garden look lovely?

Be sure to visit for planting guides in your area and more!

Will you be adding flowers to your vegetable garden this year? Do tell!


  1. Amy,

    I always plant marigolds around the perimeter of my garden to attract ladybugs and to eliminate aphids.

    I also plant perennial flowers to attract bees and butterflies. It's nice to have a fresh supply of cut flowers for the table as well.

  2. yes!
    I couldn't agree with you more. Funny though, until I began my potager this year, I would have never considered adding flowers to my garden. Now, I'm finding that I want them everywhere! Our grandparents had the right idea all along. I can remember as a child when my granny had flowers bordering around her garden. I never realized why until now. I've added several flowers to my garden already and have more in my kitchen window sprouting to add in the upcoming months.

    Great Post Amy!
    This should well be one of your most popular ones!

  3. Marigolds every year. I LOVE marigolds--the smell, the petals, everything. Plus, they are great at keeping buggies at bay. I also put my herb garden in with my vegetable garden, so they both benefit. Zinnias and sunflowers go in as cutting flowers too.

  4. This post makes me excited for Spring. I've been dealing with masses of squash bugs the past 2 years so I've got a few tricks up my sleeve I'm going to try. :)

  5. I did not know that bats helped with pollination! We have a colony that lives in our summer kitchen chimmny April-November. it is about 300 bats. According to the local game commission, we are the nursery. So about August we have little bats flying around. They get into smaller spaces and end up in the house. As much as possible I swoosh them out an open window or door. Sometimes that's just not possible. Safety comes before the bat. One of my children had to have rabie shots because he picked up a bat and tried to feed it a bug. I don't mind the bats, they keep the bug population down. There is a run along the side of our property and a full creek at the back of the property.
    Now I can add pollinator to their list of benefits!

  6. we have a whole stack of marigold seeds to plant as a border in our veg patch- I've heard that not only do they attract pollinators they help to repel deer a little bit...And me say last year we lived in brooklyn and our bee population was scarce i had to hand pollinate our squash and cukes. it was a pain in the neck! We also plan on putting in some zinnias and sunflowers just cause my 4 yr old wanted to!

  7. What a great post! I have been worried for the last few years about the bees,and less polinating going on,I will give this a try this year. Blessings jane

  8. Great article. I am putting up a greenhouse this year, because our growing season is so short. I'm worried the honey bees won't find their way in to pollenate. There is an escape hatch in the roof for them. I guess I'll have to prop the door open. I loved your photos. I wish spring would find us, but it is snowing today and I am home sick.

  9. This is something I want to be better at. I concentrate so much on the vegetables, I forget the flowers. I plan to at least plant some marigolds and pansies.

  10. Ooow! You're making me kind of jealous with this post. We had snow for the last couple of days. But this is Alberta...
    I started seading in our heated shop. Pumpkins are growing already! Me and the kids are waiting 'till the snow is gone!! (might take a couple of weeks...)
    BTW love your blog!!
    Corine from Alberta

  11. We're working on getting our garden ready for planting (if it would ever warm up!!) and appreciate your reminder to include flowers in with the veggies!

  12. Corine, don't feel too jealous. I haven't even started my indoor seeds yet. We're a long way from warm vegetable crops! And I'm way behind on my cool weather ones as well. I've been trying to hunt down some soil amendments to make my own recipe to use for soil blockers. Perhaps I should start some the old fashion way while I'm waiting!

  13. Don't forget the workhorse of the garden - Nasturtium!! Repels wooly aphids, cabbage looper, squash bug (!!!), white fly, cucumber beetles and striped pumpkin beetles.

    Borage, when planted with strawberries, is said to enhance both flavor and yield.

    On the other hand, I read that Sunflowers are "allelopathic." (that is, they - like the Black Walnut Tree - contain chemicals that thwart the growth of other plants) and many adjacent crops may be effected. I'm growing sunflowers, but by themselves, well away from the veggie garden.

    I've been studying this before setting out my garden this year, and I'm going to try some of the tips I found to see if they work!

    1. I have planted Sunflowers in the garden the last few years and have had the best garden ever. People go past and comment all the time. The sunflowers attract many birds and insects that love the garden.I also plant marigolds and this year have zinnias started and will now add nasturiums to the list. Love the added color and height of sunflowers to the back border. My tomatoes are always over head high and produce very well. We have plenty to can and give away. Even had people wanting to buy them or trade for produce they had extra of.

  14. Deb W - great information! I would love to know what you find out. I'll be reconsidering where I plant my sunflowers as we had planned to do a lot!

  15. Amy, we always enjoy yours posts! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  16. I'm excited about adding flowering plants to my garden this year, and also around my fruit trees. I was told that flowering herbs planted around the fruit trees will help attract pollinators to the trees.

    The comment on sunflowers above...I have planted them with my vegetables in the past and have not noticed any problem other than attracting flocks of goldfinches. Apparently they love to eat the leaves:)

  17. Great post. I did not know that catmint repelled squash bugs. I will be planting it this year.

  18. aren't sunflowers usually used in 3 sister's gardens? ie- beans, squash, i am forgetting the third...we use our sunflowers as trellises for our beans and squash...

  19. Regina, the third item is corn, but I have heard of people using sunflowers for growing things on, but I don't know how successfully.

  20. I hope you do not mind that I copies this post (without the photos) and posted it on my blog. I did include your blog name and link.

    I really needed to read this and I wanted others to know it also.

    Please let me know if I need to take down the post. I will understand.

    Thank you for the lesson on this topic.

  21. I know I'm a latecomer to the conversation, but spring approaches again and this year I have a garden again. Does anyone know if it matters whether the companion plants are in pots or actually in the ground?

  22. I adore growing flowers along with my vegetables, for so many reasons.... LOVE your blog.

  23. love your blog! So much info!

  24. I've always planted marigolds around the perimeter of my garden because it keeps rabbits and porcupines out of my garden.

  25. what kind of flower will keep moles or groundhogs away from the garden??

  26. I live in the Sonoran Desert. What native flowers do you recommend?


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