Flowers: they’re not just pretty to look at! They can serve a real purpose in the vegetable garden by deterring pests, attracting pest predators and pollinating insects, and even controlling weeds. Read on or view our video to discover how you can harness the benefits of flower power in your own garden...
Attract Pest Predators With Flower Power
Far from taking up precious space, flowers planted in and around the vegetable garden offer many benefits. Vegetables left to grow in isolation are more vulnerable to pests, so by growing flowers such as calendula or cosmos nearby you’ll naturally attract beneficial insects that feed on these pests – everything from tiny parasitising wasps to aphid-hungry hoverflies.
Confuse and Repel Pests Using Companion Planting
By growing flowers among your edibles, you will create a mosaic of colours, textures and smells. This is confusing to many insect pests because they will find it hard to pick out the vegetable they want to feed on. Notorious pests such as carrot fly can literally be thrown off the scent!
Another hard-working flower is nasturtium, which attracts pests such as aphids away from crops, so your precious vegetables remain untouched.
Some flowers, such as marigolds, go a step further, actively repelling unwanted pests such as whitefly while attracting the insects you do want, making them a great choice for growing alongside plants such as tomatoes that are prone to attacks.
Smother Weeds with Flowering Green Manures
Another way to attract beneficial insects and confuse pests is to sow a flowering cover crop or green manure such as phacelia or buckwheat between crops, when beds would otherwise be empty. These flowers not only attract pest-eating insects, they smother the ground to suppress weeds. Many will also improve the quality of the soil by breaking it up with their long, fibrous roots or, in the case of legumes such as clover, fertilising it by fixing nitrogen at their roots.
Sowing flowers in between rows of vegetables can help suppress weeds too. Choose low-growing, non-invasive flowers with broad leaves or a dense growth habit such as marigolds or poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) for this purpose.
Perennial Flowers for Vegetable Gardens
You can never have enough flowers! Perennial flowers that grow year after year look great in borders beside the vegetable garden where they’ll reliably attract both pest predators and pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and moths.
Excellent perennial flowers to grow include plants in the daisy family such as helenium, and those in the carrot family, such as astrantia. Other eye-catchers include magnificent monarda, perky penstemons and the towering spires of hollyhocks! Don’t forget that many herbs, including oregano and fennel, produce flowers that pull in beneficials like ladybirds, whose larvae will feast on fleshy pests such as aphids.
Companion Planting with Annual and Biennial Flowers
Many annuals and biennials – those flowers completing their lifecycle within one or two years respectively – grow quickly to give immediate impact. These may be sown alongside vegetables, in their own bed, or you can even create a stunning miniature wildflower meadow.
Once introduced, many of these flowers will propagate themselves by self-seeding from one year to the next. Must-grow self-seeders include poppies, foxgloves, cornflowers and the gardener’s best friend, calendula.
Many hardy annuals can be sown in the autumn. Simply scatter the seeds onto well-prepared soil, then rake the seeds in. You can even scatter seeds randomly in suitable corners of the plot, for example along paths or in otherwise unproductive nooks and crannies.
Plan Your Flowers
It’s worth planning flowers into your vegetable garden from the outset. Our Garden Planner includes a selection of suitable flowers. Click on the ‘i’ button next to a particular flower in the selection bar to display an information box explaining why that plant is useful and suggested companions it could be grown with, as well as full instructions on its cultivation.
Once you’ve chosen a flower, simply click on it to select it then drop it into position, using the corner handles to expand or contract the block as necessary. The accompanying Plant List conveniently shows you when all the plants in your plan can be sown, planted…or simply admired!
Flowers brighten up our world while making our job as gardeners considerably easier. Which flowers do you recommend for growing with vegetables? We want to know what draws in the beneficial insects in your garden, and your go-to choices for sowing every year. Share your secrets by dropping us a comment below.