I was listening to Jason Akers on The Self Sufficient Gardener podcast about Comprehensive Companion Planting the other day. Of course this was about companion planting. At one point he mentioned that sunflowers are a great flower to plant because it brings in a lot of beneficial insects. I decided that I should talk about some of the companion planting that I’m going to do this year.
I’m no expert when it comes to companion planting. To me it seems like it takes far more planning than I’m comfortable doing. I tend to be a “fly by the seat of my pants” gardener. Keeping track of what I’m planting in each bed on my garden spreadsheet and making sure I don’t plant the same thing in each bed every year is as close to planning as I get. So how I plan on attracting beneficial insects will be a little different.
First off, I’m going to take a suggestion from Jason. I’m planting sunflowers. The limited research that I’ve done about sunflowers says that because the flowers are made of many small flowers is the secret. Many beneficial insects prefer smaller flowers. I also have found that the many small flowers attract bees because of the sheer volume. A bee stops at one flower and can visit hundreds of small flowers.
I plan on planting a few sunflowers in several beds. A couple of years ago, my kids wanted to plant some Mammoth sunflowers. That’s a picture of them. Needless to say, those suckers would shade out the entire bed. So this year I’m planting much smaller sunflowers. They should not be taller than 7′ and most should only be 4′, so if I plant them on the North side of the bed, they will not shade out adjacent beds. I picked up a Sunflower Cutting Mix at a big box store. These have many different colors, shapes and sized flowers. So they should appeal to a large variety of beneficial insects and pollinators.
One thing that I noticed when researching ways to attract beneficial insects is to plant herbs and to allow them to flower. I always plant herbs. I usually pick a bed and plant many different herbs in that bed. This gives me a single bed to harvest the herbs from. I usually allow the herbs to flower. This is usually because of laziness on my part. Since they flower, they also develop seeds and if left alone, will reseed themselves. This ensures that I have herbs the entire Summer.
This year I plan on doing this slightly differently. I will still have an herb garden bed. But I will also plant some herbs throughout the other garden beds. After the crops get large enough to not be hurt by competition, I will plant some herbs around their bases. These I will allow to flower and reseed. Herbs like basil get fairly tall, so I will have to keep an eye on those and cut them down to size.
Finally, I want to put in a water station for small beneficial insects. Some of the beneficial wasps are smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Because of this, they can’t drink from something like a bird bath. But a shallow saucer filled with pebbles and water allows them access to the water. I haven’t figured out how I want to do this, but have an idea. I plan on putting in some soaker hoses. I will run a couple of these over a small pan filled with rocks. I figure that while the garden gets watered, the water stations would refill with water.
So that’s some of what I’m doing to attract beneficial insects. Anyone have some additional suggestions?