by David Salman
Help to Assure Pollination
Pollination is an essential part of the web of life, and nowhere is it a more essential than when growing our food. Honeybees and bumblebees (and to a lesser extent, native bees) are key to a successful vegetable harvest. And it’s especially important in urban and suburban areas—where honeybee hives may be few and far between—that we make an effort to feed them by planting flowers.
The Importance of Spring to Fall Flowers
By planting a succession of flowers to bloom from early spring to fall in our yards and near the vegetable garden, we help to build the honeybee population and keep them around for the whole growing season. This is of particular importance from mid-summer into fall when the majority of the pollinator-dependent veggies are in flower. We can get this done with a nice mix of annuals, perennials and culinary herbs.
Vegetables that Need Bees for Pollination
Watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, hot peppers and gourds all must have bees to pollinate them. Tomatoes, while self-pollinating, will have better fruit and seed set (important to gardeners who collect their own heirloom tomato seeds) when their flowers are vibrated by visiting bees.
Recommended Perennial Flowers
As a landscaper, I make perennials the focus of my plantings. Perennials come back from their roots year after year and often re-seed themselves, thus minimizing the amount of replanting that needs to be done each year. Some of my favorite bee-attracting ornamental perennials include:
- Aster ( Aster novi-belgii and Aster novae-angliae cultivars).
- Beardtongue (Penstemon ‘Red Rocks’, ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’) .
- Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa, Monarda cultivars).
- Catmint ( Nepeta cultivars) .
- Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata).
- English and French hybrid Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula intermedia).
- European Sages (Salvia nemerosa cultivars).
- Goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, S. rugosum ‘Fireworks’, S. ‘Wichita Mountains’, ‘Little Lemon’ ) – essential for attracting beneficial predatory insects too.
- Hummingbird Mint (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, ‘Blue Blazes’, A. neomexicana).
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis).
- Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii, V. lettermanii ‘Iron Butterfly’).
- Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris punctata, Liatris ligulistylus, Liatris aspera).
- Ornamental Oregano (Origanum ‘Rotkugel’, ‘Amethyst Falls’).
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea and cultivars, Echinacea paradoxa, Echinacea tennessensis ‘Rocky Top Hybrid ‘).
- Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpureum).
- Russian Sage (Perovskia cultivars).
- Stonecrop (Sedum species and cultivars).
- Sulphur Buckwheat —(Eriogonum umbellatum cultivars) – essential for attracting beneficial predatory insects too.
Growing your own herbs alongside and in with your vegetables is a “no brainer.” Culinary herbs have fantastic bee attracting flowers and provide anti-oxidant rich seasonings to cook with your vegetable harvest. And many of these herbs will also help to attract beneficial predatory insects that help reduce the populations and damage caused by injurious insect pests like spider mites and aphids.
- Basil (Ocimum) - an annual that re-seeds readily
- Catnip (Nepeta catarina).
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
- French hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia ‘Gros Bleu’ has a sweet, low camphor scent and taste).
- Italian Seasoning Mix (Thyme, Sage, Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, Marjorum) .
- Oregano (Origanum x majoricum ‘Italian’) has a sweet, low camphor scent and taste).
- Peppermint (Mentha spicata ‘Peppermint’).
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’, ‘Alcalde Cold Hardy’, ‘Blue Boy’) .
- Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Minimus’).
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata ‘Spearmint’).
- Thyme (Thymus officinalis ‘English’).
The easiest way to use annuals that are especially valuable at attracting bees, is to plant one of our seed mixes that have been specially formulated to do the job, such as honey bee mix with a mix of annual and perennial seeds. Just seed the mix into one of your raised beds or dig up an adjacent patch of soil next to your vegetables and sow in the spring.
The key is to plant flowers, lots of flowers that bloom over a long time in the growing season to complete the web of life in your yard and garden. That first juicy tomato of the season will tell you it is worth the effort.Text and Photos by David Salman.
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