Plant Flowers, Attract Beneficial Insects

| June 27, 2018 | Reply
Plant flowers, attract beneficial insects

Some new gardeners don’t realize the role beneficial insects play in the garden, nor, the necessity of planting flowers to attract them for a vegetable garden. I was just out on my back deck observing numerous bees attracted to our tree, which is in bloom. And while they were in the area, they were pollinating the passion fruit flowers. I must have 200 passion fruit growing on my trellis!

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - passion fruit

A dozen of my passion fruit ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

The two main reasons to plant flowers to attract beneficial insects are for pollination, and balance against pests. Flowers provide nectar and pollen, food sources for insects and birds. Top pollinators are bees, which can pack their weight in pollen on their back legs and still fly to the hive! And we get honey, which has been used as medicine for 4000 years. Butterflies and moths are pollinators too, but can’t pack the pollen. However, they flutter from plant to plant and some pollen is distributed. (Note: some of their larva can cause great damage to your veggies.)

Other beneficial insects are dragonflies (or damsel flies), praying mantis, assassin bugs, syrphid flies, lady beetles, green lacewing, and many others. Flowers attract them all! And while they are in your garden, they will do what they do, eat, mate, lay eggs and either pollinate your veggies or destroy pests. One adult ladybug can eat 5000 aphids! Its larva can eat 1000!

Over the years I have photographed many of these for my videos. Three videos I’d specifically like you to watch: Growing Flowers for Beneficial Insects, Grow Mexican Sunflower and Attract Monarchs, and Growing Borage to Attract Bees

Bees are in trouble. Monarch butterflies are in trouble. Birds are in trouble.

Tragically, populations of bees, monarchs and birds have drastically reduced. Bee pollination is critical for a good chunk of our food supply, yet, not enough is being done to reverse the downward trend. I plant umbels, preferred by bees. (And avoid using chemicals in my garden.) Umbels are shaped like an umbrella and have numerous flowers in a cluster. Bees can relax from constant flying and walk across the umbrella, picking up pollen every step of the way.

Here are some pollinator-friendly flowers I have growing in my Zone 11a garden:


Fennel – 4-5″ umbel flowers, blooms for months!

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - fennel

Fennel Blooms ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

Pitcher Sage – California native, lilac colored bell-shaped flowers bloom for months, fuzzy leaves that deer don’t like!

African Blue Basil – Blooms year around. Number #1 choice of bees! (see below)

Fruit trees, such as pineapple guava, olive, orange and lemon, which attract hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted to most bell-shaped flowers. The hummingbird moth is also a pollinator, but its larva is known as the tomato, or tobacco, hornworm, which can do great damage to tomatoes and peppers. My camellias bloom for months. Hummingbirds like to nest in large camellia bushes.


Milkweed – Monarch females only lay eggs on milkweed. To attract and help monarchs you must grow milkweed, preferably varieties native to your area. Milkweed will reseed.

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - Monarch

Monarch female laying egg on Tropical Milkweed ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

Mexican Sunflower – Monarchs can see the color red from the sky! The big, bright orange, velvety blooms attract butterflies as well as syrphid flies, and the fuzzy leaves repel deer. Varieties of syrphid flies are numerous. They can be solid black and the size of a horse fly, or tiny and delicate and 1/4 the size of a honey bee.

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - fritillary

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Mexican Sunflower ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

Sunflowers – Bees adore the huge canvas of the center disc. Parrots will descend from the skies and tear them to shreds for the seeds. And goldfinches will strip the leaves, but who can resist trying to grow sunflowers, the most cheerful flower on Earth?

Borage – Plant borage seeds once and you’ll never have to plant again. They are a remarkable self-seeder. Stunning flowers that bees love!

You can plant cilantro and carrot seeds and let them go to flower! They produce umbel clusters and bees love them!

I let brassicas such as Asian Mustard, Bok Choi and broccoli go to flower. Bees love the little yellow flowers!

Let some of your onions and shallots go to flower to produce big round balls of tiny flowers! Again pollinators can take a break from flying and just walk across a hundred blooms.

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - Shallot

Shallot Bloom at dusk ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

Cosmos attracted a very pregnant praying mantis last year. Praying mantis is a deadly predator that brings balance to a garden and eats lots of bad bugs. By interplanting vegetables with flowers, you confuse pests and attract pollinators, bringing biodiversity to your garden.

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - praying mantis

Praying Mantis on Cosmos flowers ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

About the African Blue Basil

Even perennials stop blooming during a portion of the year, but my one constant is African Blue Basil. I get the most comments on my videos about this plant! I thought I was buying Thai basil when I picked up four 4″ pots at my local nursery, Armstrong Garden Center, four years ago. I had no idea what I was buying! These became 5′ bushes with hundreds of purple blooming spires. Each spire has dozens of blooms, each with anthers holding coral-colored pollen on their tips.

plant flowers, attract beneficial insects - basil

Bee on African Blue Basil ©Kaye Kittrell 2018

I have a small garden and the African Blue Basil became a purple wall along my walkway. After cutting it all back three feet in the spring, it’s up to 5′ and full glory three months later, and the bees simply cannot get enough. If you watch my videos, you will often see this insectiary. Recently, a delivery woman refused to come up the walk because the Mexican Marigold and the African Blue Basil were closing in and there were too many bees. I will reluctantly have to cut it back again.

Armstrong has put together some tips to attract pollinators to your garden:

  • Plant several colors of flowers. This helps pollinators find the flowers. Bees are especially attracted to blue, purple, violet, white and yellow flowers.
  • Plant flowers in clumps of one species. This will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered around. Ideal clump is four feet in diameter.
  • Include flowers of different shapes. There are 4,000 species of native bees in North America—of all sizes and with different tongue lengths. 
  • Have a diversity of plants and flowers during all seasons. Most pollinators are generalists and this will accommodate all types.
  • Plant where pollinators will visit. Most prefer sunny spots with shelter from strong winds.
  • Plant white Dutch clover in your lawn. This will attract dozens of pollinators and fix any nitrogen issues in your lawn.
  • Plant larval host plants. For example, milkweed is vital to the larval stages of Monarch butterflies.
  • Leave open patches of mud if possible near fountains or faucets. Ground-nesting bees need these areas for homes or building materials.
  • Provide a water source.
  • Provide nesting sites. Collections of reeds or holes drilled in blocks of wood provide great nesting sites.
  • Put a flower pot on every porch. The more plants that are available, the healthier our pollinators will be. This is especially important in densely populated, new housing areas.

I hope you find inspiration to make things more pollinator, and beneficial insect friendly in your garden! Please share this article. Thanks for reading! – Kaye

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Category: Bee Crisis, Bees, Beneficials, Environment, Flowers, Late Bloomer Episodes, Monarch Butterfly, Nature

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