Separate Beds for Vegetables and Flowers?

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You may get better vegetable pollination when flowers are grown in a separate bed. Photo: urbanpollinators.blogspot.com

Two generations of gardeners have been raised on the concept that you can attract beneficial pollinating insects to vegetable beds by companion planting: placing flowering plants rich in pollen and nectar in among the vegetables. Plant a marigold, calendula or phacelia, etc. here and there among the vegetables and this will draw in pollinators like bees, butterflies and hoverflies that will then visit and pollinate flowering vegetables with less attractive flowers like cukes, squash, and melons. At least, that’s what we were told.

It’s a great idea in theory, but many gardeners are not finding they get a lot of pollinating insect visits when they put this into application. Apparently, just the occasional flowering plant isn’t enough of a magnet to draw in the number of pollinators you’d really need. You want masses of flowers.

Flowers in one bed, veggies in another. Photo: http://www.westcoastseeds.com

That’s why the latest trend is to place the flowering plants in a separate bed right next to the vegetable garden: in other words, put in a flower garden! This pulls in many more insects (you’ll never have seen so many butterflies, for example!) This is now being done in many home and public gardens and the results are quite amazing. The flower bed buzzes with insects, so much so that this causes traffic jams, pushing some pollinators to look elsewhere while waiting for their turn … and that elsewhere will likely be the vegetable beds right next door. 

This is the method now being used with great success in the Idea Garden in Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania). A long rectilinear cut flower bed cuts through the center of its vegetable beds, assuring plenty of pollinators for needy vegetable plants on either side. 

With more and more gardeners complaining they’re just not getting pollinator traffic they used to, often obliging them to hand pollinate their veggies, this is certainly a method you might want to explore.

30 Flowers to Try

Among the many flowering plants that you could put in a pollinator-friendly flower bed are the following:

Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), an easy-to-grow annual, attracts plenty of pollinators. Photo: http://www.crocus.co.uk
  1. Anise hyssop (Agastache spp.)
  2. Aster (Aster spp., Symphotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc.)
  3. Bachelor’s buttons or cornflower (Centaurea cyanus and others)
  4. Bee balm or bergamot (Monarda spp.)
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
  6. Blazing star (Liatris spp.)
  7. Borage (Borago officinalis)
  8. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
  9. Butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.)
  10. Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  11. Celosia or cock’s comb (Celosia spp.)
  12. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  13. Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
  14. Cosmos (Cosmos spp.) 
  15. Echinacea or purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
  16. False Queen Anne’s lace (Ammi majus)
  17. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  18. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  19. Lantana (Lantana spp.)
  20. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  21. Lupin (Lupinus spp.)
  22. Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
  23. Phacelia (Phacelia spp.)
  24. Phlox (Phlox spp.)
  25. Scabiosa or pincushion flower (Scabiosa spp.)
  26. Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
  27. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  28. Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
  29. Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
  30. Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)
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Bee Counted!

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20170714B.jpgIs your garden bee-friendly? And also adapted to attract and feed other pollinators? If so, why not join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and add your garden to the list of over 200,000 gardens throughout North America that are pollinator-friendly.

Bees Are Having a Hard Time

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Bees may look busy, but their numbers are in decline. Photo: krayker, rgbsotck.com

You’d have to be totally disconnected from any news source not to know that bees are having a hard time these days. Domestic bees are suffering from colony collapse disorder, still rather mysterious, as the cause is presently unclear, although the abundant use of neonicotinoid pesticides on field crops and, unfortunately, nursery crops (the perennials and annuals you buy) is considered one of the most likely suspects.

Native bees too are declining due to habitat loss and introduction of new predators.

And it’s not just bees. Other pollinators too are in decline, notably birds and butterflies.

Interestingly, even home gardeners can be a big help. Just planting pollinator-friendly gardens, be it only a flower bed or even a few pots of blooms on a balcony, can be a huge help.

The more people who provide resources to bees and other pollinators, without using harmful pesticides that can kill them, the better they’ll be able to survive and, hopefully, come to thrive again.

Plant a Pollinator Garden

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A pollinator garden offers plenty of colorful flowers all season long. Photo: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society

You can specifically plant a pollinator garden in your yard … and it isn’t even hard to do! Just by growing beautiful flowers, you’re already well underway.

Pollinator gardens should:

  • Use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources. Most flowers with attractively colored flowers fall into that category: annuals, perennials, biennials and also many flowering shrubs and trees.
  • Provide a water source. A bird bath, for example, or a small fountain. A friend just lets his garden tap drip a bit and you should see the butterflies and birds that attracts!
  • Be situated in sunny areas with wind breaks.
  • Create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants. Mass plantings attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered here and there.
  • Establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season. (And who doesn’t want continuous bloom in their garden?)
  • Eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides. Read how here: When Good Pesticides Do Bad Things.

Already Pollinator-Friendly?

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Part of my front garden: note the fountain for birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Photo: Laidbackgardener@gmail.com

Maybe your garden is already pollinator-friendly? Mine is.

If so, register your garden on the Million Pollinator Garden map, part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, an initiative of the National Pollinator Garden Network.

The objective of the challenge is to increase nectar- and pollen-providing landscapes of every size in order to address one of the significant threats to pollinator health: the scarcity and degradation of forage. The goal is to promote and count 1 million pollinator forage locations across North America.

How to BEE Involved:

20170715F.pngSimply head to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MGCP) website (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org) and complete the following steps:

1. Click on “Register your Garden to BEE counted.”

2. Click on the green Register button.

3. Enter the information about your garden.

3 a. Upload a photo of your garden (optional).

3 b. Let the MPGC know where you learned about them. When you see the “Your Organization/Partnership Affiliation” drop-down menu, click on The Association for Garden Communicators (GWA). This is the association I’m affiliated with and if you learned about them from me, that’s where I’d like the credit to go.

4. Click on Submit.

In just a few minutes, your garden will be added to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge map.

It’s as simple as that!


Remember, increasing the number of pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes will help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across the country. And it’s so easy to do!20170714B.jpg