I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE THAT I LET NATIVE WILDFLOWERS grow to encourage beneficial insects to visit my garden. There’s a sloped section of my yard that sits in between my two groups of raised beds that I use for wildflowers. The soil there is mostly construction dirt and the incline encourages erosion, so growing grass in this area is nearly impossible.
Still, the weeds and wildflowers don’t seem to mind the bad growing conditions. Each year the soil gets a little better and we get an increasingly wide variety of wildflowers that attract all kinds of pollinators and insect predators. I don’t know if it’s as a result of the wildflowers, but pollination in the garden is almost never a problem. Plus, it’s fascinating to relax for a second and watch all the insects go about their soap opera lives. One bug is always chasing another bug away, etc. The variety of both good and potentially bad bugs in and around this wild area is dizzying.
Where I live in Southern New Hampshire, the beginning of summer features a list of four wildflowers that have blooms that are especially attractive to beneficial insects: Yarrow, Daisy Fleabane, Milkweed and Black-Eyed Susan. These are all in full bloom right now and the bugs are frantic to get as much nectar from them as possible.
In the wildflower world, Yarrow has a lot going for it. Its flowers are an important source of nectar for beneficial insects, and the plant itself can be used as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent. But that’s not what caught my eye. What I found most surprising is that Yarrow is reputed to stimulate plant growth when used as a companion plant. Since it’s drought tolerant, maybe it would make a great cover crop? I don’t know. But the main reason I like it is because it attracts parasitic wasps and hover flies in droves to my garden. Although the flowers are tiny, it seems to allow insects of all sizes to feed from its blossoms
2. Daisy Fleabane
This wildflower loves poor soil and construction dirt, which I have a lot of in my yard. It’s an annual that, left to its own devices, will self seed very close to the parent plant, making it seem like a perennial. Small bees, flies and, on occasion, small parasitic wasps will come to feed on its nectar. The name fleabane suggests that the plant deters fleas, but this is a myth. Fleabane is more of an insect attractant than a repellent.
Of the four wildflowers, my neighbors may like this one the least. I can just hear them say: “Why would you let that grow on your property? It even has weed in its name!” Still native bees and other nectar-loving insects seem to flock to Milkweed and are often frantic to gather nectar from its clumps of flowers. The variety in my yard (common milkweed) has pink flowers and loves to grow in pine bark mulch. It spreads along runner roots more than from its feathery seeds. Of course, Milkweed is maybe most famous for the fact that it is the only food that that Monarch butterfly caterpillars will eat (Sounds like my kids). That said, I’ve seen no dramatic increase in Monarchs since the Milkweed took hold.
4. Black-Eyed Susan
A true biennial, Black-Eyed Susan doesn’t flower until the second year of life. It’s also very aggressive and has taken over much of my wild area. Far from rare, Black-Eyed Susan may be the most common wildflower. Still, it’s a favorite of native bees and larger parasitic wasps, and its big showy flowers contrast nicely with the smaller wildflowers.
It costs me next to nothing to let this patch grow every year. I mow it much less often and only occasionally cut out woody shrubs and small trees. It’s well worth it to be able to take a break while gardening and watch all kinds of insects perform aerial dynamics as they frantically try to collect the nectar before the blossoms close. Plus, there’s the added benefit of pest reduction as more insect predators are encouraged to visit my garden.
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