Why You Should Plant Flowers Alongside Vegetables

CC BY 2.0. Selena N.B.H.

Flowers have a remarkable ability to keep your veggie crop strong and healthy. Here's what you need to do.

When planning a vegetable garden for this summer, be sure to leave space for flowers. Vegetables can benefit from the presence of flowers for a number of reasons -- namely, their ability to attract bees and other pollinators.

Maggie Saska, a gardening specialist at the Rodale Institute's organic farm, says that bringing bees into the garden ensures a better veggie harvest:

"Without bees stopping by your garden to snack on nectar and swap pollen around, you’re going to have a pretty disappointing crop."

The benefit goes both ways. Flowers help these struggling populations, too, whose decline have been linked to excessive use of chemicals in agriculture in recent decades, as well as loss of natural habitat. The more places for them to feed and help with pollination, the more secure our entire food production system is.

In an article for Rodale's, Saska explains how to go about choosing the right flowers for your vegetable patch.

1) Look at the bloom time. You'll want the flowers to bloom at the same time as the vegetable crop: "If the flowers you planted don’t bloom until two weeks after your peas are done flowering, your peas are out of luck." But, at the same time you want blooms to happen throughout the whole growing season to help all of your plants, so plant a variety of flowers.

2) Look at the flower shape. Did you know that different shapes attract different pollinators, such as hummingbirds, bees, and beneficial wasps? Saska recommends flowers with a 'composite' shape (with petals arranged identically around a center). These could be zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, etc.

3) Think about height. The flowers should not block the sun for the vegetables, so choose low-growing plants. Saska points out, though, that some crops such as lettuce could benefit from a bit more shade at the peak of summer, so a taller flower next to it could be helpful.

4) Choose flowers that repel pests. The studies are inconclusive on this topic, but anecdotal evidence is strong -- and you don't stand to lose anything by having beautiful, colorful flowers in a veggie patch! Some suggestions:

Calendula: repels asparagus beetles and tomato hornworm, can be a trap for aphids
Cosmos: attracts bees and green lacewings, which attack other pests
Lavender: despised by ticks and moths
Marigolds: releases a chemical that kills root nematodes in the soil
Nasturtiums: deter squash bugs and beetles