Bringing In The Beneficials

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Inviting Bees, Bugs and Butterflies

One key to garden success is the garden’s ability to attract and host beneficial insects of many kinds. Not only will we experience better cropping as pollination rates improve, but beneficials also chase away or gobble down a multitude of garden pests.

Wise gardeners may set aside an area near the garden proper to act as the host space for beneficials. Organic growers call such areas “bug banks,” since they become storehouses of invaluable insect garden allies. In its simplest form, a bug bank strip might hold herbs like borage, dill, and mint, as well as early blooming rosemaries. The more plant variety you can offer, the greater the range and volume of insect helpers you will garner.

Northwest Natives For Insect Habitat

Native plants that bloom early are excellent bug bank additions, including various kinds of Oregon grape (Mahonia), Indian plum (Oemleria), and flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Native violets, foamflower (Tiarella), Mother of thousands (Tolmia), and fringe cup (Tellima) are also good candidates.

So are all sorts of “weeds,” which are so often more appreciated by insects and other critters than by control-oriented gardeners. The garden that supports a few thistles will also support goldfinches, and those dockweeds, buttercups, and dandelions are always in hot demand among the non-human garden users.

I’ve Got A Little List

Some years ago, Sean Phalen, then Site Coordinator at Seattle’s Judkins P-Patch presented an inspiring workshop on attracting beneficial insects at Interbay P-Patch. I saved his list of nectar-producing flowers, which Sean arranged by blooming season to help gardeners make appropriate and attractive planting choices.

Sean’s Plants For Attracting Beneficial Insects


P= perennial;   B=biennial; no notation=annual;   I=intermittent through the year;  F=through to frost;   **=super nectar producer

ULTRA EARLY (through winter)

autumn croci (**; P; pulchellus,albus,zonatus…)
cyclamen (**; P; neapolitanum, hederifolium, coum…)
snowdrops (**; P)
aconite (**; P)
borage (I, **)
calendula (I, **)
earliest narcissici (**P)


early daffs and narcissi (**; P)
species tulips (**;  P; tarda, hageri…)
glory-of-the-snow (**: P; Chionodoxa)
iris reticulata (**; P)
rosemary (P, **)
primrose ( P; early)
bolting cruciferae (**)


Single Daffodils (P)
species primrose (P)
Öscillas (**; P)
violets (P; **)
violas ( P, I, **)
anemones (**; P; Spring-St. Brigid’s mix, monarch de caen…)
alyssum (annual-I; and perennial; **)


Late Single Daffodils (**;P)
Tulips-single (P)
Dutch iris
Aquilegia (P;columbine)
Armeria maritima (P; **; native-sea pinks)
Candytufts (annual-F, &P, **)
Dianthus (sweet Williams, some F; and per.pinks)
creeping phloxes ( P; **;incl. native P. subulata) Campanulas (P)
Centaurea (**; A-I; &P)
Digitalis (**:  B; foxglove)
English daisy (B; **;bellis)Godetia ( F; **;s summer’s herald-native)
Clarkia (F; **; native-mountain garland)
Linaria (F; **0
Lupines  (A&P)
Lunaria (B; money plant)
Pyretheum ( P; painted daisy)
Saponarias (P; soapwort)
Stocks (F, **)
Cal. Bluebells (**, Phacelia campanularia)
Nemophila (**)
Tidy tips (**)
Myosotis ( B; **; forget-me-nots)
Poppies-single (all, A &P, **, California poppies-I)
Sweet peas (**)


Anagalis ( P; blue pimpernel)
Bidens (P; golden goddess)
Achilleas ( P; I; F; **; incl. native A. millefolium)
Nasturtiums (F, **)
Chives (**; P; both garlic and regular)
Parsley (**: B)
Cilantro (**)
Dill (**)
Mints (**)
Dymorphotheca ( F; African daisy)
Dahlberg Daisy (F)
Shasta Daisy-single ( some F)
geranium (some F; true geranium-NOT Pelargonium)
Gilia (**; birds eyes)
Purple tansy (**; Phacelia tanecetifolia)
Silene (**; P;  catchfly)
Hesperus matronalis ( P;  **; sweet rocket)
Linums (**; A & P)
Lobelias (A- F; &P)
Monarda (**; P)
Nepetas ( **; P;F; catnip, catmint…)
Potentillas (P, F)
Spireas (P)
Viscaria (**; rose angel)
thymes (**; P)


Agastaches (**; P; licorice mint…)
Asclepias (**; b-fly weed)
Asters-single (A&P; F; **)
brachymone ( F; swan river daisy)
Basils (**)
Catananche (P; cupid’s dart)
Centranthus ( P; F; jupiter’s beard)
Cleome ( F; spider flowerù)
Annual chrysanthemum (F)
Convolvulus (F)
coreopsis (F; **)
Cosmos ( F; ; A&P)
Dianthus ( F; A &P; carnations, ann. pinks… singles)
Eupatorium ( **; joe pye weed)
Gaillardia (F; **;  A & P)
Gazania (transvaal daisy)
Hollyhocks-singles (**; P, B & A; singles)
Marigolds ( **; F; singles-“gem” series T. signata)
summer savory
Zinnias ( **; F; singles; Africans “profusion”series)
Salvias and sages ( some F; **; A & P)
Oreganos ( **; P)
Malvas (P)
Penstemons ( P; some F; incl. natives)
Gauras ( P; F; **)
Phlox ( F; A & P)
Physostegia (F; P;  obedient plant)
Portulaca (F)
Sunflowers-singles ( **; F; A & P)
Tahoka daisy (**; F)
Torenia (F; wishbone flower)
Trachymene ( F; **;blue lace flower)
Verbenas ( F; **; A&P)
Verbascums (**; P)
Veronias ( P; **; F; speedwell)
Lilies (**; P)
Daylilies-singles (**, P; some F)


Asters-singles ( F: A&P: late)
Amaranthus (F)
Echinaceas (**; P; F; coneflowers)
Cal´liopsis( **; F)
Rudbeckias-singles (**; F; P;  black-eyed susans)
Ratibida (**; F; P; prairie coneflower)
Ornamental grasses (P- important part of beneficial bugs’ life-cycle)
Oenothera (**; P; F; evening primroses)
Sedums (**; F; P; incl. natives)
Early, single mums (F; P)
Tithonia (**; F; Mexican sunflower)
Solidagos (**; F; goldenrods)


colchicums (**; P)
late single mums (F; P)
late sedums (**:F; P)
fall anemones(**; F; P)
saffron crocus (**;P; all autumn crocus)….

So what to do with all this stuff?

As Sean says, “What’s the bare minimum, maximum benefit plan?? I give a 4-6″ border along my raised beds to marigolds, nasturtiums, alyssums and dw. zinnias. Throw in some herbs throughout your plot- mints grown in a coffee
can with both ends cut out, some chives and thyme (these last 3 are good near cruciferae), summer savory with your beans, some basils and garlic (to flower) among solanums, some dill intersown with a tall crop or at back of plot, some overwintered parsley to bloom, a radish (to bloom) in each hill of cucurbitae- and your plot is a bennie (beneficial bug) truck stop!”

“Use some “living mulches” among taller crops (cruciferae, solanum, corn…) such as alyssums, Nemophila, tidy tips, California poppies and bluebells, even Dutch white clover increases the effect exponentially.”

“Let some crops bolt (deadhead before seed matures) to take it to the next level. Throw in some of the real nectar-super producers along the edge w/ the annuals (linums, Phacelia, gilias, clarkias, godetias, dw. coreopsis, violas, dwarf bachelor buttons…) and some fall/winter/spring bulbs and prepare for the haze!” (Sean likes to see a “living haze” of insects in the garden as often as possible.)

“You’ll get more more reliable pollination and consistent control of your pests. Beyond that, it’s a personal art-you’ll refine your plan for your crops and microclimate as you go. A minimum of “land wasted on flowers”, a maximum of output with little labor. It’s the only way to fly!!”

Thanks, Sean!

This entry was posted in fall/winter crops, Garden Prep, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Weed Control, Winterizing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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