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Flowers are Practical in Vegetable Garden

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Interplanting flowers among vegetables creates a diverse, healthy, productive garden as the flowers will attract pollinators and help repel unwanted pests.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – There’s no denying they’re pretty, but there are practical reasons to plant flowers among the vegetables in your garden.

Pollination is a vital component in a successful vegetable garden. Planting flowers is like ringing the dinner bell for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. They’ll be attracted to the flowers and stay to visit the blossoms on your vegetables, contributing to a bumper crop.

In addition to attracting pollinators to food crops, flowers can also help deter pests. Some flowers can act as a trap, luring pests away from food producing crops. Plant trap plants apart from the vegetables that they are intended to protect so pests are lured away.

Pick up starter-sized flowers along with those for the vegetable crop when visiting a local nursery or start from seed at home if planning ahead in the spring. Many can be direct sown in the garden once all danger of frost has passed.

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Marigolds are a good choice for a vegetable garden because not only are they a source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, but they also attract predatory insects that help control pests and can serve as a trap plant to lure slugs and other pests away from vegetable plants.

Starting flowers from seed can be a money-saver since, unlike vegetables that can only be one or two of each type, the same variety of marigold or sunflower can be used throughout the garden, making use of more seeds in each packet.

When selecting the flowers to add to a vegetable garden, consider choosing varieties that are edible. They make great additions to salads and other dishes. The petals can be candied and added to desserts. Just be sure not to use pesticides or other chemicals on any flowers that you intend to consume and rinse well before eating.

If ready to try planting flowers alongside the veggies in the garden, it makes sense to plant annual flowers to accompany annual vegetables. At the end of the growing season, clear the garden without being concerned about disturbing the roots of perennials overwintering there.

Since most vegetable crops require full sun, select flowers that will thrive in a sunny location. Also consider the height and amount of ground the mature plants will cover.

A row of sunflowers (Helianthus) along the north side of the garden will not only attract pollinators, but the tall, rigid stalks can double as a support for vining crops such as pole beans or peas. 

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), with their bold color and funnel-shaped flowers, can attract hummingbirds, who are not only pollinators but will help control flying insect pests in the garden. In addition, nasturtiums can serve as a trap plant for cabbageworms, white flies and aphids. Trailing varieties can be used as groundcover. Flowers and leaves are edible, and harvesting flowers or deadheading will help extend the blooming period.

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Sunflowers are great pollinator plants and have tall, rigid stalks that can double as a support for vining crops such as pole beans or peas.

Marigolds (Tagetes) are another edible flower that does more than attract pollinators. They also attract predatory insects such as lacewings, parasitic wasps and ladybugs that help control pests. In addition, they can serve as a trap plant to lure pests such as slugs away from vegetable plants.

Like the flowers mentioned above, zinnias (Zinnia) will add a splash of color to a vegetable garden and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The petals are edible. Cut the flowers to enjoy indoors or deadhead spent flowers to promote continued blooming.

Whether planting a border of flowers around the vegetable garden or interplanting flowers among the vegetable crop, planting flowers and vegetables together creates a diverse garden that’s not only pretty, but healthy and productive as well.

Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.

Deborah J. Benoit

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