Do you have a vegetable garden? Flowers are a beautiful addition to any garden. They are colorful and fragrant and attract even more beauty like butterflies and hummingbirds. But there’s so much more flowers create than beauty. They create an attraction for beneficial insects. They create herbal remedies for you and me. And they create an environment where your garden can thrive. Learn more below about the 5 flowers you should grow in the vegetable garden.
Why Use Flowers in the Vegetable Garden?
Flowers are a beautiful addition to any vegetable garden. But their benefits don’t end there. Flowers can do so much more. They can attract beneficial insects, deter pests, and in some cases, they are also edible and provide health benefits to you. Flowers are an excellent addition to an organic garden.
To Attract Beneficial Insects
When I think of beneficial insects, the first thought that comes to my mind is honey bees. But there are other beneficial insects, and not all limited to just helping out when it comes to pollinating. I like to think there are two main groups of beneficial insects – those that pollinate, and those that eat pests.
Beneficial insects that help pollinate include bees, butterflies, wasps, and moths. Flowers high in nectar and pollen attract beneficial insects. Native flowers and fragrant flowers are also more attractive to pollinators. And colorful flowers that are yellow, white, blue, and purple are also tempting to pollinators.
Beneficial insects that eat pests include ladybugs, lacewings, damsel bugs, and hoverflies. They feed on aphids, whiteflies, mites, mealybugs, and thrips.
To Deter Pests
Every year it seems like I discover a brand new pest in my garden. Have you ever felt that way? You finally figure out how to deal with one, and then out of the blue, a tomato hornworm is hurled at you. OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But did you know some flowers can actually help deter that tomato hornworm? There are two types of flowers that I would consider beneficial for deterring pests from your vegetable garden. There are flowers that repel pests – like marigolds, and then there are flowers that actually attract pests – like nasturtiums. You might be thinking, why would you want to attract pests if you’re trying to deter them? By using what’s called a “trap crop,” pests are more likely to focus on the crop you’ve designated for them and leave your vegetables alone.
To Provide Benefits for You
If you’re growing a vegetable garden then that means you’re probably interested in consuming what you’re growing. Chances are you’ve either grown or considered growing herbs. But why stop there? There are many flowers that are edible and provide health benefits to you. Sunflower seeds, borage oil, and Echinacea roots are used in tinctures. There are many different ways you can eat flowers. Right off the plant, in teas, tinctures, and dried. You can mix them into recipes or use them topically in salves.
There are also other benefits from flowers. Flowers can help to ease the stress from consuming them, smelling them, and even looking at them. Planting fragrant flowers like lavender or long stem flowers like zinnias can help reduce stress.
How to Plant Flowers in the Vegetable Garden
There are many different ways that you can plant flowers for your vegetable garden. How you plant your flowers will depend on the flowers you’re growing and the space that you have. Before you start you’ll first have to decide if you’re going to start your flowers from seeds or from transplants. If you start your flowers from seeds you’ll also have to decide if you want to start them indoors first, or if you want to plant them directly in the ground. When planting flowers directly, make sure to pay attention to your first and last frost dates where you live to avoid freezing temperatures for your flowers. If you’re trying to attract pollinators, you’ll also want to make sure you time your blooms so that your flowers and your vegetable crops bloom at the same time.
Plant Flowers With Your Vegetables
One way to plant flowers in your vegetable garden is to literally plant your flowers within your vegetable garden. Interplanting flowers in your vegetable bed can help deter pests, both above and below the ground. Flowers can be used as companion plants to help your vegetable crops. When planting flowers in your vegetable bed you’ll have to make room for them, so make a note of how large your flowers will get, and if you have the room for them. Marigolds are excellent flowers to plant in your vegetable garden. They can deter pests above ground, as well as nematodes in your soil. Calendula is another flower that can be planted among your vegetables, and can also be steeped in tea for medicinal purposes.
Plant Flowers As a Border
Another way to plant flowers in your vegetable garden is to plant a border around your vegetable garden bed. Whether you plant directly in the ground or use raised beds, adding a border can make your garden look much more beautiful while also serving a purpose. Your border can help protect your garden bed by deterring pests and attracting beneficial insects. When creating a flower border you’ll want to pay attention to size – both height and width. You’ll still need to be able to tend to your vegetable garden, so a low hedge that doesn’t get higher than a foot is what I’d recommend. Flowers like marigolds and Mexican heather fit this description.
If you have a container garden instead of a vegetable bed, you might also want to consider having a container dedicated to flowers. There are many flowers that will do well in containers and pots and can also add a splash of color to your garden.
Plant Flowers in Their Own Bed
There are so many flower varieties that come in all different colors, shapes, sizes, and purposes. Some are small and compact, and others are large and wild. While the small and compact ones do well interplanted among your garden beds and as borders around your garden beds, there are some that don’t really fit into that kind of containment. These flowers do well in their own separate area of the garden. Flowers like milkweed, certain varieties of zinnias, and sunflowers are examples of beneficial flowers that may do better in their own section of your garden. The close vicinity of your flowers to your vegetable garden will still attract beneficial insects to your vegetable garden. Flowers used as trap crops can also be planted in their own section of the garden. Examples include nasturtiums to attract aphids and sunflowers to attract stink bugs.
5 Flowers You Should Grow in the Vegetable Garden
There are many flowers that can be beneficial to your garden. The ones below were selected for ease of growing and the multiple benefits that each provides. This is definitely not an exhaustive list – there are so many more beneficial flower varieties out there! Without further ado, here are the 5 flowers you should grow in the vegetable garden.
The bright blossoms of marigolds and the strong scent are what make these flowers a great addition to vegetable gardens. These are very popular flowers among vegetable gardeners. The bright colors of marigolds vary from yellow, orange, and red. The colors attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, while the scent is said to deter pests. Interplanting marigolds with your vegetables like beans, tomatoes, and squash can help deter pests and small rodents. The roots of marigolds are also very beneficial. Planting marigolds in your garden during a down season and tilling your marigolds into your bed can help with nematodes.
Marigolds also make excellent borders. In the past, I’ve alternated between the big, bright blossoms of marigolds with the delicate, purple flowers of Mexican heather around my raised garden beds. They both deterred pests and attracted beneficial insects. When planting marigolds you can start them from seeds or transplants. I’ve used transplants for years but recently started planting marigolds from seeds to save money. Check out these marigold seed varieties for inspiration.
Sunflowers are bright, cheery flowers. They can also be mammoth in size. Sunflower varieties range from 2 feet in height all the way up to 12 feet in height (though the tallest recorded was actually 30 feet!). Sunflowers can be any shade from a light yellow to a deep burgundy. They attract beneficial insects, and can also be used as a trap crop for stinkbugs and aphids. Small blossoms make beautiful cut flowers for bouquets and large blossoms can provide healthy edible seeds. Sunflowers can also help detox your soil. Sunflowers are “phytoremediators” which means they can remove toxic heavy metals and poisonous chemicals in the soil. Check out these sunflower seed varieties for inspiration.
Borage produces a striking, vibrant blue flower that is also edible. The bright blue flowers attract bees. The flowers fade to a soft pink with age which is also quite beautiful. Borage is a bit gangly and wild and can reseed where it’s planted by the seeds that fall, so keep that in mind when you plant it. Borage is an herb where both flowers and leaves can be eaten. The leaves have a velvety feel and taste lightly of cucumber. Leaves are better eaten when they’re small and tender.
Borage is great if you have an area dedicated to flowers or as a companion plant among your vegetables. When planting with vegetables it may need to be maintained a bit, but it is known for deterring tomato hornworms, and cabbage worms, and can even add trace minerals to the soil. Borage can be used in compost or as a fertilizer tea, similar to comfrey.
If I could give one flower a gold star for bee attraction in my garden, it would be the hedge of Mexican heather that I keep around my garden beds. It’s not uncommon during the spring to count 50+ honey bees stopping by for a quick meal.
Bee attraction is actually what originally attracted me to this plant. While at a nursery looking at flowers, I decided to go with what attracted the most bees while I was there. That’s when I spotted some Mexican heather plants that were covered in bees. Without knowing anything else about the plant I decided to purchase some.
Luckily for me, not only did it attract beneficial insects, but it was also a good match for my location. Mexican heather, also known as false heather, can be grown in the south where temperatures are warm. They can be grown as a perennial in hardiness zones 9 and above (when covered during frosts), and as an annual in cooler climates. It’s also a hardy plant, despite the delicate-looking flowers. It’s heat and drought-tolerant. Mexican heather is great in a pot or used as a border. They grow anywhere from one to two feet tall and can be trimmed to size and shaped as desired.
Zinnias are easy flowers to grow from seeds. These beautiful, cheery flowers attract bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds! Their long stems make them nice cut flowers that you can make a bouquet from. They’re a great flower to grow with children and come in a variety of colors (some even two-toned). They’re great for warmer climates (like Florida) and can take the summer heat. Zinnias are also low maintenance and do alright if you forget to water them. Depending on the variety that you grow, they can get anywhere from 1 foot tall to 4 feet tall. Taller varieties do well planted in clusters or staked with single stem support stakes. Check out these zinnia seed varieties for inspiration.