University of Illinois Extension

Flowers and Herbs Nurture Natural Pest Control

While pouring over seed catalogs and websites to plan a garden plot, pick some plants that will nurture natural pest control, recommended Nancy Pollard, a U of I Extension horticulture educator. These plants will be stars at providing pollen and nectar for predatory insects (the “good guys”), that prey on insect pests (the “bad guys”). They also will attract pollinators to your garden.

“One of my favorite garden allies is sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima),” said Pollard. This annual plant has small flowers with easy to reach nectar, as well as tiny landing platforms (flower petals) just right for beneficial insects. The flowers come in white or shades from pink to lavender. They do well in full sun to part shade, and love alkaline soil – soils with a pH above 7.0. Sweet alyssum works well as a thick low border and blooms from April through September. It rarely gets over seven inches tall, often staying a mannerly four inches. Other members of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family also attract beneficials.”

Some herbs that nurture the “good guys” include dill, fennel and coriander. (The leaf stage of coriander, before it flowers is known as cilantro.) A longer bloom period will entice the beneficials to stay around for nectar. So plan to plant a block or short row of these herbs every couple of weeks. Both your flowering period and herb harvest period will be extended. Other members of the carrot (Apiaceae) family, such as Queen Anne’s lace attract beneficial insects too.

“Members of the daisy or aster family are great for nurturing predatory insects, as well,” she said. “Cosmos, for instance comes in rich colors including purple, pink, red, burgundy, orange, yellow, and even white. Heights range from two feet to seven, so select carefully. Cosmos needs little water once established, and blooms for a long period if given full sun.

“The more diverse you make your garden, the more habitats you provide for beneficial insects. Freely add lots of different kinds of flowers to your vegetable garden. Let them do the work nature intended. “