Attract Pollinators and Other Vegetable Garden Ideas

How to attract hummingbirds or plants that attract butterflies are two questions you might need to ask when making vegetable garden plans.

| July/August 2015

Vegetable gardens are a thing of beauty. They please the eye, and they also supply your family with flavorful, healthy vegetables all season long. However, if you’ve been vegetable gardening for awhile or have a large garden, you may wonder if there are other useful plants to add, besides those normal powerhouses like heirloom tomatoes, bush beans, and zucchini so bountiful that come July you’re normally hauling baskets to the doors of any neighbor not as lucky as you. There are, of course, ornamental plants that can be added for decoration, and there are also other plants used for more utilitarian purposes you might not have considered until now.


As you may know, attracting pollinators to your garden is important if you grow insect-pollinated veggies. For most gardeners, honeybees (Apis mellifera) are the most desirable pollinators. For a full rundown of what to plant and what features to add to your garden to attract bees, read How to Attract Bees and Other Pollinators to Your Garden, which appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Grit.

The article stresses the avoidance or minimal use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids. Neonics include imidacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world. Many home garden pesticides contain this chemical, a derivative of nicotine. The chemical has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and may be at least partially responsible for declining bee populations. If you buy your bee attractors as transplants, be aware of how they were treated before you purchase them. Some big-box stores heavily treat their plants with pesticides, even those explicitly sold as a way to attract bees.


Bees are not the only insects that pollinate crops. Butterflies (order Lepidoptera, which also includes moths) do, too, although most move less pollen between plants than bees. Butterflies are also colorful and pleasant to observe, so many gardeners wish to attract them.

Butterflies are attracted to purple, red, orange and yellow flowers, especially if there is a place where they can perch while feeding. Many plants pollinated by perching insects have a modified petal, or labellum (lip), on the flower, on which the insects sit. In addition, butterflies are attracted to plants with short flower tubes, as their mouth parts are not able to reach into longer flowers. A wide variety of flowers attract butterflies, including daisies, asters, coreopsis, zinnias and sunflowers (all in the family Asteraceae).

In addition to the appropriate flowers, butterflies will benefit by access to a water source and native plants on which to lay their eggs and feed their caterpillars. The website for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, run by the University of Texas in Austin, has an extensive list of native plants (not just wildflowers) for every region in the United States.

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