Flower Companion Plants Both Attract and Repel

Pretty blue flower attracts bees

Pretty and blue – that’s all I know, except the bees like it.

This morning when I went to Bunny Buffet to check the squash survival rate, I noticed that the base of the evergreen was now home to a large number of BEES.*

Those bees weren’t there because of any magic from the barely alive squash plant – but they were sure liking the blue flower stalks nearby. A few wandered over to the squash section and hunted for pollen.

And that, dear reader, is the essence of the “companion plant.”

Nothing panics a bee as much as a screaming human female. Instead of panicking the bees, I s-l-o-w-l-y moved my iPod with its handy Instagram app up near my nose and prayed the picture-snap whine wouldn’t cause a stampede. With trembling fingers I pushed the button, holding my breath. Thankfully they did not advance. I did, however, retreat.

Flower Power to Attract

Flowers are a good thing in a vegetable garden like what mine will someday turn out to be. The flowers attract bees which then pollinate the veggie blossoms which then make lunch.

In addition, the attractor flower brings “good” insects and critters that help keep the garden ecosystem in balance by ridding the area of “bad” insects and critters.

Flower Power to Repel

Some flowers also drive out unwanted pests. If you stand next to a tomato plant and a petunia is growing nearby, you might hear a faint “Get Thee Gone” command to the tomato hornworms.

Speaking of a repulsive flower, marigolds are in the group of companion plants that drive off pests while keeping the good pests to do their work. The French marigold repels whiteflies. A Mexican marigold fends off wild rabbits. (Some marigolds produce gold if you get the watering can off the last wave of zombies. I am not making this up.)

Popular Companion Flowers and Plants

  • Basil – thrips, flies, mosquitoes
  • Bee Balm – bees
  • Borage – hornworms, cabbage worms, bees, wasps
  • Catnip – flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, weevils
  • Chives – Japanese beetles, carrot rust flies
  • Chrysanthemum – Japanese beetles (used to produce pyrethrum, for roaches, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs)
  • Dahlia – nematodes
  • Dill – hornworms, aphids, spider mites, squash bugs
  • Garlic – aphids, moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails, carrot root fly
  • Hyssop – honeybees
  • Lavender – fleas, moths
  • Marigolds – whiteflies, nematodes, rabbits
  • Nasturtiums – wooly aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, aphid trap
  • Petunias – asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, tomato worms
  • Sunflowers – ant colonies

Want even more companion planting ideas? Here’s a excellent resource at Golden Harvest Organics.

 

* Large number of bees = anything more than one, or one if it is near me. No, I didn’t stop to count them. Nor did I get close enough that my aging eyes could tell they were bees. They could have been levitating black and yellow cement trucks for all I know.

 

5 fun facts about honey bees and high wind

High wind area

Not horizontal trees, just high wind

Speaking of pollination (and you just know we were)…

Pollination comes in three basic flavors: Wind (anemophily), insect (entomophily), or both (ambophily). There may be more types that I haven’t learned about yet – but now we’re both immune to those words from super-gardener-expert-types.

Just how DO bees pollinate plants in high wind areas? The answer is that they don’t – well, they do but not very well, until they don’t.

According to a honey bee pollination study at the College of Agriculture, University of Illinois, here are five fun facts about bees and how they do what they do*:

  1. Honey bees are most active at temperatures between 60 degrees F. (16 degrees C.) and 105 degrees F. (41 degrees C.).
  2. Winds above 15 miles per hour reduce their activity –
  3. and stop it completely at about 25 miles per hour.
  4. When conditions for flight are not ideal, honey bees work close to their colonies. Although they may fly as far as 5 miles in search of food, they usually go no farther than 1 to 1-1/2 miles in good weather.
  5. In unfavorable weather, bees may visit only those plants nearest the hive. They also tend to work closer to the hive in areas where there are large numbers of attractive plants in bloom.

The study then lists crops that “must be pollinated by bees,” including the squash I’ve been agonizing about, discusses how to keep bees, rent colonies, and the like. If I ever get to where I need to rent bees, I’ll be taking up another hobby, like mozzarella-cheese-making or pottery-throwing. Anything but beekeeping!

high winds on patio may be pollinating the tomato

High winds on patio may be pollinating the tomato

Another very readable authority on vegetable pollination is the Mississippi State University Extension Service. I particularly like their hand-drawn illustrations.

Many trees are wind-pollinated and need no bees. An easy way to tell is by flower size and brightness. Plants and trees with small flowers don’t seem to need bees and tend to rely on wind pollination. Plants with big flowers, like my sofa-devouring yellow squash, must wait for bees to come along (or rely on an enthusiastic amateur gardener with a box of q-tips).

(* bold and outline markings in quoted material are mine)

Telling little-boy squash blossoms about the bees and the birds

squash blossoms

Lots of squash blossoms but no squash

It struck me as strange that the dining room is awash with huge orange squash blossoms and yet there’s nary a sign of a squash in sight. This could have a lot to do with the fact that there’s nary a sign of a bee in sight.

If there WERE signs of a bee in the house, I would be writing this missive from the safety of my car, windows up and AC blasting, driving as fast and as far from our house as I can possibly get. I would also be frantically screaming for a certain tall, dark and handsome someone (specifically the one I’ve been blissfully married to for 21+ years who puts up with my occasional nutty hobbies like obsessive indoor amateur gardening and mozzarella-cheese-making-attempting) to please be so kind as to remove the bee from our house so I can come back home with my sanity intact.

I don’t do bees or wasps. Or bugs or worms, or spiders or ants. Or snakes. Especially snakes. Gad, why am I gardening? I must be out of my skull.

To Bee or Not to Bee

Acting on some past-life-as-a-gardener instincts , I grabbed a handful of q-tips and carefully dabbed from one flower to another, swapping out q-tips each time to prevent – something, I don’t know.

squash blossoms, males on right

Females on left; males on right

I was feeling very proud of myself in my new role as Indoor Queen Bee and thought I’d write about this breakthrough. In preparation, I searched for an authoritative site covering indoor gardening and pollination issues- and found a very nice one in the University of Florida IFAS Extension, crammed full of Latin terminology (a dead giveaway), complete with very clear illustrations (one of which I’m borrowing to demonstrate my – well, you’ll see).

Imagine my chagrin when I learned that I’d very carefully carried squash powder from four male flowers to four other male flowers.

Go ahead and laugh. You’re safe from a surprise squash-bag-in-the-back-of-your-car – for NOW.

On an Entirely Unrelated(?) Bee Pollen Note

So what’s the big deal about bee pollen? Apparently quite a bit of a big deal. According to this Bee Pollen Benefits report I found, bee pollen can

  1. facilitate weight loss,
  2. reduce cholesterol,
  3. help fight cancer,
  4. help build up immunities to allergens,
  5. increase your energy and endurance,
  6. boost your immune system,
  7. lower stress,
  8. boost metabolism,
  9. lower blood pressure,
  10. balance hormones,
  11. alleviate arthritis inflammation,
  12. stave off premature aging,
  13. reduce insomnia and
  14. manage your online banking.

Ok, kidding about the online banking part, but the others are serious. So, in the interest of keeping us all healthy and stress free, I’ve also included some bee pollen sources below this post. (Fine print in footer.)