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Nursery Companion Plants for Beneficials

Plants that provide food and shelter for pest-eating insects are valuable in any kind of garden. Beneficials are invited to your home and given lots of food and shelter. Even when the pests are not readily available, supplemental food can be obtained from these other plants. They also can offer nourishment to the nonpredatory stages of these insects.

Most plants can shelter beneficials, but some practically have neon signs welcoming the beneficials to your garden. The best flowers are small and abundant, like yarrow, coneflowers, thyme, and catnip. These flowers have easily-accessible sources of nectar and pollen that many beneficials need to supplement their diet when pests are scarce.
To attract and keep the widest variety of beneficials, make sure something suitable is in bloom throughout the growing season for a constant supply of food. Mix the attractant plants amongst the plants you are trying to protect, so that the predators and parasites will always be close to your crops and ready to attack when pests appear. If you find egg cases on pest bodies, you've got a sign that the system is working.

Other things you can do to attract and protect the beneficial insects include providing "bug baths" - shallow dishes of water filled with small rocks for perches; including groundcovers, mulches, and stepping-stone paths in your garden plans to give hiding places for rove and ground beetles; planting a variety of plant species with different heights and shapes to provide the best shelters for a wide variety of predators; installing a fence or hedge as a windbreak to reduce dust which can cause beneficials to dehydrate quickly.

Best Beneficial Plants

Daisy Family (Compositae) — These blooms are excellent sources of both pollen and nectar and attract a wide variety of beneficial insects, inclduing parasitic wasps, hover flies, green lacewings, assissin bugs, and ladybugs. Annuals included in this family are cosmos, calliopsis, marigolds, sunflowers, China asters, and dahlias. Perennials include coreopsis, tansy, golden marguerite, perennial sunflowers, goldenrods, coneflowers, asters, and liatris.

Mint Family (Labiatae) — The aromatic foliage and clusters of small flowers can attract bees, hover flies, and other beneficials. Annuals would include basil and sweet marjoram. Perennials include thyme, mint, sage, lavender, hyssop, wild marjoram, catmints, Russian sage, and monarda.

Carrot Family (Umbelliferae) — These plants have small flowers grouped into large unbrella-shaped clusters. They attract ladybugs, hover flies, parasitic wasps, spiders, lacewings, and other beneficial insects. Some of the favorite annuals include dill, caraway, and fennel. Queen-Anne's lace and the perennial angelicas are also good attractants.

Miscellaneous Flowers

Other attractive flowers for beneficials would include asclepias and alliums. You might also try some of the green manures like buckwheat, sweet clover, and white clover. There are also some weeds that are good for beneficials. While you might not want to plant these, you might leave a couple undisturbed in an unused corner of the garden. These include, lamb's-quarters, dandelion, goldenrod, pigweed, knotweed, and wild mustard.

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