Royal Hybrid Sunflower planting, abuzz with insect life. Photo credit: Hillary Alger, Johnny's Flower and Farm Seed Product Manager.
Beneficial insects need food and shelter if they are to control pests of vegetable, flower, or herb crops. An insectary planting of flowering plants will greatly increase the likelihood that predators and parasitoids will hang around and help with pest management. An insectary planting can be reserved entirely for beneficials, or it can be small, unharvested areas of valuable crops such as flowers and herbs.
Here are some of the various types of plantings that can serve as insectaries in your farmscape.
Cover crops. Many plants grown to improve soil fertility and tilth are also attractive to beneficial insects when they are allowed to flower. Buckwheat is one of the best, especially because it flowers over a prolonged time period. Other cover crops that provide food and shelter for beneficials include the clovers, hairy vetch, cowpeas, and alfalfa. Growing cover crops in numerous small sections throughout a field keeps the beneficials close to the cash crops.
Grasses and grains. Often grown in strips among cash crops, grasses and grains provide refuge for ground beetles and spiders, and a shady place to lay eggs for other beneficial species.
Flowers and herbs. Several families of flowers are particularly attractive to beneficials. Plants in the Apiaceae family (known as Umbelliferae in some circles) produce umbels of tiny, aromatic flowers that are a good source of nectar. The family includes Angelica, Ammi, anise, carraway, carrot, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, Queen Anne's lace, tansy, asafœtida, and yarrow. The mint family, Lamiaceae, produces tiny flowers with a lower "lip," a perfect tubule that provides access to beneficial insects (and hummingbirds). It includes bee balm, basil, catnip, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram and oregano, peppermint, sage, and many other strongly aromatic, useful, and beautiful herbs. The Asteraceae is another large family that provides abundant and easily accessible pollen. Many cut flowers are members of this family, including asters, sunflowers, blanket flower, coneflower, cosmos, and goldenrod.
Trees and shrubs. Permanent hedgerows provide refuge for many types of beneficials, and will be especially attractive if they include black locust, elderberry, Euonymus (burning bush), golden bells (Forsythia), willows, and Prunus species.
This is only a very general, and very broad list of flowering plants that insects find attractive — the reality is that the majority of flowering plants are pollinated by insects, and the majority of insects — of which there are legion — are either beneficial or neutral.
If you look for plants in your area abuzz with insect life, those will be make good farmscaping plants for your fields and gardens.
In regard to habitat restoration efforts and avoiding invasive plant issues, remember that native plants attract and support native insects.
We also offer a line of seeds for varieties known to Attract Beneficial Insects, including a Bee Feed Mix and our Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix, and technical advice needed to successfully manage pollinator populations. See our article on Attracting & Putting Beneficial Insects to Work to learn more.