We hear a lot these days about attracting beneficials, but what are beneficials and why do we want them in our gardens? The term “beneficials” refers to specific insects and other creatures such as hummingbirds and bats which help our gardens in two different ways.
The first type of beneficials are pollinators. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service beneficials pollinate 75% of our flowers and crops by carrying pollen from flower to flower as they feed on the nectar. The second type of beneficials eat pests which destroy our flowers and vegetables, such as hoverflies which eat aphids, and tiny parasitic wasps who lay their eggs in the bodies of pests. When the eggs hatch, the resulting larvae eat the pest. A gruesome way to die, but an effective way to safely rid your garden of cutworms, hornworms, armyworms and various caterpillars.
Many pollinators are tiny and like plants with tiny flowers. Plant thymes, mints, oregano, and rosemary to attract them. Larger pollinators, especially big bumblebees, prefer plants with larger and sturdier flowers such lavender, sage, bee balm, stinging nettle, hyssop and anise hyssop. We don’t often think of butterflies as pollinators. Plant herbs with flowers in umbrels such as dill, yarrow, caraway, and Echinacea for them to feast on. Another overlooked pollinator are hummingbirds. They like bee balm and find pineapple sage irresistible.
Ladybird beetles (ladybugs) love to eat aphids so gardeners love ladybird beetles. Plant angelica, calendula, caraway, chives, cilantro (the seeds are coriander), dill, feverfew, tansy and yarrow to tempt them.
Some herbs do double duty, attracting both pollinators and parasitic wasps and hoverflies. If you don’t have a lot of space, plant just borage, chamomile, dill, anise, white horehound or parsley to lure both kinds of beneficials to your garden.
We want beneficials in our gardens. The best way to attract them is to provide food in the form of nectar for them. Herbs are a great way to lure beneficials to your yard.