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Best Annual Flowers to Boost Vegetable Gardens | Almanac.com

Best Annual Flowers to Boost Vegetable Gardens

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How can I increase the yield of my vegetable garden?

The Editors

Have you made space for annual flowers in your vegetable garden? Yes, flowers! They’re not just pretty; they recruit nature’s army of pollinators and beneficial insects to protect and increase your harvest! See why you should plant flowers in your vegetable garden—and which flowers go well with vegetables.

Flowers among your crops turn what might otherwise be a purely utilitarian space into a place of intense beauty. It’s remarkable what a splash of color can do to spruce things up and lift the whole feel of a place.

But it’s more than that. You’ve heard of flower power, right? Well it’s true: flowers really can up your game – boosting crop growth by fueling the bug life that helps plants grow to their full potential. 

Hardy Annual Flowers for the Vegetable Garden

Let’s start with tough, resilient flowers that, with any luck, will pop up time and again. They are annuals but also are all self-seeders, which means the seeds that they drop will survive to come up next spring: Sow once, enjoy for many years to come! The best flowers for this purpose are frost-hardy annuals – that’s plants that grow, flower, and set seed within a single season.

I’ve three flowers in mind, and each is perfect for growing in the vegetable garden because they not only attract pollinating insects like bees, but also pest predators such as hoverflies, lacewings and ladybugs or ladybirds. And what are they?

1. Calendula

Also known as pot marigold (not to be confused with regular marigold), sunny calendula thrives in pretty much any garden soil, including poorer soils. It loves the sunshine but does okay in light shade too. What an accommodating flower! You can eat the petals – they look fab in salads and soups – and it’s a great companion plant because studies have shown it helps repel pests like aphids, brassica-eating caterpillars, and armyworms. 

  • It’s best sown direct, where it is to grow. The soil here has been prepared in advance by just loosening it up to create a fluffy texture that’s good for sowing. Just to be sure, and to give an extra helping hand, such as forking in a little garden compost.
  • Sow about a half inch deep. Just push them down here and there. They will be thinned out once they’re up.
  • In late winter/early spring, you could also sow in plug trays at the same depth. 

2. Nasturtium

Nasturtium is a boon for the bees! It’s really great at luring away brassica-eating butterfly caterpillars from your vulnerable crops like kale and broccoli. And every part of it—from the leaves to the flowers to the spicy seedpods—is edible!

  • Sow in plug trays in advance. But wait to sow them outside until well past any chance of frost. Although they are frost hardy, they are a touch on the delicate side to start with.

3. Poached Egg Plant

No, we’re talking about the vegetable. Poached egg plant, or Limnanthes, is loved by pollinators, while attracting the likes of aphid-hungry hoverflies. It grows in sun or part shade, and prefers a free-draining soil. And what a stunner of a plant! Can you see (from the video) how it gets its name?

  • Sow outside in little clusters, then thin the seedlings to about 4 inches apart once they’re up. Like the other two, this flower readily self-seed and is hardy, so their sunshine cheer should be with you for summers to come.
  • A little-known benefit of poached egg plant is that it can be dug into the ground before it sets seed to serve as a cover crop or green manure. So it’s also good for sowing in spaces that will be planted later on with autumn crops.

Frost-Tender Annual Flowers for the Vegetable Garden

Of course, it’s worth sowing half-hardy, or frost-tender annuals too! 

1. Alyssum

 This is another one for attracting hoverflies. It’s a small, almost ground-hugging annual, which makes it a super choice for not only slotting in here and there right in among aphid-vulnerable crops such as lettuce, but also to use as edging to beds.

2. Marigold

A great companion flower to tomatoes as its scent helps to deter whitefly, the marigold makes it a really good choice for growing next to greenhouse tomatoes, with basil close by for protection against other pests.

3. Zinnia

A bit taller at around 2-feet-tall, zinnia should offer a bit of height as well as cheer. Zinnias are great for butterflies, particularly monarch butterflies and painted ladies. Give zinnia a sunny spot – it’s good for both the plants and the nectar-sipping butterflies that come to visit. 

  • To start early, sow each zinnia seed into its own seed flat or pot of seed-starting mix. This should give the best germination. Sow very thinly onto the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed-starting mix then covering with a very fine sprinkling of vermiculite (or you could use a little more of the same seed-starting mix). Thoroughly mist spray to moisten the sown seeds.
  • All of these frost-tender annuals need a little warmth to get them going, so pop a bit of polythene over the top, secured in place by a rubber band, then pop them into a tray covered with a humidity dome for extra snugness. They’re going onto a warm windowsill, just above a gentle heat source to speed germination. Ideally, they’d be at around 75 Fahrenheit or 23 Celsius, so if you have a heated propagator, use that, as it will be more consistent and faster.
  • Once the seedlings are up, transplant them into their own large plug trays to grow on. 
  • Harden off seedlings over the course of a week or so (bring them outside for brief periods so they adapt to outdoors). They’ll be ready to plant out after the last frost date. 

Flowering Herbs in the Vegetable Garden

Don’t forget that many common herbs are really fantastic sources of nectar and pollen for all sorts of beneficial bugs. High up on the list are basil and parsley, perfect at ground level beneath climbing beans to keep them trouble-free.

  • Find living herbs from the grocery store very cheaply. These can then be split up and re-potted, to grow on a bit before planting out into their final positions a few weeks later.
  • There’s one herb you don’t often see for sale though, and that’s dill. Pick up a packet or seeds and simply scatter the seeds where they are to grow once it’s warmed up in a few weeks. The seeds will be raked in, to ensure good contact with the soil, before the area is thoroughly watered to set them on their way. Dill flowers are almost identical to fennel, which is a taller perennial herb and an absolute beauty for many years of insect-attracting blooms. And there are, of course, many insect-friendly flowering perennial herbs you can include, such as chives, rosemary and sage.

We drop all these flowers into our garden plan for the coming growing season. We can’t wait to see how these beautifies help boost crop growth.  What vegetable garden-friendly flowers are you planting this season? Tell us in the comments below.

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