Office of Research

Flowers and herbs nurture natural pest control

Published December 9, 2011

If you're beginning to plan your garden, consider selecting some plants that will nurture natural pest control, recommended a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.


"Some plants will be stars at providing pollen and nectar for predatory insects that prey on insect pests. They also will attract pollinators to your garden," said Nancy Pollard.


One of her favorite garden allies is sweet alyssum, its Latin name being Lobularia maritime.


This annual plant has small flowers with easy-to-reach nectar, as well as tiny landing platforms (flower petals) just right for beneficial insects. The flowers come in white or shades from pink to lavender. They do well in full sun to partial shade, and prefer alkaline soil — soils with a pH above 7.0.


Sweet alyssum works well as a thick, low border and blooms from April through September. It rarely gets over 7 inches tall, often staying a mannerly 4 inches. Other members of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family also attract beneficials.


Pollard recommends planting dill, fennel and coriander. The leaf stage of coriander, before it flowers is known as cilantro. A longer bloom period will entice beneficial insects to stay around for nectar. Plant a block or short row of these herbs every couple of weeks. Both your flowering period and herb harvest period will be extended.


Other members of the carrot (Apiaceae) family, such as Queen Anne's lace, attract beneficial insects too.


"Members of the daisy or aster family are great for nurturing predatory insects as well," she said. "Cosmos, for instance, comes in rich colors, including purple, pink, red, burgundy, orange, yellow and white. Heights range from 2 to 7 feet, so select carefully. Cosmos need little water once established and bloom for a long period if given full sun."


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