This is a good weekend to get into the garden and plan ahead for crops and fruit...and gratis pest control.
Fruit Trees and crops need pollinators. It pays to always have a mixture of useful pollen and nectar sources flowering when you want to attract pollinators to your garden. The idea is simple: have a little “meadow” of flowering plants that will anchor the native bees, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths to your patch. Insects do have a “memory” for where the best meals are to be found: pollen (protein) and nectar (sweet boost of energy).
But wait, there’s more! Quite a few of these insects are also good pest controllers of small sap-sucking and chewing critters on your crops, shrubs and trees. What they do is passive biological control. It’s a good strategy: instead of having to spray against the various pests on your plants, why not let the natural predators and parasites do it?
The animals you’d want to attract to your place are insectivorous birds, of course, like silvereyes. But they can only do so much, they are often quite omnivorous and will eat a range of insects: pests as well as beneficial insects! How about getting some specific parasitoids on board; small parasitic wasps that will lay their eggs inside the nuisance caterpillars, in mealybugs, scale in sects and aphids. These parasitoids need to feed as adult insects before they can mate and lay their eggs. Flowers with just the right mix of pollen and nectar will do nicely: it fattens up the parasitoids and keeps them in perfect condition.
Some of the predacious insects (like larvae of hover flies, ladybird beetles) are also useful to have on your side. They, too, feed on pollen and nectar, especially in the adult stage! See the attraction?
My friends at Kings Seeds have put together a wildflower blend called the Beneficial Insect Blend that contains phacelia, borage, buckwheat anise, coriander, bishops flower, anise, alyssum, cosmos, bergamot, anise hyssop and crimson clover. Some of these are true heroes when it comes to drawing in pollinators and beneficial insects.
Phacelia (blue Tansy) is great for predatory hover flies that devour aphids. Sow the seeds now, but watch out if this plant is getting a bit weedy in certain environments.
Buckwheat is a nice small plant with white flowers. It fits in empty spaces and under fruit trees, in berry gardens and productive vegetable gardens and feeds parasitoids.
Flowering Umbelliferous plants like corriander attract a wide range of beneficial insects. Alternatively, you can leave your parsley go to flower and “seed”, carrot flowers, Queen Anne’s lace and such nice umbels of flowers, are usually full of parasitoids and predators too. Anise, alyssum, bergamot do exactly the same stuff. Similarly: try some dill and fennel.
Finally, there are a heap of native flowers that seem to be attractive to the beneficials. Hebe is such a flower, but also Manuka and Pohutukawa. Not something you’d sow and utilise within a few weeks or months, but worth thinking about for long-term planting to facilitate free pest control!