Many of our home-grown, edible plants need their flowers to be pollinated, otherwise there would be little to no harvest. Bees and other beneficial insects are wonderful helpers when it comes to pollination. Eager to collect pollen and nectar from flowers, they unknowingly move pollen around within and between flowers.
Pollination requirements vary between plant types. Typically, a single flower contains both male and female parts (monoecious) and the pollen is moved from the male part of the flower to the female part (stigma). However, in vegetables like zucchini, pumpkin and cucumber, male and female flowers occur separately on the same plant (dioecious), and pollen needs to be transferred from the male flower to the female flower. In many varieties of apples and pears, pollen must be moved from one suitable pollinating tree to a different tree.
The more we can entice pollinating insects into our gardens, the greater the opportunity for them to work their pollen-moving magic and help maximise our vegetable and fruit harvests. In addition to the flowers on vegetables and fruit themselves, the key to encouraging pollinators, like bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and wasps, is to provide them with additional sources of food in our gardens.
Food for thought
Here are some wonderful flowering plants that you can grow during spring to attract pollinators.
- Annuals including nasturtiums, borage, alyssum and forget-me-not.
- Perennials like lavender, salvia and catmint.
- Herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, mint, chives and lemon balm. Also allowing a few basil, coriander and parsley plants to mature and flower will provide masses of flowers that bees and other beneficial insects adore.
For best results, plant them in and around the vegetable patch and orchard. These flowers will also happily in pots, which can be conveniently placed near the plants that need some help with pollination.
An easy way to grow a pretty patch of bee attracting flowers is to sow a special blend of flower seeds, such as Yates Bee Pasture Pollen & Nectar Mix. It contains a colourful mix of pollen, nectar-rich, bee-attracting flowers, including phacelia, poppies, zinnia and calendula.
Plants like tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums and blueberries have flowers that benefit from a specific type of pollination called ‘buzz’ pollination, where insects vigorously shake the flowers to release the pollen. European honeybees cannot perform buzz pollination, however the delightful Australian native blue-banded bee can. So, if you’re growing tomatoes this spring, it’s worthwhile including some of the blue-banded bees favourite flowers near the vegetable patch, like salvias, buddleja, abelia, and westringia.
To keep your flowering plants healthy and prolong the blooming season, feed them every 1-2 weeks with a potassium-rich plant food, like Yates Thrive Flower & Fruit, and remove spent flowers regularly. It’s also ideal to include a shallow saucer of water for the bees to drink from while they’re in your garden. Place some pebbles in the saucer to provide landing spots for the bees as they quench their thirst.