With a La Niña weather pattern forecast for this summer, we can expect north/north-easterly winds, high humidity and tropical downpours - the perfect breeding ground for pests and disease in our gardens. As a result, the importance of having beneficial flowers in our gardens has never been greater and this month is likely the last opportunity to get these sown for success.
Why are beneficial flowers so beneficial then?
The magic of beneficial flowers is that they attract the right insects to your garden - the kind that help to keep pests at bay, aid in pollination and create biodiversity in our gardens.
Naturally, a greater variety of flowers creates a haven for a greater variety of beneficial insects, which in turn feed on and overpower the pesky insects that ravage our gardens and destroy our plants.
Which flowers should I grow?
Nasturtiums are a fantastic flower to start with for three reasons - they are edible, beneficial and sacrificial. They do well when planted on the borders of your beds or in a dedicated space where they can run wild. The flowers and leaves are both edible and make a welcome addition to any salad. Later in the season, the pods that form can be pickled to make a kind of caper-like delicacy. They deliciously burst in your mouth with a pungent spice.
Nasturtiums act as a sacrificial plant by attracting whitefly, greenfly and aphids of all colours. When an infestation occurs, the nasturtium plant starts to die back. It is important to leave the plant at this stage, because it is sacrificing itself as a host for the insects you want to keep away from your summer veges. Nasturtiums also attract beneficial insects that will lay their eggs in them and, in turn, their larvae will eat some of the pesky pests.
How do I grow them from seed?
Simply scatter in the garden, cover and keep watered until germination occurs. Alternatively, you can germinate them in a recycled poly tray and more easily spread them around to different areas. Punch some holes in the base of your poly tray, load with potting mix and add a 3cm layer of fine seed raising mix on top. Then scatter your seeds in, lightly cover and keep well watered until germination occurs. At this point, you can cut the box into eight squares, lift out and plant into different parts of the garden, watering well. Once established, water once a week and allow to go to seed at the end of the season, so that the wind will disperse them for another great autumn crop!
I cannot emphasise the value of growing lots of flowers; it will reduce the amount of sprays required and you will be well on your way to creating abundant biodiversity in your garden, creating a haven for many beneficial insects in the years to come.
Find out more about Claire Mummery's Grow Inspired Academy at growinspiredacademy.com or follow her on Facebook @growinspiredwithclairemummery or Instagram @grow.inspired.