Consider farmscaping with flowers to control garden pests

Consider farmscaping with flowers to control garden pests
If you’re already planning next year’s vegetable garden, consider farmscaping with flowers to help control harmful insects.

“You’re actually trying to attract insects to your garden,” said Jim Hankins, executive director of the Fauquier Education Farm, on which he practices farmscaping. “Ninety percent of the insects that are out there are beneficial. The ones that actually destroy our crops are in the minority. Farmscaping creates a habitat to ensure that you’re giving the good bugs the things that they need,” he explained on an episode of From the Ground Up, a garden segment airing on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s Real Virginia weekly television show.

Hankins added that he strives to create a habitat to support a good diversity of insects on the farm.

 “One of the essential methods in farmscaping are the types of flowers,” he shared. “One bug that’s common here at the farm is called a syrphid fly or a hover fly. A syrphid fly adult feeds off of these sunflowers, feeds off the other flowers that I’m planting, but it plants its eggs on our vegetables. A syrphid fly larvae will eat 60 aphids a day, and they can have 10 generations in a summer” that are constantly working to control the aphid population.

“And then there’s a whole host of predatory wasps and good pollinators that benefit from the flowers. It’s also a good habitat for praying mantises,” he added.

Planting flowers doesn’t have to be expensive, Hankins said. He planted four sunflower beds 6 feet from the edge of his vegetable fields this past summer. He staggered planting times so there would always been some flowers in bloom. 

“The sunflowers here are literally just a bag of birdseed from the local farm cooperative,” Hankins said. “I bought a 50-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seed, tilled the soil, broadcast the seed and tilled the soil one more time to cover them up. I also threw in some cosmos, some zinnias and some Mexican sunflowers in this patch, because the sunflowers come up and go pretty quickly. These other flowers will continue to bloom until the frost.”

Creating a more homogenous habitat for insects can reduce the need for pesticides, but serious gardeners should do their homework first. Farmscaping works better when the gardener determines which pests need to be controlled, and which flowers will attract the most predators of those pests.

Winter is when most gardeners do their planning for the next growing season, so Hankins said now is a great time to research farmscaping techniques. Gardeners can reach out to their local Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners or study the concepts online and determine what might work best for them.

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