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Our Favourites: Flower Power

By Dave George, National Insect Week Advisor.

Whether you have a couple of acres in the countryside or a small back yard, you probably have room for a few flowers. A huge number of insects depend on flowers for nectar and pollen, so growing them in your garden – in borders, window boxes or pots – is a great way to attract a huge variety of insect visitors.

Pollinators such as bees, hover flies and butterflies are perhaps the best known of the flower-feeding insects, but even predatory insects like ladybirds will enjoy a feast of floral food if they can find one. Many flower-feeding insects have struggled in recent years, however, as wild-flowers have become less abundant in the countryside and exotic and highly cultivated varieties have become more common in our gardens. Whilst the latter may appear pleasing to the eye and hard to resist when browsing at your local garden centre, all too often they offer little or no accessible food for flower feeding insects.

Selecting and growing the ‘right’ insect-friendly flowers is therefore not only a great way to attract insects, but also a great way to help our declining pollinator populations. With gardens covering over 1 million hectares of Britain, they could represent a real haven for flower-feeding insects – especially if we all grow those plants with real ‘Flower Power’.

Top Tips and links that I like!

  • Choose the right plants. Where possible try to avoid planting hybrid cultivars, especially those with double flowers. These are often sterile, and therefore offer no food to nectar and pollen feeders. It’s also important to consider flowering season as our flower-feeding insects need nectar and pollen from early spring right through to late autumn.
  • Try to remember that different insects will make use of different types of flowers according to their size and shape and features such as tongue length. Including a range of different flowers should encourage a range of insects into your garden whilst also filling your space with an attractive variety of colourful blooms.
  • If space is really at a premium, consider including highly ‘generalist’ flowers that are good for a range of insects. Cornflower and other knapweeds, for example, have long flowering periods and make their nectar freely available to many insects.
  • Some garden centers may use plant labels that provide at least some of the necessary information to help you choose the right flowers. Don’t worry if yours doesn’t though as there is a lot of useful information that can be found online. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, for example, provides details of all kinds of plants that are good for bees – as well as their flowering periods – on their gardening pages. You can also pick up some useful tips on the BBC's wildlife gardening pages. I’d also recommend a visit to the ‘Wild About Gardens’ web page, as well as the Gardeners World page on wildlife friendly plants (http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/features/wildlife/wildlife-friendly-plants

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