Gardening with Natives & Veggies – Part 2 – From a Veggie Gardener’s View

Okay folks, lets look at gardening with natives and veggies from the veggie gardener viewpoint.  If you grow primarily vegetables and “savory fruits” such as tomatoes and squash in your garden, adding natives amps up your overall diversity as we saw in Part 1.

In addition there are several natives that can have direct benefit on your veggie production.  Lets look at a few of my favorites:

  • Blue Wild Indigo, Baptista australis: This beautiful 5’ tall native has beautiful blue-purple flowers in spring and is a member of the legume family of plants. Members of this plant family sequester carbon in the soil and the leaves can be cut down to add nitrogen to plants either around them or in your compost pile. Native bees love it, therefore attracting more pollinators to your landscape.

    bee visiting a wild blue indigo
    Wild Blue Indigo
  • Yarrow, Achillea millefolium: I love growing Yarrow, maybe because it is such a wonderful herb for stopping bleeding, but also because it will bloom all summer if you deadhead it and bring the flowers in for bouquets. The native common yarrow has creamy white flowers, cultivars have many others. Yarrow contains fairly high amount of calcium, which helps with the metabolic processes of plants taking up other nutrients. IT also help strengthen plant cell walls. High humidity, like we have here in Virginia, along with a cold winter can cause calcium deficiency, so plant yarrow, put the leave around your plants or in your compost to add calcium for your plants.

    Native White Yarrow
    Native White Yarrow
  • Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum: This beautiful tall, mid-summer flowering native is a pollinator magnet, and frankly, just darn beautiful. Its big puffy mauve flowers look wonderful at the back of a native flower garden bed, attracting so may different types of native bees and butterflies, you’ll want to stop veggie gardening and just watch the show. Perennial.

    Yellow Swallowtail butterlfy on Joe Pye Flower
    Yellow Swallowtail butterlfy on Joe Pye Flower
  • Goldenrod, Solidago spp.: Want to push the window on pollination into the fall. Then you want to add goldenrods to your landscape to attract those pollinators. This is really helpful if you love to grow fall peas like I do. Perennial.

    Goldenrod
    Goldenrods have cherry yellow flower in Autumn
  • Asters, Symphyotrichum spp.: Like Goldenrod, asters bloom later in the year, in autumn, thus they give you the benefits listed above for goldenrod, and give you more color in your garden as the weather turns cool. They also can make a nice cut flower for the vase.  Some are annual, some are perennial.

    purple aster flowers
    Native Aster flowers can be white, purple or pink.
  • Northern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum: Got a shady area? Consider adding some of these ferns as they are a great toad habitat.  Toads eat bugs, so can help keep your bug population in balance and away from your veggies.

    northern maidenhair fern
    Northern Maidenhair Fern

So veggie gardeners, you can put in a flower bed of Blue Wild Indigo, Joe Pye, Yarrow, Goldenrod and Asters and have a beautiful garden area that blooms in spring, summer and fall.  Add some ferns to your moist shady spots and you’ve helped that native bee and toad population and your garden!

In Part 2 of this blog series, we looked at six native plants you can add to your landscape to benefit your veggie garden. There are many more, so I encourage you to add these and get in touch if you want more inspiration and ideas.

Check back or Subscribe to this blog to get notified for Part 3, when we look at the native, veggie gardening thing from the view of the native gardener.

Gardening with Natives & Veggies – Part 1, Three Benefits of Growing Both

Hey folks,

I’ve chatted with some gardeners who primarily grow natives and some who primarily grow veggies.  Turns out, there are folks who feel they have to grow one or the other.  Since diversity is one of the two top ways to help insure a healthy thriving garden (living soil being the other) I wanted to give all you gardeners out there some inspiration and ideas on how I like to grow both.

  • In this first part, we’ll go into the benefits.
  • The second part we’ll look at it from the veggie gardener point of view and,
  • in the third part, we’ll look at it from the native gardener point of view.

Garden panorama

3 Benefits of growing both natives and veggies:

  1. Diversity! Every critter that happens into or around your garden is part of the priorly connected web of garden life. Insuring you have a large diversity of plants in your garden is an insurance policy that not any one critter will wreak havoc on your entire garden. By including both a vegetable garden and some native garden beds in your landscape, you add even more diversity that if you have one or the other.

    Annual Flowers, Veggies and Natives
  2. Beauty. As I am fond of saying, “Beauty is food too”. Natives can add flowers and leaf shapes to your landscape and veggies can be grown in a pleasing manner, they don’t have to be in rows.

    Mixing Food, Flowers and Natives
  3. Food for everyone. Native gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for wildlife. Veggie gardeners tend to pride themselves on growing food for themselves and their families. Why not have some of both – everybody wins!

bee on flowers and gardener holding fresh harvested potatoes

In this intorduction, we took a quick look at three benefits for growing both natives and veggies.

Check back for Part 2, or subscribe at Right to be notified of the next post and to get some ideas for adding natives that benefit you and your veggie garden.

Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill
Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.