Companion Plants to help with pollination

katy_bug(z8a GA)June 2, 2009

Last year I had pollination problems with both my squash and my tomatoes. This year, I want to plant some flowers into my vegetable beds to help attract the pollinators. What do you suggest that will grow well with in the following beds (considering height and spread) and is commercially available as a bedding plant. I am late putting my garden in so I would like plants that are already flowering.

Bed A: 8 ft x 4 ft

3 tomato plats




Bed B : 8 ft x 4 ft

3 pole bean tee pees

Bed C: 5 ft x 10 ft

4 tomato plants

3 zucchini plants

Bed D: 6 ft x 6 ft

One hill of cantaloupe (3-4 plants)


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Tomatoes are pollinated by wind, bees are irrelevant to them. If you feel like you had poor fruit set it was likely due to other factors than pollination. Though if memory serves tomatoes can't be pollinated when the temps are above 90 F. Try the tomato forum for better information about possible low fruit set issues. Also if you use fertilizers high in nitrogen that will limit fruit production.

However for squash my personal favorite attractor of bees is white clover. The bees can't get enough of it and I happily let it grow in my lawn. I imagine other clovers have the same effect.

Also any plant in the mint family really attracts tons of various pollinators. However mint is REALLY hard to control and I wouldn't recommend putting it in the garden. I also like nasturtiums but more for color than pollinators.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 1:30PM
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katy_bug(z8a GA)

Tomatoes are primarily pollinated by wind, but insects can play a fairly large secondary role. I am not so much concerned about the tomatoes as the cantaloupes and the squash. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I do not have much clover in my yard.

I plan on underplanting the pole beans with nasturtiums but I didn't think they attracted much.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 1:56PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Tomatoes are primarily pollinated by wind, but insects can play a fairly large secondary role.

I'm sorry but tomatoes, like all other members of its family, are self-fertile. Each bloom has both the stamen and the pistil and 90% of the time fertilizes itself quite well without any further intervention of any kind be that wind or any insects. In many varieties the bloom has fertilized itself before the bloom even opens. That is what allows for many open pollinated varieties to be planted close together with only minimal cross-pollination.

So as weirdtrev said if you are having pollination problems with your tomatoes (called blossom drop) then some other factor is at play and the FAQ on the Growing Tomatoes forum discusses the causes in detail.

For pole beans, they too are self-pollinating and subject to the same problems of blossom drop as are tomatoes.

Squash and melons do require some insect intervention and most any flowers or flowering herbs that are attractive to them will work. But given the nationwide decline in the bee population many gardeners have taken up hand pollinating to insure a good crop. There is a FAQ here on how to do that if you wish to review it.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 3:37PM
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I've heard that gently shaking your tomato vines regularly helps them to self pollinate... I guess it helps spread the pollen around?

Nasturtiums are GREAT for attracting pollinators. I had them last year and the bees loved them. They were interplanted with my pattypan squash, and I got plenty of squash...

Also, let some of your basil flower... that attracts bees like crazy.

And if you want to buy some flower packs, try zinnias... those attracted plenty of bees as well.

And mint works great in containers.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 8:11PM
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austinnhanasmom(5 CO)

I have used an old electric toothbrush to vibrate the tomato branch to aid in pollination.

I planted borage and marigolds near my tomatoes and peppers to attract beneficial insects - more for bad bug removal then anything.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 8:23PM
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You might try Borage for the tomatoes. It's supposed to improve their flavor. Also, Nasturtium is supposed to be a good companion for squash, as it repels squash bugs. See the link below for more companion plants and/or check out "Carrots Love Tomatoes" by Liouse Riotte.

Here is a link that might be useful: Companion Planting

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 8:47PM
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In a past garden I had a Russian sage that grew quite large, had lovely purple flowers and was always covered in assorted bees and buzzing critters. This year in my new garden I have planted one in a pot. I figure after a year or two in the pot I will know where the best spot for it is. In the meantime I can move it if I need to and place it near a bed with pollination needs.

This is a new experiment for me so I'll let you know how it turns out.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:20PM
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Karen Pease

I'm sorry but tomatoes, like all other members of its family, are self-fertile.

But not self-pollinating. The pollen from a given flower can fertilize the pistil from that same flower, but it needs a vector to reach it. Wind will get you a low but sometimes sufficient pollination rate on its own, but bees will do a better job. In the greenhouse, where neither are available, you have to use one of many possible ways of pollinating -- fans, shaker tables, "electric bees". real bees (introduced), etc.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 11:41PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

Greenhouse growers have found that it is economically worthwhile to bring in bumble bees to pollinate their tomatoes. This is because the resonance frequency of their buzz pollination is more effective than even the electric buzzers. The bee's body also cups under the anther cone and traps/rubs pollen against the stigma.

However, the majority of bees visiting tomatoes are little halictid sweat bees. They love tomatoes. And those little bees will visit most any type of small, open flower, or cluster flowers so you might want to go with things that lady bugs like too.

The squash family needs larger native squash bees and bumble bees (maybe honey bees too) so I think you would want flowers that produce nectar to attract them.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 11:44AM
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granite(z6 NC)

I grow bee balm, lavender, California poppy, marigold, sunflowers, catmint, and zinnas in my garden to attract bees and for beauty.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 4:02PM
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I usually plant marigolds and nasturtiums with my tomatoes; marigolds with winter squashes; and petunias and 4'o clocks with beans & summer squashes. I like zinnias too and stick them wherever there's room.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 6:17PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

Any of the salvias. The Russian sage suggested above is great. You will have more bees than you know what to do with.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 8:47PM
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leira(6 MA)

I find it interesting that people are seeking out other plants to attract bees to their squash vines. Last year, I used to go out to the garden every morning with my coffee and watch a huge number of bees traveling from squash blossom to squash blossom. They were mostly honey bees (feral ones, I assume, unless some unknown neighbor has a hive) and some bumble bees, but also sometimes some tiny little black bees that might be the halictid sweat bees that were previously mentioned.

I just assumed that the squash blossoms themselves were huge bee-attractors, since mine were just crawling with them every morning before the sun got too hot. I'm waiting for the first blossoms to come out this year, so I can do the same thing again.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 9:48PM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

Favorites are the three B's:

Bee Balm

Lemon Balm also is a good attractant. Oregano too, when flowering.

For those looking to attract bees to tomatoes, best I can say is DON'T! Assuming you save seeds, bees are major causes of cross-pollination, which is not desired. Best to just shake the plant or whack the cage with a stick or broom handle. Tomatoes usually pollinate fine without much intervention.

I actually use the aforementioned plants to DIStract bees & flies & things AWAY from tomatoes.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 9:54PM
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As far as tomatoes go--flicking the blossoms with your finger works well, too Of course, if you have a lot of plants, would be very time consuming.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 10:01PM
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