By Matt Gibson
Trying to decide between a vegetable garden or a flower garden? Let’s look at the differences between vegetable gardens and flower gardens and talk about the pros and cons of each type. Then we can talk about a third option, interplanting! Interplanting is a way to blend the two garden types together harmoniously in a way that is beneficial to all the plants that you choose to cultivate.
There are two distinct types of garden that growers can assemble on their property, the vegetable garden and the flower garden. Traditionally, gardeners put their flower gardens in the front and side areas around their homes. These spaces are high profile, as they are easily noticed by anyone who is visiting or even passing by a gardener’s home. The vegetable garden, on the other hand, is typically relegated to the backyard, or tucked into some corner that no one other than the gardener ever lays eyes on.
However, there are no rules or laws in place that keep gardeners from interplanting vegetables and flowers together in the same patch. There are also good reasons to plant vegetables and flowers together. Flowers attract pollinators that vegetable plants rely on in order to flower and form fruits.
Many flowers are also pest resistant, and can help deter pests and keep them from ravaging the vegetable crop and damaging the food grown before it can be harvested. So, if you are still planting your vegetables and flowers in completely separate areas on your property, you may want to rethink your strategy. Instead of having separated flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and herb gardens, all relegated to specific places, why not just garden?
It makes much more sense to plan out your garden based on which plants benefit each other the most and make the best garden companions instead of splitting them up based on plant type and segregating the areas where certain plants are allowed to grow. Well, modern gardeners are doing just that, allowing their vegetables and herbs to co-mingle with ornamental plants and planning out their gardens based on functionality instead of traditional design.
Thankfully, we don’t live in a world where change is frowned upon and discouraged and new ideas are shunned and rejected for the sake of tradition. Interplanting vegetables and flowers is not even a new idea though, as English noblemen have mixed flowers into their veggie gardens dating all the way back to medieval times.
In France, the practice of co-mingling different plant types dates back centuries. Planting vegetables and flowers together in the same beds is a strategy that can boost your vegetable yields and keep all of your plants healthy and happy.
Vegetable Garden Pros
- Vegetable gardeners are quick to boast about how they are growing their own food and saving money at the grocery store by harvesting their own produce.
- Vegetable gardeners are not only growing their own food, but they know exactly what went into the process of growing it. This way, you know exactly what you are putting on the table for you and your family.
- Growing your own food is a great family project that you can do with your kids. Teaching children how to plant, water, and cultivate vegetables is a great way to spend time with the family. It is also a great way for kids to learn about how hard work can be rewarding.
- Having access to fresh produce throughout the growing season can save a lot of time running back and forth between the grocery store and home.
- There are no better tasting vegetables than the ones that you grew yourself.
Flower Garden Pros
- Flower gardens are visually stunning. They add beauty and color to your outdoor spaces, which you are more likely to enjoy more frequently than a plain, uninviting landscape.
- Having a lovely outdoor space is not just a benefit to you, but something that can be enjoyed by your children, by friends and visitors, and even by folks that happen to pass by your home.
- Though many flower gardeners grow annuals, those that have perennials in their beds have the added benefit of knowing that their investment is going to last a long time. With perennials, you only have to plant your flowers once, and you should enjoy new blooms every year for years to come.
- A flower garden can occupy very small spaces. If you have limited outdoor room, you can still have a very nice flower garden. Flowers can grab your attention even when relegated to tiny spaces. If you don’t have any outdoor space, you can still have a flower garden by planting in containers and moving your grow operation indoors.
Vegetable Garden Cons
- Pests and foraging animals can damage crops easily, sometimes leading to massive crop loss. Only with a vegetable garden, can you put in countless hours of cultivation only to notice that some pesky insects or animals beat you to the punch at harvest time.
- Veggie gardens take quite a bit of time and effort to create and to maintain. It takes a lot of work to plan out a vegetable garden, keep up with crop rotation, and caring for your plants. Not only do you have to water, weed, prune, trim, and harvest, but you have to repeat the entire process every year. Vegetable gardening is a time consuming hobby.
- Vegetable gardening takes quite a lot of space. In order to produce plenty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, you need to dedicate a lot of room to the project. Vegetable gardens often require raised beds, or lots of containers. If you have limited outdoor space, this could present a problem.
Flower Garden Cons
- Though flower gardens are pretty to look at, they don’t have much functionality other than aesthetics. It’s always nice to spend time surrounded by beautiful plants, but flowers really serve no purpose other than their pleasing appearance.
- Flowers produce pollen, and some flowers can cause allergies due to their pollen, especially in the spring and summer time. If you have severe allergies, a flower garden may be too much for you.
Why Interplanting Is Better Than Separation
- Planting flowers with your vegetable crops will help with attracting pollinators to your garden. Vegetable plants don’t always have incredibly showy flowers to bring the pollinators to the garden. Adding in some bright, colorful flowers, will keep the bees and other pollinating birds and insects visiting your garden regularly.
- Adding flowers and herbs to your vegetable beds doesn’t just attract pollinators, but helps to attract other beneficial insects as well. Lady bugs, lace wings, and parasitic wasps can help keep garden pests at a minimum.
- Certain flowers are known for repelling certain pests. Planting those flowers next to vegetables and herbs that are susceptible to attacks from those particular pests, is always a smart move.
- Biodiversity is important in a garden for several reasons. The most important reason is because it confuses garden pests. Planting plants that pests hate next to plants that pests love makes it much less likely for pest insects to damage your crops.
Tips For Interplanting Flowers and Vegetables
- Pay attention to the flowering times of your vegetable and flower plants, as they need to coordinate in order to benefit each other. Ideally, you will have flowers that bloom throughout the season, but you want your flowers and vegetable plants to go to bloom simultaneously so that pollinators will be present in the garden especially during the times that they are needed the most.
- Choosing the right flowers is essential if you want to attract beneficial garden visitors. The best flowers to choose for attracting pollinators are those with a composite shape, like zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, daisies, and purple coneflowers to name a few.
- Space out your flowers in the vegetable patch instead of planting them all together in a clump. It’s completely up to you how you design your garden layout, but it is much better to have flowers spread out throughout the entire garden, than to have them all grouped together in one place.
- Pay attention to what kind of sun exposure your vegetable plants need before planting tall flower varieties nearby, which can affect their shade. Some plants need a little bit of afternoon shade, so those will work perfectly next to some towering flower options. However, most vegetables require full sun, so you might want to invest in lots of shorter flower varieties.
- Start simple by adding annual flowers to your vegetable patch. Annuals are easy to grow and they bloom voraciously. They also die off every year so you are not locked into keeping the same plants in the same locations each year, which will cause a problem when it comes to crop rotation. Don’t forget about perennials entirely though, as perennials are the best bee attractors for home gardens.
Vegetable gardens and flower gardens are meant to be mixed. Science supports this by showing how veggie plants need flowers around to bring pollinators to the garden. The days of keeping flowers in the front and veggies in the back have passed. We can now plant our crops wherever we please, giving us more freedom when it comes to planning out our garden layouts.