Have you ever planted squash in your vegetable garden and wondered why the flowers with what appear to be baby squash on the ends suddenly wilt? The short answer is: They were never pollinated by bees.
The long answer is: Squash are monoecious plants (containing both male and female parts) and rely on bees and other pollinators to fertilize their flowers. Female flowers bear the ovaries (essentially immature squash) and need the pollen from male flowers to produce fruit. If bees aren't around to transfer pollen from the males to the females when they open in the morning, the unfertilized female flowers will close that evening and eventually fall off. No bees, no squash.
Gardens with low bee activity may find that their squash crops aren't as productive as they should be, and it's not uncommon for a vine to bear little to no squash, even if it has an abundance of flowers. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to solve with companion planting.
Companion planting is the practice of growing different plants in proximity to increase productivity and promote natural pest control. To up your pollination score, strive to attract bees to your garden by companion planting with nectar-rich flowers, especially when your squash plants start to bloom.
Beneficial Flowers for the Vegetable Garden
Beneficial flowers attract not only bees for pollination, but also other insects (such as ladybugs, lacewings, assassin bugs, big-eyed bugs, and parasitic wasps) that prey on pests in your garden. Planting a wide variety of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year helps support a healthy ecosystem, in addition to beautifying your space.
Good choices for bee-friendly flowers include bee balm, borage, pot marigolds, French marigolds, coneflowers, cosmos, cottage pinks, poppies, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, zinnias, and flowering herbs (such as lavender, basil, parsley, cilantro, and oregano).
How to Companion Plant Squash with Beneficial Flowers
- Squash starter plant (see note below)
- Starter plants of beneficial flowers
- Miracle-Gro All Purpose Garden Soil
- Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food
Note: Summer squash (such as zucchini, crookneck, and pattypan varieties) typically have upright, bushy growth habits, making them ideal for smaller spaces. Winter squash (such as acorn, butternut, and delicata varieties) have long trailing vines up to several feet that require a lot of space or a trellis to climb.
- First, prepare the bed. Add a 3-inch layer of Miracle-Gro All Purpose Garden Soil to your native soil, then work it into the top 6 inches of soil.
- Remove the squash plant from its container and carefully loosen the root ball. Dig a small hole, about as wide and deep as the root ball, and transplant the squash so that the roots are just below the surface of the soil. Backfill the hole and gently tamp down the surface to make it level.
- Transplant the flowers around the squash, either in the same bed, in neighboring beds, or in containers. Remember that squash will grow as wide as 3 to 4 feet, so allow plenty of space to keep them from smothering the flowers before the flowers have a chance to grow to full size.
- Water deeply and thoroughly until the first 3 to 4 inches of soil feels evenly moist.
- Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. Remember to keep the mulch a few inches away from the base of the plants to prevent rotting.
- About a month after planting, start feeding your plants with Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food. Mix 1 tablespoon of plant food with 1 gallon of water and apply liberally to the soil.
Caring For Your Plants
Water your plants every 5 to 7 days, or whenever the first 3 to 4 inches of soil feels dry. Squash plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, so remember to water at the root zone and avoid getting moisture on the leaves.
Deadhead your beneficial flowers regularly to keep them blooming through the flowering stage of the squash. The more they bloom, the more bees they'll attract!
Feed your vegetables and flowers regularly with Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food for more flowers and bigger vegetables (vs. unfed).