Brian Brown’s instant flower fly garden
It probably doesn’t occur to many people to collect plants specifically to attract flies to their garden, but during my work on flower flies, I started getting more and more interested in photography again. I could go to the Arboretum, or somewhere else with many flowers in order to photograph interesting flies, but I wanted something closer to home. Also, I started thinking about what would be an optimal garden or collection of plants to attract flower flies. I needed to do some research.
Flower flies are generally considered a gardener’s friend. The larvae, or maggots, of the most common backyard species feed on aphids, scales, and other softbodied insects. By attacking the gardener’s worst enemies flower flies become a potent ally.
In order to make these allies more welcome in our backyards, it is necessary only to plant a few, low-cost flowers. These provide the nectar and pollen that flower flies need to fuel their flight and mature their eggs, respectively. Not just any flower will do, however. Flower flies appreciate flat flowers whose pollen is easily reached. They also have different requirements than honeybees, so planting a garden for flower flies will not attract swarms of stinging invaders. It will attract native bees, though, which provide a welcome addition to the flower fly parade.
I wanted to see which flowers would be best for attracting flower flies to my backyard, so I went to my local (Los Angeles area) nursery and just watched the activity in their displays. It quickly became apparent that flower flies were concentrating on just a few of the offered scores of plants available. Therefore I bought one plant or flat each of the flies favorites: Japanese Photinius, pink and purple cosmos, white “mini-margarite” daisies (Chrysanthemum paludosum), and yellow Argyranthemum. The total cost for my mini garden was $18. I brought them home, set them in the sun, and waited.
Within half an hour I had flower flies coming to them. Instant success! Since then, I have had a continual parade of flower flies, native bees, and other interesting insects to enjoy and photograph. I also added a couple more plants: sweet alyssum, which is another flower fly attractive plant I observed in the nursery, and bog sage, something I’d seen attracting many flies at the Arboretum. I put the whole garden in four plastic pots for more maneuverability.
This low-cost, minimal garden will bring a constant supply of colorful, beneficial insects to your yard, which will increase the number of predators attacking aphids and other pests, and boost your backyard biodiversity. It takes up so little space that it could even be put on a balcony or postage stamp lawn and still be successful. Of course, if you have more space, you can put out more than one of each plant, and you will probably attract even more interesting creatures.
Next posting: what has been attracted to my instant garden, and which plants are best.