Phacelia tanacetifolia: An Extraordinary Insectary Plant

Phacelia Lacy Fiddleneck and bumblebee

Phacelia tanacetifolia or Lacy Fiddleneck is my favorite insectary plant; attracting honey bees, native bumblebees, solitary bees, parasitic wasps, syrphid flies, and many other beneficial insects. It provides both quality pollen and copious amounts of nectar to these insects and in return you get the benefit of increased pollination and pest management. Because Phacelia is quick growing and supports flowers that last a long time, it is a great insectary plant.

Insectary plants are grown with the express purpose of providing increased pollen and nectar resources required by the natural enemies of harmful garden pests. Providing these resources builds up the population of these beneficial insects in your garden. And in addition to attracting predatory insects, insectary plants also draw in friendly insects that assist in pollination.

Honey bees are well-known pollinators of U.S. agricultural crops and loved by home gardeners. Bumblebees and solitary bees are also great pollinators and work at much lower temperatures making them ideal for our Willamette Valley springs. Parasitic wasps and syrphid flies feed on caterpillars and aphids reducing your need for pesticides. All of these are attracted by Phacelia.

Phacelia tanacetifolia is an herbaceous flowering annual native to the arid southwest.  It grows up to four feet tall and the foliage looks rather ferny. The seeds should be lightly raked in and will germinate when soil temperature is between 35 and 70 degrees. And while it germinates well at low temperatures, it can tolerate dry soil and warm temperatures. Phacelia has lavender flowers that emerge approximately six weeks after germination. It flowers from April to September so succession planting is recommended to keep activity high in your insectary all season long.

I like to plant my Phacelia in combination with buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and borage (Borago officinalis). This gives more dimension to the insectary and because bees need both nectar and a variety of pollen in their diet for good health, these three plants offer a more balanced diet.

Phacelia tanacetifolia is one of the top honey-producing flowers for honeybees and is very attractive to native bees and syrphid flies. I spend most of my spring counting the many beneficial insects visiting this feathery beauty at the expense of getting my weeding done. I have heard it said that this plant is such a great pollinator lure that you should time your planting so it does not flower while you need your crops pollinated. In any case, Phacelia has won the top spot as the anchor plant for my insectary.

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