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Mr. Smarty Plants - Water loving companions for a vegetable bed in Greenlawn New York

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Wednesday - May 25, 2011

From: greenlawn, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Turf
Title: Water loving companions for a vegetable bed in Greenlawn New York
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

I have a plot in a community garden that has poor drainage in one corner. I've installed raised beds, and that has helped immensely, but I'd like to plant some native plants in the wet corner that can help absorb the excess water. I just don't want something that will invade my vegetable beds. Is there anything that stays fairly compact or easy to manage, and can put up with full sun and soggy soil (mainly in the spring and fall)? Thanks!

ANSWER:

Adding flowering plants to a vegetable garden is a great idea for a couple of reasons. For one, this keeps pollinators close by. They also can attract beneficial insects, keeping the pests away. Also many flowers are edible providing a nice addition to your bounty.

To seek out varieties of native plants to use in the wetter areas of your sunny vegetable beds; click on the recommended species tab, that is in the pull down menu under the Explore Plants tab on the front page of our web site. Here you will see a map of the United States. Click on New York and it will bring up plants that are native to New York that are commercially available. From this collection you can narrow your search on the right hand side of the page by clicking moist, for soil moisture and sunny, for the light requirement. Play around with the searches further if you like.

Once you have a list narrowed down, click on each plant to read all about it. You will want to look at whether the plant is aggressive; as you want to keep it contained to a certain area. You will find that many sun loving plants with good access to water, love to reproduce.  And why wouldn't they? Having ample water and sunshine is an ideal environment. So don't be alarmed in how many descriptions say they are spreaders. If you have a vegetable garden, you are used to a little weeding. 

Here is a list of plants that enjoy water and sunlight and keep, for the most part, to themselves:

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower) is a wonderful plant for your exact conditions. This perennial has bright red tubular flowers making it an ideal plant for hummingbirds. It thrives in moist soil and can take full sun. In your area it only needs a light mulching in winter. It has an interesting medicinal history, that being said Lobelia is poisonous if ingested in large doses so be careful if you do experiment with it for medicinal purposes.

Lobelia siphilitica (Great blue lobelia) is another Lobelia that would work and would be a nice companion to the Cardinal flower. This perennial also attracts hummingbirds with its lavender blue flowers as well as other species of birds. 

Monarda didyma (Scarlet beebalm) is a wonderful plant to consider. Beebalms spread by underground rhizomes, so here you will have to occasionally thin out the patch. They are worth considering for their showy, red, upright flowers, their minty smell and that the leaves are edible and used in tea. They have a common name of Oswego tea, which refers to the use of the leaves for a tea by the Oswegos of New York. Another common name is Red Bergamot which you might recognize as a primary tea for Earl Grey tea. Hummingbirds and butterflies love this plant, so a good plant to have in keeping your pollinators happy. Another beebalm to consider is Monarda fistulosa (Wild bergamot). This one has pink or white flowers which are quite fluffy. Wild bergamot is used for mint tea. Its strong minty smell and showy flower attract many bird species including hummingbirds as well as butterflies.

Hibiscus moscheutos (Crimsoneyed rosemallow) would also work in your situation. In fact it thrives in very wet, to standing water. A large perennial, this plant can reach heights of eight feet. You may or may not be looking for a plant this large. 

Viola sororia (Missouri violet) is a darling plant, ideal for any vegetable garden. There are many Viola to choose from, so when shopping for this plant try and use the species name and not the common name. Violet leaves are high in vitamin A and C and are used in culinary applications often. You can use the leaves in salads raw or you can cook them as you would any other cooked green. The flowers are often used for candies and jellies. They attract birds and are deer resistant. Although if you are planting a vegetable garden, we are guessing your primary concern with deer would not be the survival of your Viola.

As mentioned, you will see more options for native plants in your search that have issues with spreading easily, see if you find plants that you love and are worth weeding out once a year. You also might want to spend some time researching which plants serve as good host plants to beneficial insects and think about planting some of these, intermixed with your vegetables, to protect them. Lastly we mentioned that many of these plants are enticing to birds. Don't be scared away by this. Some birds can be disruptive to vegetable gardens but others can be beneficial as they eat harmful grubs and bugs. Before you net your garden, check out who is visiting and pay attention to what it is that they are after. 

 


Viola sororia


Lobelia cardinalis


Hibiscus moscheutos

 

 

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