Beneficial Plants

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

Here are a few of the best plants for different purposes that I think suit Golden Bay and at the same time provide multiple benefits.


By definition any plant that provides food for humans, animals and insect life, feeds the soil, provides us with medicine, dyes, fibre, timber, fuel, shelter, protects from erosion, improves drainage and habitat for wildlife could be considered a beneficial plant.


Habitat enhancement


New Zealand native plants are best suited to our soils and environment and will provide the best habitat for native animal and insect species.

Obviously the best plants for our particular habitat are indigenous New Zealand natives. They are best suited to our soils and environment and will provide the best habitat for native animal and insect species. My favourites are the Pitossporum species, which establish fast providing quick shelter and bird habitat. Phormium species (NZ Flax) are also fantastic especially in wet areas and have many uses around the home. Especially favoured for weaving into baskets etc by the Maori the leaves are also great garden ties for climbing plants and for building temporary structures.


Shelter

Because of our high rainfall and often wet soils (like now!) the Alnus species especially A. glutinosa (common or black alder) are excellent as fast growing shelter. Alder is good for firewood and if a decent stump is left they coppice (resprout) easily providing ongoing shelter and firewood. They have historically been used in waterside structures where the wood becomes harder the longer in water. Being a nitrogen fixing plant they make a great addition to shredded mulch to feed the orchard with. There leaves are edible as stock fodder for horses, goats, cows and sheep.


Tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis) or Tree lucerne is perhaps my favourite for providing fast growing hardwood for firewood, as a sprawling shelter tree (great for sub-tropical plantings to create canopy for wind and frost protection) and also a nitrogen fixer when shredded makes fantastic mulch. They do however need free-draining soil. Tagasastes early spring flowering also offers early nectar for birds and insects.


Dynamic Accumulators


Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) is definitely my favourite beneficial plant. It is one of the most nutritious herbaceous perennials accumulating six different minerals higher than average levels by mining them from deep into the soil (including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium). Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is the most common type, which doesn’t spread by seed, but does expand as a plant or by root cutting. When planted in an orchard within the drip line of a tree (but not close to trunk) comfrey will naturally dieback in winter releasing these nutrients and organic matter to the soil surface to the benefit of the tree and surrounding soil. The leaves can be cut (not pulled) at least five times in the growing season and used as mulch or simply put into a drum to rot into a valuable liquid fertilizer. This concentrate can be then diluted by 1:100 with water and used on vegetables or fruits in the garden. Leaves act as accelerators in compost making and when added with potatoes at planting significantly increase yields. The comfrey plant has many nectar filled flowers that provide extra food for beneficial insects and can be fed to poultry as nutrient rich greens.


Nettles (Urica dioica) are another fantastic accumulator of seven different nutrients and can be used like comfrey as mulch, tea and in compost. Nettles also provide habitat for both the red and yellow admiral butterflies. Using nettle for tea or in cooking adds much needed minerals to our diet. Care should be taken to manage their spreading habit though.


Lucerne or alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a well know legume used by farmers for hay or grazing providing good amounts of protein and highly digestible fiber to stock. Its deep rooting ability allows it to absorb loads of nutrients and water from the soil making it highly productive. Can be harvested several times a season for fodder and makes excellent mulch for the vegetable garden. Can be sown with other perennial pasture plants in the orchard for use as mulch or to feed animals like chickens and rabbits. Their prolific purple flowers provide nectar to bees and other beneficial insects.


Parasitic wasps love cow parsley and aid the gardener by parasitizing and eating leaf roller caterpillars

Attracting beneficial insects


Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) along with other members of the Apiaceae family such as fennel, parsnip, carrot, parsley and coriander have ‘umbell’ shaped clusters (previously called the Umbelliferae family) of tiny flowers that attract many beneficial insects with their easily available nectar sources in Spring. In particular parasitic wasps love cow parsley and aid the gardener by parasitizing and eating leaf roller caterpillars and codling moth larvae, the worst of the apple pests. Cow parsley is herbaceous perennial like comfrey and is also a great addition to the orchard understory. Care should be taken to manage the seediness of this plant however.


Tansy leaf (Phacelia tanacetifolia) is another brilliant insect attractant. Sown in Autumn (in or by the vegetable garden) phacelia then shows its beautiful purple flowers in Spring-Summer, just when the garden needs to bring in the many beneficial insects that act as pollinators and especially Syrphid or hoverflies whose larvae devour aphids, mites, scale insects and young caterpillars.


These are just a few of the many beneficial plants that we can add to our home garden for diversity and multiple uses.


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