You’re having friends over for a BBQ, so you pick out some nice shrubs and flowers from the local nursery and plant them in containers to spruce up the patio. During the party, your guests are having to contend with too many flies for their food and want to stay inside the house. You think the one friend who stays outside with you should actually go in because his sneakers smell. After the party, you realize that the flies are still there even though there’s no food, and that the dirty sneaker smell is still lingering. Guess what? It’s your new plants!
Did you know that some plants attract flies? The otherwise wonderful Euonymus ‘Manhattan’ shrub, for example, attracts flies when it blooms during the summer. Why? According to Leslie Land in The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers, the Euonymus is pollinated by flies instead of bees. Other plants that attract flies are hollies, hawthorns, and willows. Land writes that “flies are major pollinators if the flowers are white, pale yellow, or greenish; if they are more wide open than tubular; and if their aroma is more musky than sweet.” This is something to keep in mind when trying to create comfortable outdoor spaces.
Another pest that you probably don’t want to invite to your party is ants. Ants love the sticky stuff that some flowers secrete. The Peony, for example, attracts ants—as do Penstemons and some tropical plants. In What good are bugs?: Insects in the Web of Life, Gilbert Waldbauer writes that some plants attract ants to help defend themselves against chewing insects. Good for them, but bad for you if you don’t like ants. You may also find ants around Roses, Clematis, Cosmos, and other flowers, but they’re probably there because aphids leave behind honey dew that the ants love. If you want to avoid attracting ants to your outdoor spaces, then you probably want to avoid flowers attractive to ants and to take care of any aphid problems.
In addition to attracting annoying pests, some flowers actually stink. The unique Petunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso,’ with its purple and lime green blooms, is beautiful in every way—except for its aroma. Its aroma has been described as rank sneakers and dog poop. Other flowers that smell bad—and that you may find in your local nursery—are Skunk Cabbage and Crown Imperials. Also keep in mind that some trees emit an unpleasant smell when they’re in bloom, such Ginko, Dogwood, and Pear trees. (The Asakawas write in California Gardening Rhythms that you can avoid the smell if you get male trees.)
What about bees? Yes, many flowers attract bees because flowers are pollinated by bees. But you may not want them flying around your BBQ during a party. You can plant ornamental grasses (they’re pollinated by wind) and plants with colored foliage (that have no flowers). You could also try flowers that aren’t generally pollinated by bees. Based on A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply, flowers with long tubes and double varieties with “extra petals instead of anthers” aren’t favorites of bees. Also keep in mind that bees prefer flowers that are blue, purple, and yellow. Flowers that are typically pollinated by hummingbirds or butterflies instead are Columbine, red Salvia, and Fuchsia. You could also try self pollinating flowers that do not need help to pollinate, such as Sweet Peas and Tulips.
With these tips in mind, you can create very pleasant outdoor spaces for entertaining humans.
By Shannon Mendez