Cilantro, its Kin, & Pest Control

cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)Based on my experience, there is no plant easier to grow from seed than cilantro. If you doubt my word, purchase a packet of cilantro seeds (also known as coriander) for a dollar or two and disperse them around your garden. Cover the seeds with a little compost, sand or topsoil and douse them with a daily sprinkle from your watering can or soft-spray, hose-end nozzle. Within two weeks, your cilantro seeds should germinate.
There is a good reason to scatter cilantro seeds around the garden, other than to raise a crop for spicing up guacamole. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) belongs to the parsley family (Apiaceae) of plants. The parsley family is known for its attractiveness to bees (“apis’ is Latin for bee). You need bees, of course, for pollination of the flowers in your vegetable garden and orchard, without which you would have few summer vegetables or fruits. The plants in the parsley family are recognizable by their lacy foliage, and its members include carrot, parsley, dill and fennel.
One of the most widely seen roadside plants in our area is the common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a member of the parsley family. Drive along Malibu Canyon Road between the Ventura Freeway and the ocean this time of year and you will invariably see many tall specimens of fennel, identifiable by their soft light green foliage plumes sprouting up along the margins of the asphalt road. This foliage has a strong scent of anise and may be used in flavoring food. It is also easy to grow from seed. In fact, it is sometimes considered troublesome because of its tendency to self-sow throughout the garden. Should you have too much of this good fennel thing, you can easily bring this annual under control pulling it out by hand.
An excellent reason to bring common fennel into your garden is its appeal to giant swallowtail butterflies. There is no more welcome and glorious sight than that of a swallowtail larva — a huge caterpillar with black and yellow stripes down its back — munching its way along one of your fennel plants. You know that in the not-too-distant future this caterpillar will transform itself into a chrysalis before emerging from its cocoon as the Valley’s largest and most alluring butterfly.
Aside from its ability to attract giant swallowtails, fennel is also a magnet to hover flies. Hover flies have the appearance of miniature bees and are recognizable by their iridescent blue-green bodies and their helicopter-like hovering habit of of flight. Hover flies are especially fond of aphids. A patch of fennel plants growing next to a rose garden will mean that the hover flies will have a constant diet of aphids, those tiny, pear-shaped insects that find the emerging leaves and buds of rosebushes particularly tasty.
Many plants are useful for garden pest control, and not only those that attract beneficial insects. Any plant that attracts hummingbirds is also desirable, since hummingbirds are constantly consuming insect pests. For nearly year-round hummingbird activity in the garden, plant as many Salvia and Penstemon species as you can find. Among these two groups of plants, you can find flowers in every color, but especially in the pink-red-blue-purple spectrum. By planting a number of different species of Salvia and Penstemon, you will have a plethora of flowers in your garden throughout the year.
As most gardeners know, hibiscus flowers are high on the list of hummingbird attractors. However, given the plague of whiteflies we have experienced over the past decade, I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone plant hibiscus.
The daisy family is the largest family of plants, and any of its representatives will attract a host of beneficial insects. If you have never grown Shasta daisies, you should try doing so. Their large flowers and perennial clumping growth habit make them a rewarding addition to both sunny and partially sunny beds. Shasta daisies can be purchased from the nursery in containers or started easily enough from seed.
TIP OF THE WEEK: The kumquat is a small tree with bite-size citrus fruits. It makes an excellent container plant whose fruit clings to the tree for most of the year. The fruit itself is used for making jam rather than eating fresh. However, by peeling off some of its thin skin, you can suck out its tangy juice whenever you feel in need of such refreshment.

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