While balcony gardeners usually look at flowers as beautiful accents to their container gardens, flowers are much more than that: Flowers are the way that most plants reproduce. Most plant species have male and female parts in a single flower, but some plants have separate male and female flowers.
The male parts of the plant’s flower produce pollen. The pollen must be transferred to the female part of the flower so fertile seeds can be produced and carry the plant’s genes on to the next generation. Self-fertile plants are plants that can fertilize themselves and need no insects. Self-sterile plants need another plant specimen to flower at the same time so they can cross-pollinate.
Some plants can pollinate their flowers by using wind to carry their pollen to other flowers, but insects (and some other pollinating animals) are usually needed to pollinate flowers. Pollinators help increase fruit and vegetable yields, and often result in better crops. The most commonly used method that plants use for pollination is to lure pollinating insects into their flowers. The showy and sweet-smelling flowers lure in the insects, which transfer the pollen from flower to flower as they eat nectar. The reason why flowers are so beautiful and smell so good isn’t because gardeners selectively bred them to be that way (well, not always) – it’s because the plants are trying to attract pollinating insects.
Pollinating insects that may visit your balcony container garden include:
- Other insects, such as flies and beetles
- Birds, such as hummingbirds, honeyeaters and sunbirds
- Mammals, such as bats, monkeys, rodents, humans and more.
You, a human gardener, can also pollinate your container plants by hand. Gently rub your fingertip or the tip of an unused paintbrush on each open flower. As you touch each flower, some pollen will transfer.
The more pollinators you can attract to your balcony garden, the healthier and more lush your garden will be. Attract pollinators to by creating a pollinator garden, which includes container plants that are most appealing to them. In each gardening season, include at least one well-known flower in the garden that entices pollinators. The pollinators will come because of that plant, and they will stay to pollinate your other plants.