Harnessing Nature’s Army: Banker Plants and Beneficial Insects in the Greenhouse

If you’re an avid gardener or just someone who loves to immerse themselves in the beauty of plants, you might have heard of Integrated Pest Management or IPM. IPM is a smart and sustainable way to handle pests. Instead of relying solely on chemicals, IPM uses a combination of techniques like biological control (using beneficial insects as natural predators), crop rotation, diligent and frequent scouting of plants for pests, and traps.  By understanding pest behaviors and the ecosystem, IPM aims to keep pests at manageable levels without harming the environment.  It’s all about smart strategies that protect crops and gardens effectively while being mindful of nature’s balance.

An amazing tool in the IPM tool kit is the incredible duo of banker plants and beneficial insects. But what exactly are they, and how do they work their magic in greenhouse spaces? Let’s dive in!


Banker Plants: The Silent Guardians of Greenhouses

Imagine a bustling metropolis where every citizen has a role to play in maintaining peace and harmony. In the world of greenhouses, banker plants are the unsung heroes playing a similar role. But what exactly are banker plants?

Banker plants are sacrificial plants strategically placed within a greenhouse to attract and sustain populations of beneficial insects. These plants act as a food source, habitat, or breeding ground for these tiny warriors, allowing them to thrive and multiply.


Alyssum Banker Plant in Winchester


Beneficial Insects: Nature’s Pest Control Squad

Now, let’s meet the stars of the show – beneficial insects. While the term “insect” might conjure up images of creepy crawlies, these tiny creatures are the knights in shining armor of the plant kingdom. Beneficial insects are nature’s own pest control squad, preying on harmful pests that threaten the health of greenhouse plants.

Lacewings, predatory mites, and parasitic wasps are just a few examples of beneficial insects that can be deployed in greenhouse spaces. These tiny warriors patrol the leaves, stems, and soil, seeking out and devouring pests like aphids, mites, thrips and whiteflies, keeping the greenhouse ecosystem in balance.

Here at Mahoney’s our tiny warriors are a type of insect known as Orius Insidiosus, also known as Minute Pirate Bug, who feed on smaller insects, spider mites, thrips and other common plant pests.  Interested in learning more about these greenhouse pirates?  Check out Cornell University’s informational page here!


Photo of orius, a beneficial insect


The Greenhouse Harmony: How Banker Plants and Beneficial Insects Work Together

Now that we’ve met our heroes, let’s see how they team up to keep the greenhouse clean and green without the need for harmful chemicals.

  1. Attract and Sustain: Banker plants act as a beacon, luring beneficial insects into the greenhouse with their enticing aroma and nectar-rich flowers. Once inside, these insects find a haven where they can feed, breed, and establish their population.
  2. Hunt and Protect: Beneficial insects, fueled by the resources provided by banker plants, scour the greenhouse in search of prey. When they encounter harmful pests, they unleash their natural predatory instincts, effectively keeping pest populations in check.
  3. Ecosystem Balance: By harnessing the power of nature’s own pest control mechanisms, greenhouses can achieve a delicate balance within their ecosystem. Rather than resorting to chemical pesticides that can harm beneficial insects and disrupt the natural order, they can rely on banker plants and beneficial insects to maintain a harmonious environment.


Beneficial Predatory Insect

The Benefits of Going Green with Banker Plants and Beneficial Insects

Embracing banker plants and beneficial insects offers a plethora of benefits:

  • Environmentally Friendly: By reducing reliance on chemical pesticides, it’s not only safeguarding the health of the plants but also minimizing the ecological footprint.
  • Improved Plant Health: With pests kept in check, plants can thrive without the stress of constant attacks, leading to healthier growth and higher yields.
  • Enhanced Biodiversity: By fostering a diverse ecosystem within greenhouses, it’s more than just growing plants; it’s nurturing a vibrant community of insects and microorganisms that contribute to overall ecosystem health.


Mahoney's Winchester Banker Plants

The banker plants and their insects have been hard at work at our growing greenhouses in Woburn as our Mahoney’s Grown plants mature.  But now that these plants have been sent to any one of our 7 locations, the banker plants have gone with them to keep the plants happy and healthy until you can take them home.

Next time you visit one of our greenhouses you may see a plant with a sign proclaiming ‘Banker Plant’, be sure to stop by and say hello to our tiny warriors!


Want to see some of the plants these pirate bugs are protecting?  Check out our online shop here!


The Colorful History of Hydrangeas in Massachusetts 

Blue Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla


Hydrangeas are a beloved and iconic flower that has graced the gardens and landscapes of Massachusetts for centuries. These beautiful and versatile plants have a rich history in the state, and their presence has become deeply intertwined with the cultural and natural landscape. In this blog post, we will take a journey through time to explore the fascinating history of hydrangeas in Massachusetts, from their introduction to their role in local horticulture. 


Early Introductions

Most hydrangeas (with the exceptions of some smooth and oakleaf hydrangea varieties) are native to East Asia and were not originally found in the Massachusetts landscape. They made their first appearance in North America in the early 18th century. As trade and colonial expansion brought exotic plants to the New World, hydrangeas found their way into American gardens. The first introductions are believed to have taken place through the port of Boston, where these captivating plants found fertile ground for growth. 


Notable Varieties

Hydrangeas come in a wide variety of species and cultivars, but a few have found particular favor in the gardens of Massachusetts. The most iconic among them is the Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). This hydrangea is known for its striking mophead and lacecap blooms, which can be found in shades of blue, pink, or even white, depending on the soil’s pH level. Their vibrant colors have made them a cherished addition to many gardens, especially along the Cape Cod coast. 


Cultural Significance

The hydrangea has not only left its mark on the horticultural landscape of Massachusetts but has also become a symbol of the state’s charm. This beloved flower is often associated with New England, known for its picturesque coastal towns and historic homes. You’ll frequently find hydrangeas adorning the exteriors of traditional Cape Cod-style houses, adding to the region’s allure. The robust, yet delicate appearance of hydrangeas is an embodiment of the enduring beauty of Massachusetts. 

Hydrangeas also hold symbolic meanings, often associated with grace, beauty, and abundance. They are frequently used in floral arrangements and landscaping for their lush, showy blooms. 


Cape Cod: A Hydrangea Haven

One of the most remarkable chapters in the history of hydrangeas in Massachusetts is their connection to Cape Cod. The Cape’s temperate climate, sandy soils, and coastal influences create an ideal environment for these flowers to thrive. Cape Cod has become a haven for hydrangea enthusiasts, with numerous gardens and nurseries dedicated to these beautiful blooms.  


White hydrangea hedge blooming in a garden.

Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival

The Cape Cod Hydrangea Fest is a delightful celebration of one of the region’s most beloved flowers.  The festival began in 2014 as a collaborative effort among local gardeners, nonprofit organizations, and businesses on Cape Cod.   

This year, visitors can look forward to a colorful array of garden tours across Cape Cod, showcasing stunning hydrangea displays in private gardens not usually open to the public. It’s a perfect opportunity for both enthusiasts and casual admirers to explore different hydrangea varieties and gather gardening tips from experts.  Or, you could swing by the Heritage Museum & Gardens and look at one of their many exhibits, take part in some of their festival activities or explore their gardens filled with rhododendrons, daylilies, hydrangeas and more!   

Additionally, the festival includes workshops, art exhibits, and talks by horticulturalists, ensuring there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a local resident or visiting Cape Cod for the first time, the Hydrangea Fest promises a memorable experience immersed in natural beauty and community spirit. 

Come swing by Mahoney’s in Falmouth July 5th to participate in our Bloomin’ Easy Day for some hydrangea-centric activities and for the chance to win a gift card! 

Changing Traditions

As times change, so do gardening practices. While hydrangeas have long been cultivated in traditional gardens, they are also finding their way into more modern landscapes. Gardeners in Massachusetts are experimenting with these plants in various settings, from cottage-style gardens to contemporary designs. With an ever-expanding array of hydrangea cultivars, gardeners have more choices than ever, allowing them to create unique and striking landscapes. 

Challenges and Preservation

Hydrangeas have thrived in Massachusetts for centuries, but they are not without their challenges. As the climate changes, gardeners must adapt to different growing conditions. Hydrangeas are susceptible to extreme weather events, pests, and diseases, which require vigilant care to preserve their beauty and vitality. Learn about caring for these beauties with on our Hydrangea resource page! 

The history of hydrangeas in Massachusetts is a colorful and enduring one. From their initial introduction to their prominent place in gardens and landscapes, these flowers have become a symbol of the state’s natural beauty and charm. Whether adorning historic homes along the Cape or adding a touch of elegance to modern gardens, hydrangeas continue to captivate the hearts of Massachusetts residents. Their rich history and ongoing popularity ensure that these beloved blooms will remain a vibrant part of the state’s horticultural heritage for years to come. 


Unwrapping the Magic: The Fascinating Story of Poinsettias and Tips for a Flourishing Holiday Season


Welcome to the enchanting world of Poinsettias – those vibrant bursts of red, pink, and white that herald the holiday season. As you prepare to deck the halls with these festive favorites, let’s dive into the rich history, captivating biology, and practical care tips that make the Poinsettia a cherished symbol of joy and warmth. 


A Blooming History

The Poinsettia’s journey from the sun-drenched landscapes of Mexico to the heart of holiday celebrations worldwide is nothing short of magical. Native to southern Mexico, the plant is known as “Cuetlaxochitl” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. These ancient people prized the plant for its brilliant red bracts and utilized its sap for medicinal purposes. 

Joel Poinsett, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the early 19th century, encountered this botanical gem during his diplomatic tenure. Struck by its beauty, he sent samples back to his home in South Carolina, introducing the Poinsettia to the United States and sparking its meteoric rise to seasonal stardom. 


Flourishing in Mexico’s Landscape

In its native habitat, the Poinsettia isn’t confined to a decorative pot; it naturally grows into large, lush shrubs, transforming the Mexican landscape with a riot of colors. This perennial evergreen shrub, known botanically as Euphorbia pulcherrima, thrives in the warm, subtropical climates of Mexico and Central America. 

Reaching heights of up to 10 feet, the wild Poinsettia graces hillsides and open areas, contributing to the vibrant tapestry of Mexico’s flora. Its adaptability to varying soil types and preference for well-draining conditions make it a resilient presence in the natural environment. 


Behind the Brilliance: Bracts and Flowers

While the Poinsettia’s beauty is undeniable, it may surprise you to learn that what we commonly perceive as petals are, in fact, specialized leaves known as bracts. These bracts are responsible for the plant’s stunning array of colors, ranging from classic red to elegant white, and soft pink. Nestled within these vibrant bracts are the Poinsettia’s tiny, inconspicuous flowers, located at the center of the plant. It’s a true marvel of nature, where the leaves steal the spotlight, and the flowers work their magic quietly. 


Poinsettia Care 101

Now that you’re enchanted by their history and beguiled by their unique biology, let’s ensure your Poinsettias thrive throughout the holiday season and beyond. Here are some friendly tips for keeping these botanical wonders happy: 


Light and Location

  • Poinsettias love bright, indirect light, so find a cozy spot near a window with filtered sunlight
  • Avoid placing them in drafty areas, as they prefer a stable temperature.


Watering Wisdom

  • Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings
  • Overwatering can lead to root rot, so moderation is key to a healthy Poinsettia


Feeding Fun

  • Fertilize your Poinsettia every 2-4 weeks during the growing season (spring and summer)
  • Opt for a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer to keep those bracts looking vibrant


Extended Joy

  • To encourage reblooming, reduce the amount of daylight your Poinsettia receives starting in October
  • Keep them in complete darkness for 14 hours a night, ensuring they get 10 hours of bright light during the day. This mimics the natural conditions that trigger blooming


Click below for our detailed printable care guide!

Poinsettia Printable Care Guide


As you welcome these iconic plants into your home this holiday season, remember the rich tapestry of history and biology that accompanies each Poinsettia. By caring for them with a touch of TLC, you can extend the magic well beyond December and enjoy the beauty of these festive companions throughout the year. Happy holidays and may your poinsettias flourish with the spirit of the season! 




Pruning Roses with Jeanette

When the forsythia blooms, it’s time to prune your roses! Our very own rose expert, Jeanette, loves roses and loves to show what she knows about them. Join us as Jeanette takes us step by step through her guide to pruning roses in early Spring. Note: the roses featured are Hybrid Tea roses that will benefit from a prophylactic dose of fungicide or neem oil after pruning. Other varieties are such as Knock Out Roses or David Austin are less susceptible to such issues and you can skip that step with those!