Flowers I Like to Companion Plant With Vegetables – Treehugger

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A successful vegetable garden should not only contain vegetables. It should be a diverse planting scheme, or polyculture, that also includes herbs and a range of flowers. In an organic garden, diversity is key. Biodiverse ecosystems with plenty of beneficial interactions are far more resilient and stable than their mono-crop counterparts. And planting specific plants next to each other, known as companion planting, can be very beneficial.

For example, flowers in a vegetable garden can draw in pollinators, help with pests, and provide a range of environmental benefits. But which flowers should you choose for your companion planting scheme?

Perennial flowering plants are integral parts of an organic garden. They are planted in forest garden schemes, ornamental beds, and wildlife borders. But in a polyculture garden in which a crop rotation plan is implemented, annuals (or flowering plants treated as annuals in your climate zone) can be the best choices for companion planting.

Here are some flowers that I find work very well when integrated amongst vegetables in a plot. (Remember to check which plants are recommended (or not) for your area, and check for toxicity if you have children or pets.)

French Marigold (Tagetes patula)

French marigolds are perhaps one of the best-known flowers to use as companion plants in a vegetable garden. Marigold blooms attract bees and other pollinators and produce compounds in their root systems that may aid in killing non-beneficial nematodes in the soil.

When particular French marigolds (Goldie, Nemagold, Petite Gold, Petite Harmony, and Tangerine are said to be more effective than other cultivars) are infested with particular nematodes they kill them off in that particular spot and reduce their numbers when grown there over a period of several months. They may also repel nematodes in the surrounding area – but science has not thus far confirmed whether this is the case. In any case, they still attract pollinators and other beneficial insects and look great scattered through a garden.

Calendula (Pot Marigold) (Calendula officinalis)

Not to be confused with the above, pot marigolds, or calendula, are also great for attracting a range of pollinators and predatory insects. The thick fibrous roots of this plant can also aid in protecting the soil, which makes this a useful ground cover crop. And the bright blooms not only look good and prove useful in the garden, they also have a range of uses around the home.

Borage (Borago officinalis)

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Borage is one of my favorite bee-friendly flowers – and a great edible flower too. The blue flowers fill with nectar at an astonishing rate, replenishing their stores much faster than many other flowering plants. In my garden, borage self-seeds readily, returning each year. It serves, also, as a trap crop for aphids, and so attracts those insects which eat them too. It breaks up and aerates the soil with its roots, and is a dynamic accumulator of nutrients that can not only be used as a living companion plant but which can also be chopped and dropped, turned into a liquid feed, or added to a composting system.

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

There are plenty of hardy annuals which can be great for inclusion in a polyculture vegetable garden. Cornflower is one pretty and useful example. Like borage, is has been shown to be a great nectary plant – another of the best bee-friendly plants for many vegetable gardens. The seeds of this flowering plant are also well-loved by the European goldfinch. It has also been shown to produce chemicals which attract Microplitis mediator (a major parasitoid of the cabbage moth) and so can be used in pest control in Brassicas.

Sunflowers (Helianthemum annuum)

Sunflowers are another great choice for your vegetable garden. They not only provide edible seeds and petals, but also serve as support or shade for other plants. Their large and cheerful blooms really brighten up edible landscaping, and give height and structure to planting areas. While very useful in certain spots, however, it is important to note that they can inhibit the growth of certain other plants grown close by. Keep them away from potatoes, for example.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)

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Nasturtiums can be sprawling plants, and may have a tendency to take over somewhat in some areas. However, in cooler temperate climates they can be much better behaved. I find that they make a great trap crop for certain pests, and as an attractant of beneficial species. And their many edible yields – flowers, peppery leaves, buds, and seeds – means that they can be a great value plant for a vegetable garden.

Amaranth (Amaranthus)

In my polytunnel, I experimented with growing some amaranth and quinoa for seed, and have allowed some to self-seed naturally and pop up between other plants. Amaranth has done well, providing leaves and seeds as additional yields and attracting insects while in flower. These attractive plants also look good amongst the summer crops.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed pops up as a weed where I live. But this is one weed I want. It is a great living mulch between other crops. We feed some to our chickens, and also enjoy eating some of the crisp stems and leaves in a mixed salad ourselves. The star-like flowers are very small – but look lovely when they appear in profusion – especially striking against the darker green leaves of kale or other Brassicas.

Phacelia

Phacelia also works well as a living mulch between other crops, when you can allow it to flower, as well as being used as a green manure for chopping and dropping. It not only helps to protect the soil but also attracts bees, hoverflies etc. In certain areas, this plant will self-seed readily.

Red Clover

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While I keep perennial white clover to the forest garden and other perennial parts of the garden, annual summer clovers like red clover can work very well as intercropping or companion planting in an annual area. This is a nitrogen fixer. And also works well to attract beneficial insects when in flower.

These are but a few ideas for you to investigate further, there are plenty of other options – and companion planting is definitely not an exact science. But why not experiment to see which flowers work well among the crops in your vegetable garden?

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