The best companion flowers for your vegetable garden
Vegetables love flowers! Flower Companion Planting fights vegetable garden pests and increases your yields the natural way for a healthier garden. We’ll walk you through helpful information on how to companion plant with flowers—plus, identify the best companion flowers for your vegetable garden.
Sure, flowers are always pretty. However, we’re looking for flowers that are also practical and attract insects. There are two types of insects that we want flowers to attract.
1. Insects that aid pollination: Bees are the primary pollinators (both honeybees and bumblebees) and need as many good sources of nectar as possible given the current sharp decline in numbers. However, many other insects can help pollinate crops including wasps, moths, butterflies and certain species of beetle.
- The bright yellow blooms of the many kinds of marigold are good at attracting hoverflies, bees and butterflies and the strong scent of the French Marigold types is said to deter nematodes. They will grow in almost any kind of soil, are easy to save seed from and often confuse pests if inter-planted with vegetables.
- Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) is excellent for growing along the edges of raised beds. Not only is it great at attracting hoverflies and bees but it also produces lush green stems that can easily be dug into the soil when flowering is over.
- Most flowers from the daisy family, especially chamomile, will attract a range of beneficial insects. The flowers may not appear to be stunning but hoverflies and predatory wasps love them. An added benefit of growing chamomile is that you can make delicious fresh herbal tea from the flowers.
- Let some onions or garlic bolt (shoot up flower heads). Rather than pulling them straight up I like to leave these ones in the ground and let the flowers fully develop. Hoverflies love them and they look quite unusual and attractive too.
- Also, allow some parsley, carrots, and members of the umbelliferae plant family to flower, which attracts many beneficial insects such as hoverflies.
- Bees love comfrey and it also provides the perfect source of nutrient-rich mulch for your crops. However, it is highly invasive so keep an eye on it.
2. Insects that eat pests: Hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs and others are all the very best protection a garden can have against the invasive pests that feed on crops such as aphids, mites, thrips, mealybugs and scale insects.
- Some flowers, for instance calendula, will repel pests like whitefly while at the same time attracting beneficial insects. Calendula is easy to grow and keeps flowering through the summer if you regularly pick off the seed heads. You can easily save the large curled seeds as they are easy to handle as well as drying and storing well.
- Nasturtium are highly effective at attracting blackfly away from your main crops. This “trap crop” loses its beauty once covered in blackfly but it is easy to remove the affected stems and dispose of them away from the vegetable plot.
In general, selecting the best flowers for your vegetable garden is about picking flowers that are rich in high-protein pollen and that provide sources of nectar throughout the year (known as insectary plants). Many highly-bred ornamental flowers fall short on these criteria so it’s important to choose flowers that are known to attract beneficial insects.
If a bed will be empty for a time between crops, sow a flowering cover crop such as buckwheat or phacelia. The flowers will attract pest-gobbling bugs while the foliage smothers weeds. Many cover crops will also help improve soil structure and fertility.
Along with the above flowers, many green manures (cover crops) double up as excellent insectary plants. The following are particularly worth mentioning:
- Phacelia over-winters well so it provides the perfect nectar source for bees as they emerge from hibernation and its lavender-colored flowers are quite distinctive. It can be left right through spring until the early summer crops need the space.
- Buckwheat is equally good at attracting beneficial insects and takes up less space than phacelia but consequently needs to be sown more thickly if using it as a green manure.
- Clover is beloved by bees and honey bees use it to produce a delicious clover honey. Red or crimson clover is a fantastic source of nitrogen for the soil too, widely used in organic farming.
Low-growing, non-invasive flowers with wide leaves or dense foliage—for instance, marigolds or poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)—sown between rows of vegetables can also help to keep weeds to a minimum.
Planting flowers in the vegetable garden
You can plant any annual flowers (those which only grow for the season) alongside veggies in the spring. Some hardy annuals can often be sown in the fall. Rake soil to a fine tilth them scatter the seeds and rake them in. In subsequent years, many annual and biennial flowers, such as poppies, foxgloves, cornflowers and calendula, will self-seed so you won’t need to sow them again.
Perennial flowers die down in winter but resprout each year. They’re a great choice for growing in borders near the vegetable garden to draw in pest predators and pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths. You could also plant in a dedicated bed or even as a mini wildflower meadow.
Excellent perennial flowers to grow include helenium, astrantia, monarda, penstemons and hollyhocks. Many perennial herbs such as oregano also have flowers that are beneficial insects love.
Plan Your Flowers
Remember to make space for flowers when planning where you’re going to grow vegetables.
Our online Garden Planner includes a selection of suitable flowers.
- Once you’re in the Garden Planner, click on the ‘Information’ button of a flower in the selection bar to discover why that plant is useful, suggested companions, and full growing instructions.
- Click on the flower to select it then drop it into your plan, using the corner handles to expand or contract the block as necessary. The handy Plant List shows you when all the plants in your plan can be sown, harvested…or simply admired!
Try the Garden Planner for free for 7 days—ample time to plan a garden!
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