I’ve looked into companion plants for a while now and one of the biggest companions I’ve found for almost all types of plants was flowers. To break down these flowering companion plants into more detail, I did more digging.
The best companion flowers for gardens are comfrey, nasturtium, sunflowers, marigolds, and wildflowers. These flowers attract pollinators via sweet-nectar and protein-rich-pollen. Some flowers also offer benefits such as fixing nitrogen, providing mulch, and providing ground covers.
So, there are many companion flowers, all with different uses. Let’s take a look at why these flowers made the top 10 for companion planting gardens, vegetables, and more.
For best results, plant comfrey next to fruit trees and asparagus. However, comfrey grows well with just about any plant.
Comfrey is one of the most popular companion flowers at the moment because not only can it be used to attract pollinators but it grows incredibly fast and tall—eventually falling over and making a great mulch for other plants.
This mulch then reduces evaporation, provides protection from the elements, and adds nutrients to the soil.
Comfrey also fixes nitrogen in the soil, meaning its roots attract beneficial bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and store it as nitrates in the soil, ready for plants to use. Because of this, comfrey is a great plant to use for growing in and improving poor soils, making it a pioneer plant in ecological succession.
So, if you need more pollination, mulch, or nitrogen in your garden, grow comfrey!
Keep in mind that while comfrey doesn’t have any foes, it can grow and spread aggressively. Because of this, many gardeners prefer to grow Russian comfrey due to its sterile seeds.
Grow comfrey in USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8.
Plant nasturtiums along with fruit trees, legumes, tomatoes, asparagus, and brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale). Avoid planting nasturtiums with squash and other vining plants since they can easily get tangled and compete.
Nasturtium is often believed to be weed, likely because it grows quickly and horizontally along the ground. However, because of this, nasturtium makes a great ground cover, reducing evaporation and protecting the soil from the elements and erosion.
Nasturtium’s edible flowers have nectar that’s sweeter than most others. This is because it’s made from highly concentrated sucrose instead of glucose or fructose. As a result, it’s a highly desirable plant for pollinators.
Another reason why it’s great at attracting pollinators is that its long flowers evolved alongside the hummingbird’s long tongue (source).
Aside from providing ground cover and pollination, nasturtium has another benefit in companion planting—it attracts pests such as aphids and cabbage worms away from other plants (source). Nasturtium is pretty tough when it comes to pests, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it being damaged.
However, if your nasturtium starts to get overrun with pests, plant dill, calendula, and cosmos nearby. For more info about these companion plants and others that repel plant pests and diseases, check out my other post: 10+ Companion Plants That Prevent Pests and Diseases.
Nasturtium’s shallow roots also mean that it’s not difficult to remove if you decide to part ways with it.
So, if you’d like a ground cover that attracts pollinators (especially hummingbirds), plant nasturtium!
Grow nasturtium in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11.
Plant sunflowers with any of the other sisters, including squash, beans, and amaranth. Avoid planting sunflowers with potatoes.
Sunflowers deserve a special mention as they are one of the lesser-known sisters of the Three Sisters companion plants (corn, beans, and squash). Because of this, you could call them the fourth sister.
Like corn, the tall stalks of sunflowers provide other plants with a living trellis to vine up. They also attract aphids away from other plants, similar to nasturtiums (source).
Of course, like the other companion flowers on this list, they also attract pollinators. However, only some sunflower varieties offer nectar and pollen. For best results, plant sunflower varieties Lemon Queen, Mammoth Grey Stripe, and Black Russian.
Sunflowers grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9.
Marigolds are also famous flowering companion plants as they have the natural ability to repel nematodes in the soil.
Nematodes are roundworms that are particularly destructive for potato plants but can harm many others including tomato, pepper, eggplant, okra, cucumber, and squash plants. So, it’s best to plant marigolds around these plants!
These nematodes often afflict home gardens and have no available chemical pesticides. Luckily, marigolds, are natural repellents against nematodes because they produce a substance called alpha-terthienyl, which is deadly for the nematodes.
For this reason, marigolds have been used as a cover crop in India for many hundreds of years in areas where nematode populations are high.
Naturally, since marigolds are flowering plants, their appearance and nectar are also great at attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Just make sure that you plant a true marigold from the genus Tagetes, not Calendula, which sometimes goes by the same common name. The LSU College of Agriculture recommends the ‘Tangerine’ variety.
Grow marigolds in USDA Hardiness Zones 2-11.
Wildflowers are another amazing addition to your garden, especially if they’re within range of your fruiting plants.
Not only do wildflowers greatly attract pollinators, but they also attract beneficial insect predators such as birds, ladybugs, and beneficial wasps.
So, what exactly are wildflowers?
Wildflowers are defined as any flower that has not been genetically manipulated (source).
- Bee Balm
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Purple Coneflower
- Meadow Cranesbill
- Black-Eyed Susan
The wildflower’s variety of colors is visually appealing to pollinators and provides a good mix of nectar and pollen they can use as energy and food.
As a general rule, keep wildflowers within 50 feet of your fruit and vegetable plants to maximize their pollination effects.
Any of the above wildflowers will work great as a companion plant for just about any fruit, vegetable, or herb plant. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to explore other wildflower varieties!
6. Flowering Sage
Sage pairs amazingly well with strawberries. Because of this, planting a combination such as sage, strawberries, and wildflowers makes a great pollinator and ground cover mix for most fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Some other companion plants that pair well with sage include thyme, rosemary, and oregano. However, avoid planting sage near rue, cucumbers, or onions as they’re not compatible.
Flowering sage is well known for attracting many pollinators, offering many flowers for pollinators to choose from. However, sage is also known to repel pests such as snails, slugs, beetles (such as black fleas), as well as cabbage moths (source).
Other companion flowering plants that also repel snails and slugs are strongly scented, aromatic plants including rosemary, lavender, hydrangeas, California poppy, and nasturtium.
Sage is native to the drier regions of the Southwest US (source). As a result, it’s a drought-tolerant plant. Of course, you can also use sage for some culinary, fragrance, and cleansing applications (such as burning sage).
Grow sage in USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8.
My parent’s lavender plants always attract pollinators in the dozens, mostly including bees. But its oily, aromatic flowers also naturally repel pests such as snails, slugs, and other pests (source).
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, so like sage, it’s another drought-resistant plant.
Because of lavender’s appealing fragrance, it’s a common ingredient in homemade soaps, lotions, and more. It’s also used as a garnish in some recipes (I sometimes like a sprig of lavender in my lemonade). This makes lavender a great dual-purpose plant.
Lavender also grows well when planted alongside sage and rosemary (which both offer similar benefits). Ideally, grow lavender in USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-10.
Plant roses along with lavender, marigolds, and nasturtium.
You’ll probably be glad to hear that the standard rose bushes are companion flowers and attract many pollinators. While roses commonly have no nectar, they do provide pollen for bees to harvest as protein for their young (source).
The bad news about planting roses is they are often sensitive to soil types. They prefer a more advanced, fungal soil, rather than the more common bacterial soil. This is the primary reason why dandelions grow everywhere and roses do not.
The good news is that soils can be built up over time, and grow a healthier fungal network to better support rose bushes. To accelerate this process, add plenty of quality compost and mulch and avoid tilling. Just let the soil do its job. If you see mushrooms growing out of your soil, you’re on the right track.
Many gardeners also get fruiting roses since they have surprisingly great-tasting fruit, or hips, and are used in teas and jams. Fruiting roses are also moderately drought-tolerant, partly due to their “hairs”.
Many rose hips, like those of Rosa x micrugosa have resinous, glandular hairs called trichomes which help prevent water loss.Sarah Owens, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Grow roses in USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8.
Hibiscus are flowering plants that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, making them easy to grow as companion flowers. Most varieties of hibiscus grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-12.
Hibiscus provides both nectar and pollen (source), successfully attracting pollinators of many types.
There are multiple varieties of hibiscus, ranging from small plants to woody shrubs and small trees. However, the most popular is Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called roselle. This plant is best known for a red and tart herbal tea made from its flowers. Another common name for hibiscus tea is carcade (source).
So, along with providing a companion flower for your garden and vegetables, if you’re looking to have a great tasting, herbal tea (non-caffeinated) on your homestead, roselle is a great plant to grow.
If cared for well, a hibiscus plant can grow up to 8 feet (source), serving as a good mid to understory plant for companion plant gardens.
Hibiscus grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-12.
Grow dandelions with tomatoes and apples.
You may be thinking, “How did a weed make this list of flowers?”. But what is a weed other than a plant we think we don’t want?
The reason why we see dandelions growing everywhere is that it’s one of the first plants in ecological succession. In other words, it grows because it’s taking advantage of damaged soils, and is trying to improve them. As a result, dandelion roots are great at fixing nitrogen in the soil, similar to comfrey.
Also like comfrey, dandelions naturally protect soil from erosion and extreme temperatures, and generally—are a highly effective mulch.
Dandelions also have edible leaves and flowers and are commonly made into homemade products. Grow dandelion in USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-10.
Benefits of Companion Flowers
Flowers attract pollinators, which then assist with the fertilization of flowers into fruits. These pollinators receive nectar (sugar), pollen (protein), or both from the majority of flowers. Pollinators are responsible for one in every three bites of food that we eat and promote biodiversity in the garden.
Growing up in Orlando, Florida, I remember driving through nearby orchards full of blooming orange trees. The blossoms’ scent was so strong that it would almost follow you home. And this sweet smell isn’t just appealing to humans.
Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to flowers, usually by the flower’s color and scent. These pollinators harvest nectar from flowers as their main source of food and energy. Bees also harvest pollen as a protein-rich food source for their young.
In return, the pollen from the male flowers sticks to the pollinator’s body. When these pollinators then visit female flowers, the pollen rubs off, fertilizing the female flower which, for many plants, starts the transition from flower to fruit.
By planting pollinator-friendly flowers, we feed pollinators as well as ourselves.
Once fully developed, fruits are a convenient package of energy. They’re full of sugar and are usually designed to be eaten easily. The animal gets a tasty snack and the plant’s seeds are scattered (usually with plenty of fertilizer in the form of manure).
This not only helps plants ensure successful reproduction but provides new territories for them to grow. For example, when birds eat seeds and fly to migrate, they cover a large distance many hundreds of miles away. These new territories then provide even more genetic security for the plants. Overall, it’s a win-win for both the animal and the plant.
And pollination isn’t just helpful for some fruit plants, even self-pollinating plants benefit from pollination.
All varieties of apple trees require some cross-pollination for fruit sets. Even though some varieties are listed as self-fruitful, they will set fruit more heavily and more regularly if they are cross-pollinated.Washington State University
In my research, I’ve found the above to not only be true for apple and citrus trees, but for just about all other fruiting plants. So, the pollinators will likely boost your self-pollinating plant’s fruit production too!
While companion flowers attract pollinators, they also attract a variety of other life. These other organisms can include common pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and snails.
While this can seem like a bad thing, these pests also attract predators such as lizards and birds, which keep their population in check and promote biodiversity in the food chain.
As a result, this biodiversity often creates a positive cascading effect for the rest of the garden and surrounding areas.
Without flowers, gardens would be much less lively and devoid of abundance. With even the slightest change in the food chain (whether positive or negative), there’s a myriad of chain reactions, of which we’ve only started to scratch the surface.
Aside from pollination, many flowers provide secondary benefits such as adding nitrogen, amending soil, and providing ground cover.
So, not only are flowers the key component in how plants fruit and reproduce, but they help stabilize the life in our gardens.
Need More Help?
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- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
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