Where to plant sunflowers?

Sunflowers are popular amongst gardeners who enjoy seeing birds in their garden, as birds (and other animals) are drawn to their big seeds.

Other gardeners prefer to keep the seeds for themselves, as a healthy snack. Or one’s primary enjoyment of sunflowers may be aesthetic, as the big happy blossoms make a lovely adornment to any garden.

Some species of sunflowers, like Russian Giants and Kong, are among the biggest varieties of flowers. At fall festival competitions, it’s not unusual to see these behemoths topping twenty feet.

Midsize varieties, such as Autumn Mix, grow six to ten feet high. Some people prefer the midsize for their disproportionately large blossoms; the really big sunflower plants have smaller flowers because so long a stem could not support anything heavier.

Smaller varieties that grow to only two to three feet or less, such as Music Box and Teddy Bear, are popular as well, especially for people who grow theirs in containers.

Contents

Planting

Sunflowers are one of the heartier, easier to grow flowers for a garden.

They can be grown in a container and then transplanted, but most people find it easier to grow them directly in their garden.

It’s best to plant them in the spring after the last frost. The hardy plants can thrive in just about any soil, but a well-drained, average to rich soil is better than a sandy soil.

Plant them where their roots have room to grow deep and wide, as the taller varieties will definitely need that support. They should be planted where they will get plenty of direct sun.

When you are factoring in your planting area requirements, you’ll also want to take into account that if you’re not careful, their big flowers – which will lean toward the east into the sun as they develop – can block other plants from getting the sunlight they need.

You can plant sunflowers individually, in rows, or in groups. Plant the seeds one inch deep in the ground, and six inches apart from each other.

Within a week or two they should emerge from the ground, and then develop slowly at first. Thin them out such that the larger varieties are three to four feet apart, the intermediate varieties are two to three feet apart, and the miniature varieties are one foot apart.

If you have problems with deer or rabbits eating the immature plants, you can start them indoors, or you can cover the seedlings with chicken wire or something similar to protect them.

If wind is a problem, which is a distinct possibility with the larger varieties, you can stake them. A good trick is to plant sunflowers close to a fence, which can be used for support.

Water them well when you first plant them and keep the ground moist until they sprout.

After they sprout, the flowers are quite hearty and can tolerate a certain amount of drought although a little watering here and there will still give them their best chance to thrive.

They also don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but a little can help. Phosphorus and potassium can facilitate bigger blooms.

Pests and Diseases

Ants occasionally are drawn to the nectar of the flower, but don’t disturb the seeds. Other than that, insects are rarely a problem for sunflowers. Nor are they prone to plant diseases. And once they get a foot or two high, weeds aren’t an issue.

The main “pests” to which sunflowers are vulnerable are birds and squirrels and other animals who love to eat the seeds.

Some gardeners welcome this and grow these bright yellow blooms as a living bird feeder. If you do want to keep them from eating all the seeds, though, you can cover the heads with a piece of cheesecloth or screen.

Don’t use plastic for a covering, as this can hold in moisture and cause mold on the seeds.

Harvesting

Most varieties mature in 70 to 90 days. Harvest the seeds after most of the flower petals have died and dropped off.

Cut off the seed heads and about two inches of stem.

Hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area. Once they are dry, rub the flower heads together to loosen them, and the seeds should be easy to extract.

One way to prepare the seeds for eating is to soak them in salty water overnight, drain them, and spread them on a baking sheet to roast for three hours at 200 degrees.

Enjoying

Sunflower seeds are a popular snack all over the world. They are high in protein.

Their oil can also be used as cooking oil although the average gardener won’t have an oil press to take advantage of this.

Native Americans ground sunflower seeds and used them in breads and cakes.

They also used the petals, leaves, and seeds in folk remedies, including as a treatment for snakebite.

Sunflowers can be a lovely addition to a bouquet. They are also great to use in various craft projects in both fresh and dried versions.

If you have a pet gerbil or other rodent, or a pet bird, they too will enjoy the seeds as a snack.

How about you? Do you grow these beauties at home? Tell us and other readers about your favorite variety in the comments below!

Sunflower Plants – Growing Sunflowers in Your Garden

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are perhaps one of the easiest flowers that you can grow in the garden. They are so easy to grow that they are frequently used to introduce very young gardeners to the joys of gardening. Many gardeners fondly remember planting the black and white seeds of giant sunflowers and watching in wonder as they grew to tower into the sky.

But just because sunflowers are easy to grow does not mean that they should be dismissed from the grown-up garden. The variety of sunflowers available to the home gardener is absolutely amazing and, as an added bonus, sunflowers can help attract some local birds to your garden.

What Sunflowers Look Like

Sunflowers come in sizes that range from dwarf varieties, which can be as small as a foot and a half tall, to giant varieties, which grow to be over twelve feet tall. You can find sunflowers in colors from very pale yellows to dark, burgundy reds and all shades of yellow, red and orange in-between.

Sunflowers also come in a variety of petal counts. While the single layer of petals is still the most common, you can find quite a few sunflower varieties with double and teddy bear petal layers.

All of these sunflower options ensure that when you add these flowers to your garden, it will be anything but blah.

Information About Adding Sunflowers to Your Garden

If you decide to add sunflowers to your garden, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind.

First of all, sunflowers are called sunflowers for a reason. They need sun. Make sure that the location you choose for your sunflowers gets full sun.

Second, you do not need to worry about soil too much. Sunflowers are not picky about the conditions of the soil, but they are plants. They will do better in better soil.

Third, sunflower seed shells do contain a substance that is toxic to grass. So, you will need to either harvest the sunflower heads before the seeds begin to fall out or you will need to plant your sunflowers in a location where you do not mind any nearby grass being killed.

Fourth, keep in mind the height of the sunflower variety you have chosen. A giant, twelve foot variety will end up acting very much like a small tree and may shade the surrounding flowers.

As mentioned above, sunflowers can also help you to attract local birds to your garden. When the growing season is coming to a close, you can harvest your sunflower heads and use some of the seeds to feed the birds over the winter. You have two options when using sunflower seeds to feed the birds. The first is that you can simply leave the sunflower heads outside for the birds. This option is the easiest but be warned that the birds will make a mess when pulling the seeds out of the sunflower head. Your other option is to remove the seeds from the head and to put them in your bird feeder. This method is a little more work but will be neater in the long run. Also, putting the seeds in a birdfeeder will also help to keep your feathered friends safe as the birdfeeder will be up off the ground and out of reach of many of the animals that eat birds.

So, while you may have fond memories of tall yellow sunflowers that you planted as a child, give this old garden favorite a new try and rediscover the world of sunflowers.

Growing sunflowers is a joy for me, and over the years I have learned that I can take advantage of them being a companion plant to other flowers, vegetables, salads and herbs.

I’ve honed in on the easy to grow and favorites that do well. Along the way I’ve discovered a few plants that aren’t suitable companion plants to my sunflowers. Below are the discoveries id like to share with you.

So, What to companion plant with sunflowers. Well, there are so many varieties of flowers, vegetables, salads and herbs that are suitable sunflower companion plants. such as tomatoes, beans, basil and Marigolds. But there are a few to steer clear of. To find out more here’s the full info, and a quick reference chart to go with it.

Whether you’ve been growing sunflowers for many years, or you’re just starting out, it can be a bit ‘hit and miss’ to what you can grow with them.

Sunflowers are happy to grow almost anywhere. If you have an allotment, field, garden or just tubs, pots and troughs. Growing other companion plants with sunflowers has many benefits.

Sunflowers are happy to grow on their own and have been cultivated for thousands of years. They are known as one of the three sisters of agricultural companion crops.

This means that three crops are grown together to help each other. The sunflower grows tall and strong to support a climbing bean plant, whilst squashes benefit from growing on the ground and use the shade the sunflower provides so’s not to get scorched by the sun. In turn the squashes shade the soil they all grow in that helps to retain moisture. This is a a great example of companion planting.

Growing other companion plants with sunflowers has many benefits.

And this brings us on to how we can use sunflower companion planting to enhance our flower borders or utilize growing space around them for the kitchen garden.

I’ve found, throughout the years, companion planting with sunflowers isn’t a precise way of gardening. Nonetheless, depending on your own growing conditions it’s a thrill to find out what you can and can’t grow.

Table of Contents

What is Companion Planting.

Although companion planting has been used in agriculture for thousands of years, it has been doing just that in the wild for many melinea before we started cultivating crops.

In extreme climates such as the desserts, different species of plants are found together as the shade of one plant is ideal for another. In the high snow capped mountains, or the arctic, different plants huddle together to protect each other from harsh winds and frosts.

With the help of its companion plant or flower, nature finds a way to survive.

Now, in the modern world, it’s common place to companion plant. In our gardens it’s the same – but on a smaller scale. Still, growing different vegetables, flowers and plants in the same area with each other is beneficial for many reasons.

And is why I often get questioned about how, and if its ok to grow such a variety of plants with my sunflowers, to which I reply….

‘Yes is it ok to do so. You can grow sunflower companion flowers for a bigger better display of color in flower borders. Grow vegetables , salad and herbs to enhance flavours and to attract pollinators. Here are more reasons why companion planting with your sunflowers is worthwhile.

Are your Sunflowers drooping?

Here’s why

Advantages of Sunflower Companion Planting.

  • Sunflowers can provide plants that need shelter, shade or shielding from harsh weather.
  • If you are short on growing space, companion planting is a solution to growing more in a smaller area. Giving you more for less.
  • Ground covering plants act like mulch. When grown underneath sunflowers, they Lessen the growth of weeds
  • Also Ground hugging plants keep moisture in the soil.
  • Having diverse plants means diverse bugs. This helps with any pest problems that might occur.
  • ‘Pests’ are put off by unrelated planting and won’t settle. This means they lay less eggs or none at all because its not a secure nesting place.
  • Companion planting with sunflowers attracts pollinators and this helps when growing vegetable, salads and herbs. And pollinated flowers will produce seeds for next year’s planting.
  • There are so many bees, bugs and butterflies that need a variety of plants to help them throughout the growing season. Companion planting give them places to take shelter, live, breed and feed.
  • Companion planting is a good start to organic gardening. By growing an array of plants you are giving them their own echo system and they look after each other.
  • Less or no chemicals are used to manage pests and diseases.
  • The soil becomes healthier when growing sunflowers with other plants.
  • Companion planting increases healthier and bigger crop production.
  • basically , companion planting with sunflowers is all round better for the environment.

Disadvantage of Not Companion Planting With Sunflowers

So, let’s see what’s not to like about companion planting.

  • Most plants have an inbuilt sense to take over as much space as they can. They can push other plants out of the way and grow over them. They can shade their family members from getting the sun and stunting other plants too.
  • Long tendrilled plants, such as ivy’s and vines are so fast growing and can wrap themselves around other plants to the point that they strangle the life out of them.
  • These long tendrilled vine plants are more often than not fast growing weeds that have been given room to grow.
  • A large quantity of the same weeds give pests the right environment to breed.
  • More pesticides and chemicals are needed as pests are more abundant and the good bugs cant cope with the deluge.
  • The need to fertilise soil and put back nutrients by rotating crops has to be done before the next growing season as one variety of plant sucks all the nourishment out of the ground and gives no goodness back.

Companion planting with sunflowers is something I naturally go towards, I don’t think twice about it. Having said that, it’s fine to grow sunflowers, or indeed any plants on their own too.

‘So let us walk through gardens and land,
to see what sunflower companion plants grow hand in hand’
– Pamela Anne

Companion Plant Chart. For sunflowers

Here is a quick reference guide of the do’s and don’ts of companion planting for sunflowers. I hope it helps. This list is a basic guideline. Depending on your growing conditions the success of companion planting may vary.

sunflower companion plant chart
(property of shesaidsunflower.com. not for re-use)

Below I’ve gone into more detail of my top 20 of flowers, vegetables, salads and herbs that are my personal and easy to grow favorites. Followed by a bonus delightful honorable mention.

Head further down to see my Four Tables / Guides
for Vegetables, Salads, Herbs and Flowers!

My Top 10 Companion Vegetables and Salads to Grow With Sunflowers

We all have our own ideas about what we’d like to grow as companion plants with our sunflowers. It took me year after year to discover the variety of each vegetable, salad and herb that I personally enjoyed to bring to my table, and for their easiness to grow.

I’ve had a few mishaps with companions for my sunflowers too, but hopefully what I’ve suggested below will give you some ideas to start companion planting for yourself.

You can buy seedling plugs From your local garden markets or garden centers, but if you can not get to these places and would like to grow them from seed I’ve found all the ones I have great success with linked to its corresponding name below.

So, Here are my top 10 vegetables and salads to grow with your sunflowers. They are easy to grow and I’ve great success with them.

Let’s begin on the ground with 5 salad and vegetables which act as weed inhibitors, and keep the ground cool as well as help the soil retain moisture.

Looking to make your sunflowers taller?

1. Lettuces.

These plants relish being in the shade of sunflowers. It helps with not scorching their delicate leaves. They can spread out with floppy leaves or grow compact light and crispy. If you find a little more space between you lettuces, you might want to pop some radishes in there too.

2. Squashes, Courgettes, Zucchinis.

These fast growing plants have a bountiful supply of crop throughout the growing season.. Sometimes the flowers are hidden behind their giant leaves. Luckily The sunflowers bring in many pollinators to share with the squash plants and they soon find the flowers amongst leaves.

3. Onions

Onions are great at keeping certain pests away. Their smell also might deter rabbits and squirrels coming too close and munching on your other plants

4. Spring Onions

As with onions, spring onions can be a ‘keep out’ sign for unfriendly bugs and feasting wild life. I also found that spring onions mature fast and with staggered planting I could have a plentiful supply throughout the summer.

5. Kale

Kale is another cool loving vegetable. Its love of the shade is a welcomed respite from the sunflowers canopy. Kale grows fast and is a very easy plant to grow from seeds, put the seeds straight into the ground where you want to grow them.

The next 5 salad and vegetables on my list are ones that benefit from the support sunflowers plants can give them. But if your climate is prone to high winds or heavy downpours of rain, and you find your sunflowers drooping or floppy, then additional support may be required, you can find that here

6. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are vine plants and need a little support to lift their fruits off the ground. Depending on how big those fruits are, you might need to help your sunflower support them. Hopefully they help each other.

tomatoes – an ideal companion for sunflowers

7. Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes next to my sunflowers has been a lovely experience to me. I try out 2 or 3 different varieties every year. From sweet tasting Cherry sized ones to great big beef ones. The reds of them look striking against the yellow of my sunflowers.

8. Peppers

Peppers, like tomatoes, are an up right plant that needs sunlight, but not to the extreme of being scorched. The dappled shade and support they require from the sunflowers allow the right amount of companionship they need.

9. Peas

As peas start to grow their soft twisting and winding tendrils need gentle encouragement to find their way upwards. I check my pea plants daily for this reason, and I must admit, when no one, but my sunflowers are looking, I’m guilty off popping the pods open and feasting on the young, sweet peas sshhh…dont tell anyone!

10. Beans

Beans are great to grow along side sunflowers. Beans bring beneficial bugs and they will also share the support you give sunflowers. they give an abundant amount of crops from only a few plants.

My Top 5 Companion Herbs for Sunflowers

Herbs are fragrant, can enhance the flavors of vegetables they are companioned with and bring in different varieties of pollinators. My top 5 do all these things.

1. Lavender

Lavender is aromatic and is a a lovely when cut and added to a display of your own of cut sunflowers. Lavender attract many varieties of butterflies and bees, these help with the pollination of all its companion plants

2. Chives

Chives are part of the onion family, they deter pests and not only are they a great culinary addition to your table they look lovely too. They have long thin grass like leaves and purple flowers that look like pom poms. Butterflies love them.

3. Garlic

Another one of the onion family, and a favourite with my family and friends too. plant these into any little bit of spare ground around your sunflowers and you’ll be on top of everyone’s ‘shopping list must have’.

basil grows well in the shade of sunflowers

4. Basil

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. It thrives well under my sunflowers. It not only enhances the flavors of its tomato and pepper companion plant, basil is an ingredient for many of a tomato, pepper, and garlic sauce for pasta or roasted tomato, pepper and basil soups.

5. Rosemary

This herb is strong and beautifully scented. Over the years, as the rosemary plant matures it becomes bush like. Pruned yearly and left in situ at the base of where you want to grow your sunflowers, it can be a plant that other companion plants can get support from. Sprinkle

rosemary over lightly oiled peppers, tomatoes, onions and zucchinis, roast them all and you have a mediterranean dish, grown with love from your garden to the table.

TOP TIP !
Apart from the garlic, all of the above herbs are perennial. If you prune them back at the end of the season they will give you new growth the following year.

My Top 10 Companion Flowers for Sunflowers

If you want to devote your garden to flowers then here are the top 10 I like to grow with sunflowers. They help with pest control, act as a mulch and keep the soil moist. Each is a guide and comes in a wide variety of color and sizes too.

I’ve had great triumph with all the flowers I’ve listed below. And if you like to grow these for yourself I have been able to find all the seeds I’ve have success with, … and for ease I’ve linked each to its corresponding names in the tables further down.

At the bottom of my list I’ve added an honorable mention that I felt I couldn’t leave out. it gives so much pleasure to a certain part of my garden.

1. Marigolds

French Marigolds are an old faithful friend in my garden. They are so easy to grow. I put them in amongst my vegetables and around my sunflowers. They attract ladybugs to sort out any rogue aphids and black flies. And when I find they have self seeded it saves me a job for next season. If you’re growing sunflowers in pots they are a lovely small plant to companion with them.

2. Nasturgens

It’s fascinating to watch this fast growing, creeping, flat leafed plant find its way through others companion plants to find it gently curling round my sunflower stems. Its bright orange and yellow blooms attract butterflies and friendly bugs. As with marigolds I find them easy to grow by just popping the seeds in their growing site.

2. Perennial Lobelia

Perennial lobelias. These little flowered bushy, or trailing, plant spreads and fill in borders they keep the ground moist for sunflowers to enjoy

3. Geraniums

With so many varieties and colors, geraniums attract butterflies and bees. They repel japanese beetles and earwigs that are destructive to plants.

4. Stocks and Delphiniums

Tall and elegant and with the sweetest sent. I usually pick a bright electric blue variety of delphiniums as the contrast with the bright yellow of my sunflowers look stunning. They usually bloom in early summer, so I stagger their planting and have them flowering one after another.

sunflowers are part of the daisy family

5. Daisies

And interesting fact is, sunflowers are part of the daisy family. Like sunflowers, there are a multitude of varieties. The taller ones nod in the summer breeze and are ideal to use as cut flowers in a display with sunflowers. The smaller ones are lovely as border plants.

6. Impatience

Shade loving impatiens are ideal for growing at the base of sunflowers, keeping the soil moist The white, pink, reds, oranges, purple colors attract a multitude of pollinators.

7. Snapdragon

Grow snapdragons for regular cutting for your vase. They grow in all colors except blue hues.

They are self seeding, give great ground cover and are very easy to look after.

8. Cornflowers

Blues, pinks and purple pom pom like flowers are a one of my all time favorites. They’re in the color spectrum for bees to hone in on.

9. Sweet Peas

Sweet peas love being in the cool. So growing under the dappled light of sunflowers is ideal. They like to climb and get sunflowers support for that too.

10. Busy Lizzies

Grow Busy Lizzie’s in pots around your Sunflowers or in the grown. They grow and cover ground fast. Ideal for retaining the soils moisture and they don’t like full sun. Perfect.

My Honorable Mention

Wildflower Seed Mix.

I have a patch in my garden I give over to mother nature. I shake a wild flower mix over this area, with added sunflower seeds. l stand back and watch how nature tends itself.

It’s wonderful seeing a concoction of flowers unfold and become natural companions. Apart from a daily watering, they look after and support each other. They can attract different varieties of bees, bugs, birds and animals that serve my garden and sunflowers within it.

TOP TIP!
Companion planting flowers, with sunflowers, cleans the soil. Leaving your growing sites healthier for the following years’ growing season.

Following the nuclear disaster in 1985 Sunflowers and other plants were used to decontaminate the soil at Chernobyl. You can find more amazing facts about sunflowers here.

Companion Planting Chart for Sunflowers

I’ve put together a table of some of the vegetables, salads, flowers and herbs that can be companioned with sunflowers. There are so many varieties that you can try so, listed below I’ve put together a varied selection of some of the seeds that I’ve had great success growing.

If you’d like to try them out too, just click on the variety you’re interested in and it’ll take you to your seeds. I’ve enjoyed growing them all. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them too.

Click on the variety you want below and it will take you to your seeds on amazon or other places where you can get them

1. Vegetable Companions

Beans
Runner Bean Slenderette Florida Speckled Butter Bean
Peas
Sugar Snap Tom Thumb Early Alaska
Squash
Butternut Table King Acorn Spaghetti/Macaroni
Zucchinis
Gold Rush Black Beauty Italian Heirloom
Onions
Red Globe Yellow Granex Sweet Spanish
Kale
Dwarf Siberian Russian Red Curled Great
Peppers
Rainbow Bell Sweet Banana Sweet Heat

2. Salad Companion Table

Lettuce
Parris Island Cos Italian Misticanza Butterhead Rhapsody
Tomato
Cherry Giant Heart Money Maker
Cucumber
Sweet Success Sweet Crisp Salad More
Beets
Dark Red Cylindra Golden Gourmet
Radishes
Champion White Icicle French
Spring Onions
White Lisbon Red & White Mix Bunching

3. Herb Companion Table

Lavender Garlic Basil
Chives Rosemary Culinary Collection

4. Flower Companion Table

Marigolds
Yellow Whopper French Tiger Eye Fantasy Mix Tagetes
Nasturtium
Jewel Mix Night & Day Phoenix
Lobelia
Red White Blue
Geraniums
Apple Blossom Mixed Scarlet
Daisies
Creeping Daisy Gloriosa Mix Golden Yellow
Impatiens (Busy Lizzies)
Balsam Mix Red Flash Bling Mix
Snapdragon
Baby Mix Magic Carpet Mix Apple Blossom
Cornflower
Blue Dwarf Tall Mix Color Polka Dot Pink Fragrant
Sweet Peas
Vine Mix Color Delicate Pink Fragrant Perfume Delight Mix
Silk Delphiniums
Blue Pride Stock Crimson Pride Stock Giant Mix
Wildflowers
Birds, Bees and
Butterfly Mix
Crazy Cosmos Dry Area
Wild Flower Mix

What NOT to Plant with Sunflowers.

Potatoes!

As you can see from the ‘list’ above, there are very few plants I don’t companion with sunflowers.

The one I keep in its own area with its own companion plants are potatoes. Their fast growing tubular roots can disrupt and loosen other plants and flowers they grow near.

If conditions aren’t right, potatoes can be prone to potato blight. The stems can decay spreading to the leaves and then to the potatoes themselves. It becomes hard to stop the rot and disease from spreading to other plants.

But… there are …

Plants That Deter Bees and Other Pollinators.

I also avoid the following plants to companion with sunflowers. They won’t harm sunflowers but they will cause bees, butterflies and other pollinators to visit less. They basically have unattractive aromas or have no flowers.

  • Carnivorous plants.
  • Wormwood.
  • Eucalyptus.
  • Spearmint.
  • Citronella.
  • Evergreen Shrubs.
  • Mosses.
  • Ferns.

Don’t Be Afraid to Mix It Up, I do.

I have tried many companion plants with my sunflowers (Apart from potatoes). They increase the amount of pollinators that visit, and they keep the soil healthy and in need of little attention for the following year.

My Conclusion.

Companion planting is a gardeners delight. The different varieties and species of plants that can grow together is a joy to experiment with.

Using areas in between other plants is a space saver and when in full bloom are glorious to look at. The support of mixed hight planting and the way they look after each other is a delight.

Less weeds, more good bugs, the plants look after themselves, higher crop yield, healthier soil and fewer or no chemicals needed. There’s everything to love about companion planting with sunflowers.

If you have any experiences you’d like to share, or anything you’re not sure of, then please let me know in the comments below, including how your success or mishaps with sunflower companion planting has gone – I’d love to hear about them!

Related Questions

Can You Plant Annuals and Perennials Together? Planting perennials and annuals together is fine to do. Usually gardeners with a well established garden full of perennials, find that growing annuals gives a splash of colour every year, and attracts more pollinators.

Companion Planting

Once the realm of the hardcore, hippy, home gardener, companion planting is now an incredibly popular practice – from beginner gardeners right up to large-scale agriculture. But, despite its popularity (it is huge in Europe), companion planting is often misunderstood, misused and misrepresented as the “cure-all solution” to problems in the patch.

So what is companion planting? Essentially, it’s a method of growing plants together, with the idea that they will assist each other in some way, like deterring pests, improving growth, enhancing flavour, attracting beneficial insects, fixing nitrogen, disrupting “patterns” and trap cropping. But, just as we have good neighbours, there are bad neighbours as well. Some plants really dislike each other, and shouldn’t be planted in close quarters, lest one of them struggle or meet its untimely demise.

Mythbusters – Does it Actually Work?

Now, the “Big Question”: does it work? Well, yes and no. There is a fairly limited amount of actual scientific information on companion planting, but it is safe to say that some combinations do seem to work, while others can be a bit hit and miss. Why? Well, for starters, companion planting is a northern hemisphere concept that works a treat up there, but not as well down here in Australia.

Secondly, it doesn’t work so well because it isn’t understood. We’ve all heard that basil and tomatoes should be planted together, but why? How many of each is required? Is one basil per tomato enough? Who benefits? What are we deterring? Does it enhance flavour? For years, I planted one basil plant next to each of my tomatoes, and guess what? Nothing happened. There was no discernable difference in taste. Nothing seemed to be encouraged or deterred. Nothing grew better or worse than it had before, there was simply no advantage, other than me not having to walk so far to make a pasta sauce!

Do you know why? Because, for basil to successfully repel flies from tomatoes, an absolute shovel-load of basil is required in your patch. I’m talking several basil plants for each tomato, and even then it won’t repel fruit fly. I love basil as much as the next gardener, but I don’t love it that much, and, to be honest, I’ve never had an issue with flies on my tomatoes. But who knew this? And how many of us think that this is the quick fix for all our garden woes?

Get Your Fix – Companions that Work!

Well, companion planting CAN be the quick fix, and here’s how: biodiversity! The best thing about companion planting is that it increases the biodiversity of your patch; that is, the variety of life forms in your garden. Some of the greatest companion plants in my garden are those which have nothing to do with my vegetable patch, but are the awesome locally native trees and shrubs I have planted about the place. Clever planning (if I do say so myself) has meant that my garden is never without blossom, and is therefore never without the array of critters that come with that: birds, pollinating insects (like butterflies, bees, and native wasps), reptiles, beetles and all sorts of helpful garden buddies.

By encouraging this assortment of good guys, my garden is almost completely without the bad guys, who never get a foothold in numbers that matter to me anyway! Remember, a lettuce leaf with a hole in it doesn’t require chemical warfare, nor does it signal an attack of the dreaded munchies! So now that I’ve put you off companion planting all together, let me say that I reckon there are some combinations that really work, especially those that involve plants that have a fair odour to them. Also, there are definitely combinations that dislike each other, so I’ve made for you, dear readers, what is possibly the most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe.

Now here’s my disclaimer… there is very little scientific garble to back this up, and some of them just work, so don’t come bleating if nothing happens, or things have problems! But here is a pretty comprehensive list of some common companions and antagonists, some of which I have seen working, others… well, let me know. Enjoy! Oh, since you asked, my favourite companion in my garden is healthy soil, full of organic matter, worms and good stuff. And beer!

Sustainable Gardening Australia presents:

The most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe (maybe)

Plant Good Neighbours How it works Bad Neighbours
Apple Nasturtium, Chives Nasturtium climbs tree and is said to repel codling moth Potatoes
Apricot Basil, Tansy, Asparagus Basil and tansy are said to repel damaging insects
Asparagus Apricot, Basil, Chives, Comfrey, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Tomatoes Basil and Parsley are said to improve flavour. Onions and garlic release substances reducing growth. Garlic, Onions
Balm (Lemon) Tomatoes Attracts bees, said to enhance flavour and growth
Basil Tomatoes Basil said to repel flies and mosquitoes
Beans (climbing) Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Corn, Lettuce, Lovage, Majoram, Parsley Beetroot, Chives, Garlic, Gladiolus, Onions, Sunflower
Beetroot Beans (bush), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Peas, Potato, Spinach, Silverbeet Bad Neighbours roots release substances reducing growth Beans (Climbing), Tomato
Borage Squash, Strawberries, Tomato Said to deter tomato worm and improve tomato flavour and yield. Said to increase strawberry yield.
Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Beans, Beetroot, Carrots, Chamomile, Coriander, Cucumber, Dill, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Mint, Nasturtium, Pea, Potato, Rosemary, Sage, Tansy, Thyme, Zinnias, Land Cress Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp. Nasturtium disguises and repels aphids. Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly. Zinnias attract ladybirds, which we love! Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth. Land cress attracts Cabbage White Butterfly which lays eggs – when larvae hatch and eat it they die. Garlic, Rue, Strawberry
Capsicum, Chilli Carrots, Onions, Tomato
Carrots Beans, Chives, Coriander, Cucumber, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Pea, Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Tomato Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Dill, Celery
Celery Cabbage, Chives, Dill, Dwarf Beans, Leek, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Pea, Sage, Spinach, Tomato Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Carrots, Parsnip, Potato
Chamomile Cabbage, Onion Deters flies and mosquitoes. Strengthens neighbouring plants
Chives Apples, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peas Prevents Apple Scab. Said to deter aphids Beans
Cucumber Basil, Bens, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Dill, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Sunflower, Tansy Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Potato, Sage, Strongly Aromatic Herbs
Dill Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp
Eggplant Beans, Spinach
Garlic Apricot, Cherry, Mulberry, Parsnip, Peach, Pear, Raspberry, Rosemary, Rose Deters aphids, especially from roses and raspberry. Repels Cabbage White Butterfly Beans, Cabbage, Peas, Strawberry
Kohl Rabi Beetroot, Onion Beans, Tomato
Leek Carrot, Celery, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Parsnip, Strawberry Beans, Peas, Parsley
Lettuce Achillea, Beans, Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrot, Chervil, Coreopsis, Cucumber, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Onion, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Strawberry, Zinnia Achillea, Coreopsis & Zinnia attract pollinators and offer shade for lettuce Parsley
Marigolds (French) Numerous vegetables, including tomato Kills root knot nematodes and eel worm
Melon Radish, Sweet Corn
Mint Cabbage, Tomato Deters pests such as Cabbage White Butterfly, ants and fleas
Nasturtium Cabbages, Fruit Trees, Radishes, Zucchini Flowers repel aphids and codling moth. Cabbage White Butterfly is attracted to this plant, and will seek it out over cabbages
Onion Beetroot, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Chamomile, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Parsnip, Silverbeet, Strawberry, Summer Savory, Tomato Smell of onion said to deter numerous pests. Onions release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours Asparagus, Beans, Gladioli, Peas
Parsley Asparagus, Sweet Corn, Tomato Said to improve flavour of asparagus and tomato
Peas Beans, Beetroot, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsnip, Potato, Radish, Sage, Squash, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth. Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as “living stakes” for peas Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots
Potato Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Corn, Eggplant, Horseradish, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Nasturtium, Parsnip, Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Corn, Watermelon Sweet Alyssum and Marigolds attract beneficials and suppress weeds. Potatoes release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours. Horseradish should be planted at the corners of the patch Apple, Celery, Cherry, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Raspberry, Rosemary, Squash, Sunflower, Tomato
Pumpkin Beans, Cabbage, Eggplant, Peas, Radish, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Potato
Radish Beans, Carrot, Chervil, Cucumber, Sweet Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Spinach, Sweet Corn Radish is said to attract leaf miners from Spinach Hyssop
Raspberry Blackberries, Potato, Tomato
Rosemary Beans, Cabbage, Carrot, Sage
Sage Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Carrot, Rosemary Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly Cucumber
Silverbeet Beetroot, Cherry, Lavender, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion Basil, Wormwood
Spinach Celery, Eggplant, Strawberries
Squash Borage, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Peas, Sunflower, Sweet Corn, Tansy Potato
Strawberry Beans, Borage, Chives, Leek, Lettuce, Marigold (French), Onion, Pyrethrum, Sage, Spinach Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Brussel Sprouts, Garlic
Sunflower Apricots, Cucumbers, Squash Beans, Potato
Sweet Corn Beans, Cucumbers, Lovage, Marjoram, Melon, Parsnip, Peas, Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Zucchini Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as “living stakes” for peas. Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Cabbage
Tomato Asparagus, Basil, Celery, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Dill, Gooseberry, Grape, Hyssop, Lovage, Marigold (French), Marjoram, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Turnip Marigolds said to repel white fly and root knot nematode. Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Apricots, Beetroot, Fennel, Kohl Rabi, Potato, Rosemary, Sweet Corn
Turnip Cucumbers, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Peas, Tomato
Watermelon Potato
Yarrow Most aromatic herbs When planted along pathways, is said to enhance essential oil production and herb flavour.
Zucchini Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Sweet Corn

and…

a couple of general plants that make great companions for other reasons

  • Basil helps repel flies and mosquitoes.
  • Borage in the strawberry patch will increase the yield.
  • Catnip repels fleas, ants and rodents.
  • Caraway helps breakdown heavy soils.
  • Chamomile deters flies and mosquitoes and gives strength to any plant growing nearby.
  • Chives grown beneath apple trees will help to prevent apple scab; beneath roses will keep away aphids and blackspot.
  • Elderberry a general insecticide, the leaves encourage compost fermentation, the flowers and berries make lovely wine!
  • Fennel (not F. vulgare or F.officionale) repels flies, fleas and ants.
  • French Marigold root secretions kill nematodes in the soil. Will repel white fly amongst tomatoes.
  • Garlic helps keep aphids away from roses.
  • Hyssop attracts cabbage white moth keeping brassicas free from infestation.
  • Mint repels cabbage white moth. Dried and placed with clothes will repel clothes moth.
  • Nasturtium secrete a mustard oil, which many insects find attractive and will seek out, particularly the cabbage white moth. Alternatively, the flowers repel aphids and the cucumber beetle. The climbing variety grown up apple trees will repel codling moth.
  • Pyrethrum will repel bugs if grown around the vegetable garden.
  • Rosemary repels carrot fly.
  • Rue (Rutus, not Peganum) keeps cats and dogs off garden beds if planted round the borders.
  • Sage protects cabbages from cabbage white moth.
  • Tansy (Tanacetum, not Senecio) repels moths, flies and ants. Plant beneath peach trees to repel harmful flying insects. Tansy leaves assist compost fermentation.
  • Wormwood (Artemesia, not Ambrosia) although it can inhibit the growth of plants near it, wormwood does repel moths, flies and fleas and keeps animals off the garden.

Information sources:
Bagnall, Lyn, Easy organic gardening and moon planting, published by Scribe Publications, VIC.

Pictures
Companion Planting pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Borage pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Alyssum pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Marigold pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)

Pretty sunflowers can be fatal to neighboring plants.

Not many people know about the dark side of sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). However, the beautiful bright blooms do hide a nasty secret: sunflowers are allelopathic, that is, they give off toxins (terpenes and various phenolic compounds) from all their parts (roots, leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, etc.) that impede the growth of other plants or even kill them. This is a protective system for the plant: they kill their neighbors, but not their own seedlings, so this gives the plant, an annual that only reproduces by seeds, a head start, making sure it can come back the following year without too much competition.

That said, if sunflowers are grown year after year in the same spot, even their own seedlings will eventually start to suffer.

The efficacy of sunflower toxin is such that the sunflower extracts are being considered as potential organic herbicides. Studies show that certain sunflower cultivars are much more phytotoxic than others, which suggests it might be possible to breed sunflowers specifically for their herbicidal effect.

Reducing Sunflower Toxicity

To reduce the effect of sunflower toxicity, cut back, chop up and compost the plants, including their roots, in the fall (yes, the sunflower’s toxic parts decompose readily in compost bins) and rain and natural decomposition will eliminate most of the toxins left in the soil before spring. Or continue to grow sunflowers on that spot.

Bird Feeders

The most obvious place where sunflower toxicity is visible is under bird feeders.

Cardinal at bird feeder. Photo: torindkfit, Wikimedia Commons

Sunflower seeds are favorites with birds, but the hulls fall to the ground over the winter, weakening or killing the plants below, notably lawn grasses. Then sunflower seedlings, originating from seeds the birds dropped without eating, germinate and grow: not necessarily what you had planned.

To prevent or reduce this effect, cover the ground under your bird feeders in the fall with a tarp or cloth and remove it, along with the hulls and seeds, in the spring. Or place your feeder over a surface free of plant growth: perhaps a patio or deck. Or grow sunflower resistant plants underneath.

You could also use hulled sunflower seeds (sunflower “hearts”) as bird feed, although they are more expensive.

One would hope that hybridizers could develop a toxin-free sunflower to be grown specifically for use in bird food, but this is not, as far as I know, being done.

Plants Resistant to Sunflowers

There has been little study of plants that are resistant to sunflower allelopathy, although I did find the following list on the site of Toronto Master Gardeners:

If you know of other plants resistant to sunflower allelopathy, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflowers are fabulous for providing a superb summer centrepiece and masses of colour in the garden and for cutting for indoor displays.

There are lots of different types of sunflowers – from the popular tall summer-flowering annuals with huge flower faces, to perennials that come back year after year, but have much smaller flowers.

Annual sunflowers will bloom from midsummer into autumn – the dead flower heads containing the seeds can then be used in winter as a bird feed, as many bird species love sunflower seeds.

They come in a wide assortment of sizes. Some varieties grow as tall as 4.5m (15ft), and the flower heads can be as large as 30cm (1ft) across. The dwarf types are more bushy and only grow 30-60cm (1-2ft) tall, and there are plenty of choices in between. Some varieties produce a single large flower, others form several, smaller ones.

Although yellow is the common flower colour, often with a contrasting darker centre colour, sunflowers also come in whites and a range of ruby reds, maroons and reddish-oranges.

How to grow sunflowers

Cultivation

Sunflowers need a position in full sun in well-drained soil. They will need around 6 hours of direct sunlight, and thrive in most soil types.

Before sowing seeds directly outside or planting out, improve the soil by digging in lots of bulky organic matter, such as compost, well-rotted manure or composted bark, into the soil. They also need a steady supply of nutrients, so add a slow-release or controlled-release feed to the soil.

Most varieties can be grown in pots, providing they have plenty of root space, dwarf varieties are much happier in smaller pots.

Sowing sunflowers

Annual sunflowers are easy to grow from seed – and because they grow so quickly, they’re the perfect choice for young children – especially so they can try and grow a skyscraper of a plant!

Seeds of annual sunflowers are mainly sown from mid-April to the end of May, but they can be sown earlier if necessary for earlier flowering.

Sowing outdoors

Sunflower seeds can be sown straight into the soil where they are going to flower.

Sow the seeds 25cm (1in) deep, 10-15cm (4-6in) apart. When the first true leaves appear (the second set of leaves), thin out taller varieties to about 45cm (18in) apart, dwarf or medium-sized varieties to 30cm (1ft), leaving the strongest plants to grow on.

Sowing indoors

Sow 1 seed into a 7.5-10cm (3-4in) pot filled with seed sowing compost. Sunflower seeds germinate reliably and form large seedlings. Place the pot in a heated propagator to keep the compost and seedlings warm.

Plant outside in late May or early June when the last frosts are over.

Suggested planting locations and garden types

Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, cut flowers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens, wildlife gardens.

How to care for sunflowers

Sunflowers are fairly drought resistant, but they’ll grow and flower better if you water regularly from the time the flowers begin to develop until they’re mature. Apply a 7.5-10cm (3-4in) thick mulch or mulching material to conserve soil moisture and keep down weeds. They will also need plenty of food – feeding regularly throughout summer with a liquid feed when you water will help promote continuous flowering.

Supports

While dwarf or bushy sunflower varieties do not need any staking, it is a good idea to support plants that grow taller than 90cm (3ft) or are multi-branched/multi-headed. Their branches are fairly brittle, especially at the points where they join the stems, and the large flower heads make them vulnerable to wind and rain. Place a stout bamboo cane near the stem and loosely tie in the plant with soft garden twine or other similar material as needed.

Flowering season(s)

Summer, Autumn

Foliage season(s)

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Sunlight

Full sun

Soil type

Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy

Soil pH

Neutral

Soil moisture

Moist but well-drained

Ultimate height

Up to 5.4m (18ft)

Ultimate spread

Up to 90cm (3ft)

Time to ultimate height

6 months

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