Companion Planting: Why Vegetables Need Friends

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Cosmos flower close up

Flowers: they’re not just pretty to look at! They can serve a real purpose in the vegetable garden by deterring pests, attracting pest predators and pollinating insects, and even controlling weeds. Read on or view our video to discover how you can harness the benefits of flower power in your own garden...

Attract Pest Predators With Flower Power

Far from taking up precious space, flowers planted in and around the vegetable garden offer many benefits. Vegetables left to grow in isolation are more vulnerable to pests, so by growing flowers such as calendula or cosmos nearby you’ll naturally attract beneficial insects that feed on these pests – everything from tiny parasitizing wasps to aphid-hungry hoverflies.

Confuse and Repel Pests Using Companion Planting

By growing flowers among your edibles, you will create a mosaic of colors, textures and smells. This is confusing to many insect pests because they will find it hard to pick out the vegetable they want to feed on. Notorious pests such as carrot fly can literally be thrown off the scent!

Another hard-working flower is nasturtium, which attracts pests such as aphids away from crops, so your precious vegetables remain untouched.

Some flowers, such as marigolds, go a step further, actively repelling unwanted pests such as whitefly while attracting the insects you do want, making them a great choice for growing alongside plants such as tomatoes that are prone to attacks.

Phacelia, a green manure or cover crop

Smother Weeds with Flowering Green Manures

Another way to attract beneficial insects and confuse pests is to sow a flowering cover crop or green manure such as phacelia or buckwheat between crops, when beds would otherwise be empty. These flowers not only attract pest-eating insects, they smother the ground to suppress weeds. Many will also improve the quality of the soil by breaking it up with their long, fibrous roots or, in the case of legumes such as clover, fertilizing it by fixing nitrogen at their roots.

Sowing flowers in between rows of vegetables can help suppress weeds too. Choose low-growing, non-invasive flowers with broad leaves or a dense growth habit such as marigolds or poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) for this purpose.

Helenium flowers

Perennial Flowers for Vegetable Gardens

You can never have enough flowers! Perennial flowers that grow year after year look great in borders beside the vegetable garden where they’ll reliably attract both pest predators and pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and moths.

Excellent perennial flowers to grow include plants in the daisy family such as helenium, and those in the carrot family, such as astrantia. Other eye-catchers include magnificent monarda, perky penstemons and the towering spires of hollyhocks! Don’t forget that many herbs, including oregano and fennel, produce flowers that pull in beneficials like ladybugs, whose larvae will feast on fleshy pests such as aphids.

Nasturtium backlit by the sun

Companion Planting with Annual and Biennial Flowers

Many annuals and biennials – those flowers completing their lifecycle within one or two years respectively – grow quickly to give immediate impact. These may be sown alongside vegetables, in their own bed, or you can even create a stunning miniature wildflower meadow.

Once introduced, many of these flowers will propagate themselves by self-seeding from one year to the next. Must-grow self-seeders include poppies, foxgloves, cornflowers and the gardener’s best friend, calendula.

Many hardy annuals can be sown in the autumn. Simply scatter the seeds onto well-prepared soil, then rake the seeds in. You can even scatter seeds randomly in suitable corners of the plot, for example along paths or in otherwise unproductive nooks and crannies.

Garden Planner companion planting plan

Plan Your Flowers

It’s worth planning flowers into your vegetable garden from the outset. Our Garden Planner includes a selection of suitable flowers. Click on the ‘i’ button next to a particular flower in the selection bar to display an information box explaining why that plant is useful and suggested companions it could be grown with, as well as full instructions on its cultivation.

Once you’ve chosen a flower, simply click on it to select it then drop it into position, using the corner handles to expand or contract the block as necessary. The accompanying Plant List conveniently shows you when all the plants in your plan can be sown, planted…or simply admired!

Flowers brighten up our world while making our job as gardeners considerably easier. Which flowers do you recommend for growing with vegetables? We want to know what draws in the beneficial insects in your garden, and your go-to choices for sowing every year. Share your secrets by dropping us a comment below.

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

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Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner (for PC & Mac) or if you'd prefer an app for your mobile or tablet device, our iPad & iPhone app Garden Plan Pro is available on the App Store here.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

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Comments

 
"Thanks. Very helpful."
Teresa Monteiro on Friday 28 October 2016
"This was so helpful, Thank you. I have just subscribed and look forward to catching up on all the information I have missed. "
Wendy on Saturday 28 January 2017
"That's great Wendy, thanks for letting us know. I'm sure you will find lot on here to keep you busy!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 January 2017
"Thanks very informatiuve, I am just developing a vegetable gardening area"
Keith Parker on Saturday 30 September 2017

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