If you want a healthy garden, whether decorative, or an edible vegetable garden, you absolutely need to incorporate flowering plants. As a critical part of any healthy ecosystem, flowers provide food and/or habitat for beneficial insects (especially bees and butterflies), and humming birds, while adding natural aesthetic delight for children and adults alike.
The more nectar that your garden has available, the more balanced of an ecosystem you will have, since only a small number of insects are actually pests. The more insects you have, the less chance your garden ecosystem has of getting out of balance and pests taking over. Flowers have other benefits to the garden as well, including use as ground covers, nutrient accumulators, and aromatic pest deterrents, among other functions. With this in mind, we’ll take a look at some of the best companion plant flowers for your vegetable garden.
1. Marigold (Tagetes erecta)
USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 11 (a good annual in colder zones).
Uses: The roots and flowers of plants are insecticidal, especially after about 3-4 months into their growth, and effective in treating parasitic nematodes and some slug infestations (though other slugs enjoy eating them). The plant, in general, is said to repel insects and is ideal for growing tomatoes and potatoes. Note: Petals of some varieties are edible.
Cultivation: Requires well-drained soil with decent fertility and full sun. Remove dead flowers to extend their flowering time. Slugs, snails, and botrytis are pests.
Bloom Time: All year until last frost once established.
Propagation: Sow seeds indoors in March with full sun, just barely covering with soil. 2 weeks to germination. Plant outdoor after the last frost, transplanting into larger pots if needed first.
2. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
USDA Growing Zones: 5-8.
Uses: Lavender is a known insect repellent, and is an effective “aromatic pest deterrent”. It is said that the odor of such plants confuse pests making it more difficult to find their preferred plant foods in the garden. The plant is also said to repel mice while being very attractive to bees, butterflies, and moths. It is also an excellent tea and can be used as a flavoring.
Cultivation: Does well in almost any well-drained non-acidic soil in full sun. Protect from cold winter winds in temperate climates (e.g. plant against a south facing wall or in the protection of a wind break). For more flowers and essential oils, grow in a warm location in less rich soils.
Bloom Time: Early to late summer.
Propagation: Sow seeds in spring indoor in full sun, ideally with a sandy seed starting mix. Does best if grown indoors or in a greenhouse for their first winter, followed by planting out after last frosts that spring. They can also be propagated from cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, taken in July or August and then rooted. In general, all plants are usually more vigorous from seed, however.
3. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
USDA Growing Zones: 5-9.
Uses: Relatively deep roots make for less competition with vegetables and helps create more efficient nutrient cycling in the garden. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Rose of Sharon flowers late in the year when many other things are no longer flowering, and is, therefore, an excellent plant for bees and butterflies. It can be used as a hedge/windbreak in the garden.
Cultivation: Does well in a well-drained, fertile soil rich in humus, in a sheltered area in full sun (south facing walls are good). Likes mulch, since it does better when roots are kept moist and cool.
Bloom Time: Late summer to early fall.
Propagation: Seed germinates readily without treatment. Best grown in a greenhouse or indoors for their first winter, and then planted out in late spring or early summer, being careful to keep the soil moist, especially for their first year.
4. Musk Mallow (Malva moschata)
USDA Growing Zone: 3-10.
Uses: Young leaves and shoots are edible raw or cooked, and good in soups. They should not be eaten when grown in soils with high nitrogen levels as they concentrate nitrates in their leaves. The flowers and seeds are also edible.
Cultivation: Very easy to grow, doing well in most types of soil, and drought tolerant when established. Plants are fairly short lived but may self-seed. If rust colored spots appear, your plant has rust fungus, which can be treated with organic fungicides such as sulfur followed by aerated compost teas.
Bloom Time: July to August.
Propagation: Can be planted early indoors or direct seeded. The seeds germinate easily and quickly.
5. Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
USDA Growing Zone: 4-9.
Uses: Good for borders in the garden, and especially attractive to butterflies.
Cultivation: Does well in regular well-drained garden soil (ideally organic matter rich and holding moisture well). A short-lived perennial, it may self-seed.
Bloom Time: Midsummer to early fall.
Propagation: Sow indoors in April and only just cover the seed, which should germinate within 2 weeks if viable. Direct seeding is also possible.
6. Echinacea / Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
USDA Growing Zone: 4-8.
Uses: Popular immune boosting medicine, though also has other medicinal properties (consult a herbalist on use).
Cultivation: Does well in most garden soils and prefers deep, rich loam with leaf mulch. Slugs especially like to eat this plant, so take measures against them.
Propagation: Sow seeds in March or April and only just cover the seed. Leaving outside in fluctuating temperatures will aid germination, which should take place in 10-21 days. Best to keep indoors for their first year and plant them out the following spring. They can be divided in spring or early summer once established.
7. Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
USDA Growing Zone: 4-8.
Uses: Angelica is among the Apiaceae family, or “umbel” flowers, which are famed for attracting beneficial parasitic wasps that decimate garden pest populations. Its flowers are also attractive to many types of bees, while its leaves are edible raw or cooked, and are a great addition to soups, with a strong celery flavor.
Cultivation: Prefers deep, moist and fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. The plant is a biennial but can be forced into being a perennial by removing the flowers just before they go to seed. If left to seed, it will self-seed aggressively.
Bloom Time:August to September
Propagation: Sow as soon as ripe since the seeds have short viability. Can be sown directly as soon as it’s ripe, but in colder climates may not establish well enough before winter. Spring sowing will also work, but with lower viability (store seed in the fridge in freezer bags to maintain viability).
These are just a few of the many amazing flowers that can grace your garden, filling it with spectacular blooms for much of the year while also attracting beneficial insects and enhancing your garden ecosystem.
Other important flowers include violets (a great ground cover), white clover (also a ground cover that also fixes nitrogen), bergamot/bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Borage (Borago officnialis), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Chrysanthemum (Leucanthemum coronarium) and Dill (Anethum graveolens).
Plan it so your garden has flowers blooming all year long, and you’ll ensure these important vegetable companion plants extent their benefits throughout the season. If you liked this article or have ideas of other flowers that make good companion plants for vegetables, feel free to leave a comment below!