Ruby Tuesday as a wee puppy, stops to smell the flowers in my potager
I have long been an organic gardener, since the early days when 'green' was simply a colour. Therefore, I have also been using companion planting techniques for years and years, as companion planting is simply one part of organic gardening, helping us grow bigger, better, healthier and happier edibles.
Though I have gardened since I was a wee tot, my love for growing food really took off while we were posted to Germany with the Canadian Forces. Living in the Black Forest, where everyone grows food (and chickens) in their yards, really got me excited about gardening. Mostly because I had never seen gardens so gorgeous, so thriving, so ornamental, while also being super productive food growers. They have long since mastered this whole potager (kitchen garden) gardening thing, knowing that growing annuals and perennials in the same beds with your edibles (fruits, veggies and herbs) makes for a healthier and happier garden.
So... Why should you add annual flowers to your vegetable garden?
Annuals are very beneficial as companion plants in your garden. They deter bad bugs, attract good bugs, attract pollinators, and/or work as lure plants. Their pollen, nectar and seeds bring in hummingbirds, butterflies, and birds to help with pest control and pollination. They help your plants thrive and may even make your vegetables taste better .. Plus, they add beauty, colour and fragrance to your garden, while being inexpensive and so much easier to use than all kinds of sprays and tonics.
Here are the top 3 annuals that no organic vegetable bed should ever be without...
Harlequin heirloom marigold
1. Marigolds - The marigold is the most common of flowers and yet is the workhorse of the companion garden. Plant marigolds everywhere in your vegetable garden, especially around your tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers. There is no fruit or vegetable that will not flourish with a marigold growing beside it.
Marigolds deter aphids, nematodes (small worms in the soil), beetles, and maggots. They also encourage better growth in your edibles, likely because both the roots and the foliage are safe from nearly all pests! They also draw in the beneficial insects that control the bad bugs. French marigolds are more effective at controlling nematodes than the African ones are. Be warned, however, spider mites are drawn to marigolds, so if you tend to have problems with spider mites, plant chrysanthemums instead.... or do like I do, plant cilantro, chives and/or parsley along with the marigolds to repel all kinds of bad bugs ; )
I like to use the French marigolds as they are bushier and stay short and tight, making for a really nice border plant or mini hedge. I also tend to use mostly red and/or orange varieties, as I am not a huge fan of yellow in my summer garden. The Bonanza, Disco, and Duranga series of marigolds are my faves, I especially love Red Disco. Though, must admit that I also really love the heirloom varieties of marigolds, like Jester or Harlequin, that grow 2 to 3 feet tall and sprawl madly, spilling over the beds into the pathways. Something about happy, thriving plants, spilling and tumbling all over, that makes me super happy.
Cherries Jubilee Nasturtiums
2. Nasturtiums - Nasturtiums are great companion plants to grow near your radishes, cucumbers, melons, and the entire brassica family. Tomatoes, too, if you have room, but my tomatoes are always surrounded by marigolds, parsley and basil ; )
Nasturtiums deter aphids, potato bugs and squash bugs, white flies (esp in the greenhouse), and cucumber beetles.
They are often used as a trap crop for black aphids, drawing the bugs to them instead of to the vegetables, allowing you to discard the bugs by cutting back the plant.
Plus, the flowers are super tasty in salads, having a nice, light, peppery flavour, while the seeds can be pickled and used as capers.
Nasturtium's come in great range of hues, from soft pastels to vibrant and popping! Yellows, oranges, creamy whites, burnished reds, bright reds... Cherries Jubilee is my absolute favourite! I mostly grow the clumping varieties as I like them spilling over the sides of my raised beds, but there are also trailing varieties that are perfect for baskets, trellises, or sprawling through your beds.
Two different colours of Nasturtiums.
Love the burnished, coppery red one!
Sweet Allysum3. Sweet Allysum - Is a draw for hoverflies and ladybugs, the beneficial insects that eat aphids and caterpillars. Their sweet scent adds perfume to the garden while the pollen attracts pollinators to keep your garden growing and producing.
Alyssum self seeds so will come back year after year, is dainty and attractive in the garden. Plant it in all the bare spots in and around your garden to prevent weeds. It thrives in the heat as long as watered well, breaks up soil, and spreads readily. Has medicinal and protective uses, too.
White alyssum is the hardiest and the most attractive to the beneficial insects while the bees like the purple hues the best.
Sweet Alyssum in the strawberry bed gave me the best crop of berries yet!
In addition, here are a few more fabulous flowers for your organic gardening needs .... in order of importance and efficacy, in my most humble opinion.
4. Calendula - Useful everywhere and for everything, just like the marigold. Is just as effective at deterring bugs and attracting beneficials, plus self seeds readily. I love growing marigolds in summer, but I let the calendula go like mad in spring and fall, as they thrive in cool temps while the marigolds do not. The petals are also useful additions to ointments, oils, soaps, and shampoos.
5. Zinnia's - Zinnia's are, bar-none, my very favourite veggie garden additions! They are late summer bloomers and so add colour to the garden as others start to peter off. They come in a huge array of sizes, shapes and colours and are rarely bothered by pests or diseases. Is my favourite go to flower.
Zinnias bring in butterflies, birds and bees, plus deter both tomato worms and cucumber beetles. They attract hoverflies and other beneficial insects to the garden, especially helpful at the end of summer while the aphids start to attack your cabbages and kale. Plant loads of zinnias.
Shrubland Rose Scented Geranium
6. Geraniums - Plant near grape vines, roses, cabbage, corn and beets to lure away pests and to repel caterpillars! They add colour and fragrance to your garden and the foliage of the scented ones can be used for cooking and baking. They also are known to repel spider mites, so plant one or place a potted one by affected plants. I have a love affair with geraniums, they have always been my favourite annual in pots, planters and baskets.
7. Sunflowers - Plant by corn to lure away aphids. The ants and the aphids can crawl around on the sunflower and cause no real damage to the flowers. Plant by cucumbers to enhance the flavour and as a support for the cukes to climb up. I have been told that if you grow your pole beans up and around sunflowers, they will stunt the growth of the bean but promote earlier production by a few weeks. Therefore, in my opinion, is well worth your while to plant a few beans to climb up your sunflowers for the earlier harvest, while you wait for your main crop to come through.
There are all kinds of additional flowers that will also repel bad bugs, attract good bugs, draw in pollinators, or butterflies, and birds. The more flower varieties you add to your garden, the healthier your garden will be. A garden full of birds that eat bugs, bees that pollinate, and good bugs that eat bad bugs, is free of pest and disease, plus loaded with flourishing edibles.
Additional annuals and perennials to consider ... dianthus, roses, Queen Anne's Lace, snapdragons, pansies, violas, Johnny Jump-ups. nicotiana, single dahlias, and yarrow.
Herbs and their flowers are also very important companion plants ... borage, basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, chamomile, tansy, feverfew, dill, cilantro, oregano, and thyme.
For more information about companion planting see these earlier blog posts ...