Placing two or more companion plants in close proximity will help with pest control or even give a better yield. For the organic gardener, it’s one of the easiest ways to stay chemical-free. But there is no reason why functional cannot also be beautiful, right? Try these top five flowering plants as companions and provide a kaleidoscope of floral color to your garden this year. And here’s a bonus: they’re all edible!
The leaves of borage taste of cucumber and can be used as its substitute. The stunning blue flowers are honey-sweet and often used, candied, as edible decorations on cakes.
Borage is known as the ‘magic bullet’ of companion plants and here’s why: Lack of calcium causes blossom end rot in tomatoes and lack of potassium damages fruit set by inhibiting the cells’ intake of water. The leaves and stems of borage contain both calcium and potassium and, by sharing soil space, tomato plants can absorb these essential nutrients. When the plant is finished, borage can be mulched to enrich the soil.
Borage seeds need complete darkness to germinate and can be buried under a thick layer of soil in spring or autumn. It will survive in any soil but sharing the rich soil of the tomato will produce healthier plants. It grows 60-90 cm and self-seeds freely.
We can trace chives back to the Chinese cuisine of some 5,000 years ago. Both flower and leaves are edible.
The pretty purple pom-pom flowers are adored by bees. Like borage, chives contain potassium, but it is their sulfur compounds that give chives a five-star rating. The sulfur aroma confuses the bad bugs by disguising the scent of nearby vegetables. Additionally, sulfur forms organic compounds that give flavor to vegetables. Growing companion chives enhances juiciness and flavor of adjacent vegetables whilst deterring whitefly and aphids.
Chives can be grown from seed, but germination is slow and it’s easier to buy plantlets and divide them every couple of years. Simply pull the clumps apart so each has three or four bulbs and pot up or plant out. In temperate climates chives should be overwintered indoors. They like average soil and minimal watering.
All marigolds are edible. The petals of French marigolds (which are actually Mexican in origin) have a delicate citrus-like taste and bring color to salads and fruit punch drinks. The green parts are not eaten.
French marigold’s distinctive scent helps disguise the presence of developing tomatoes, cucurbits and peppers. However, it is what goes on underground that makes the humble marigold so amazing. Root-knot nematodes are among a gardener’s worst enemies. These microscopic, parasitic worms live within plants and feed off their roots, causing stunting, wilting and eventually the death of the host. Marigold roots produce alpha-terthienyl – a natural pesticide effective against these nematodes. This substance is so strong that it stays in the ground long after the flower has gone, so the effects are long term.
Marigolds are annual plants in temperate regions and very easy to grow from seed. In the tropics the plant self-seeds freely and one sowing should produce flowers for a few years.
Nowadays we tend to grow nasturtiums for their floral beauty, but they were originally residents of the kitchen garden. Peppery leaves and colorful flowers are great in salads and the seeds can be pickled like capers
The bright and brazen nasturtium acts as a decoy plant, attracting bugs to itself and away from peppers and tomatoes. Whitefly much prefers the taste of nasturtiums and will leave your precious crops alone.
Nasturtium thrives in poor soil so shouldn’t be planted with rich-soil plants like tomatoes and peppers but in a pot nearby.
The sunflower is a versatile beauty. The edible seeds have long been enjoyed by man and birds. The oil is prized for its vitamin E content and low saturated fat, but the edible flower is less well known. Steamed sunflower buds taste like delicate artichokes and the taste intensifies as the flower develops. The nutty flavor of the braised heart is definitely worth exploring.
As a companion plant, the height of the sunflower shades vines and provides living supports for climbing plants such as cucumbers. Ants actually herd aphids onto the sunflower and away from your prized crop whilst hummingbirds flock to the blooms to consume whitefly. Perfect!
Sunflowers are easy to grow and any well-drained soil should yield good results.
Companion planting is not a time-consuming activity and following the methods given above will reward minimal effort with benefit and beauty. Hopefully this will also spark your interest in learning more about the fascinating and far-reaching practice of companion planting.