Plants that act as a windshield, enrich the soil, repel pests, or attract pollinators are good sunflower companion plants—growing them alongside your sunflowers can boost your garden.
Sunflowers are the ultimate showstoppers of the summer garden. Tall and proud, their bright yellow blooms bring an undeniable cheer to any space. Plus, these plants are pretty low-maintenance – just give them plenty of sun and water regularly, and you’ll have yourself a stunning display in no time!
This sunflower companion planting guide will help you figure out which plants to grow with sunflowers and which ones you should avoid. So let’s get started.
What Will I Learn?
- Introduction to Sunflower Companion Planting
- What Are the Best Sunflower Companion Plants?
- Best Vegetables to Grow with Sunflowers:
- Best Herbs to Grow with Sunflowers:
- Worst Sunflower Companion Plants
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
Introduction to Sunflower Companion Planting
Companion planting means planting two different species of plants close together with the goal of improving their overall health and yield. For sunflowers, companion plants can help with:
- Wind shielding: Taller companions can protect sunflowers from strong winds.
- Soil enrichment: Shallow-rooted, nitrogen-fixing companions (like beans and peas) can add essential nutrients to the soil.
- Pest repellent: Certain herbs and flowers naturally repel certain pests, which can help keep your sunflower crop healthy.
- Pollinator attraction: Nectar-rich flowers near your sunflowers can help attract pollinators to the area and increase pollination.
Overall, companion planting can be a great way to nurture your sunflowers and ensure they reach their full potential.
What Are the Best Sunflower Companion Plants?
Here’s a list of some great sunflower companion plants to consider for your garden, separated into the best vegetables and herbs:
Best Vegetables to Grow with Sunflowers:
1. Sweet Corn
Sweet corn and sunflowers are like the ultimate power couple in the garden. A lot of gardeners think that these plants don’t go well together because of their similar height and nutrition needs, but that’s not true at all. All they need is a little extra boost in the soil before planting, and both plants will thrive.
Plus, when they grow tall, the corn will act as a shield for the sunflower against strong winds. In return, the sunflowers will attract tons of pollinators, making your corn crop a success.
That’s why sunflower is now often considered the “fourth” sister in the classic “three sisters” combo of corn, beans, and squash.
2. Summer Squash
Summer squash like zucchini, pattypan, and yellow crookneck have shallow roots, so they don’t compete with the sunflowers for nutrients. Plus, the vining habit and big leaves of squash plants act as live mulch, helping to keep the soil moist and protect sunflowers from pesky weeds.
In return, squash vines enjoy the pollinators attracted to the sunflowers and the dappled shade offered by tall stems during the scorching summer heat.
Lettuce is pretty low-growing, and it loves some shade during scorching summer days, making it a perfect companion to fill in those shady gaps around your sunflowers. It also covers the ground with thick, lush foliage that keeps the weeds away and conserves moisture in the soil.
Plus, shallow-rooted lettuce will find all the nutrients it needs without stealing from deep sunflower tap roots.
Like lettuces, kale also loves light shade in the full sunny months, so you can plant them between and around the sunflowers. But make sure you give it enough space, as kale can get big and bushy.
Sunflowers will support the taller varieties, while kale will help cover the ground and keep the soil moist and weed-free.
Cucumbers are a great companion for sunflowers, but only if you plant them strategically. The idea is to grow vining cucumber varieties, like a calypso or a lemon, between sunflower rows but provide enough space and trellis so they don’t climb on the sunflowers.
They have very similar water and nutrition needs, so you only need to give them a slight compost boost in the soil before planting.
Peas fix nitrogen, so the biggest advantage is that it can improve the soil fertility for sunflowers. Both vining and bush peas can work great, but keep in mind that you need to provide enough space for the vining types.
Plus, peas will be done with their harvest before the sunflowers start flowering, so you don’t need to worry about damaging the blooms when you harvest.
If you have some space near your sunflowers where they won’t block too much sun, it’s a perfect spot for peppers. Peppers love the sunshine just like sunflowers do, and they have similar watering needs, so they go well together.
Plus, having sunflowers around will attract pollinators that will really help your peppers. Bees, ladybugs, and hoverflies are beneficial insects that will boost your yield and also keep those annoying aphids in check, which can be a real pain for peppers.
Tomatoes might not be the best choice for small sunflower gardens, but they can actually work great if you’ve got enough space. They can even act as trap crops, attracting pests away from your sunflowers. Since tomatoes need more water than sunflowers, look for drought-tolerant varieties like San Marzano or Caro-rich tomatoes.
But again, they do get big and bushy, so only plant them alongside sunflowers if you’ve got enough room.
Best Herbs to Grow with Sunflowers:
Rosemary absolutely loves the sun, so it’ll thrive right alongside your sunflowers. Not only does its strong scent keep pests like caterpillars and thrips away from your young sunflower plants, but it’s also a fantastic choice for a low-water garden.
And here’s the best part—bees adore rosemary just as much as they love sunflowers, so it’s a fantastic way to encourage pollination and boost your yields.
Chives are a low-growing, perennial herb that loves full sun spots but also handles some shade. That makes them an ideal companion for taller sunflowers. They also have a strong, oniony scent that many insects hate, even rabbits.
Plus, chives can handle drought, so you don’t need to worry too much about underwatering.
Basil is another awesome companion plant for sunflowers, especially if you’ve got some extra space in your garden. It loves basking in the sun but can also handle a bit of shade (which it’ll get under the tall sunflower stems).
It also works like a charm in luring and trapping pests such as thrips, whiteflies, and aphids. So if you’re dealing with those pesky critters in your garden, just plant some basil nearby, and it’ll take care of the rest.
Worst Sunflower Companion Plants
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows; here are some companion plants that you should avoid in your sunflower garden:
Potatoes take space, both above and below the ground, so they can disturb the sunflower root system and suffocate the stems, leading to poor growth. Plus, they need lots of nitrogen to thrive, so they compete with sunflowers for soil nutrients. There’s also a fair chance of potato scab and other diseases spreading to the sunflower.
2. Vining Plants without Support
We have mentioned many vining plants that are great companions to sunflowers, but only if they have enough support. Sunflower stalks aren’t strong; in fact, they are pretty brittle, so any attempt of the vining plants to climb on them will result in breakage. So make sure you have enough support in place before planting.
Garlic can repel aphids and other pests from the garden, but it also has allelopathic properties that inhibit the growth of nearby plants. So it’s best to keep them away from your sunflowers.
Pumpkins and sunflowers are both heavy feeders, so they compete for soil nutrients which can lead to poor growth. Plus, the vines of pumpkins will smother nearby plants like sunflowers if you don’t provide enough space.
5. Bush Berries
Bush berries like blueberry, raspberries, and currant are a great choice for small-space gardens, but they don’t get along well with sunflowers. They are heavy feeders that need a lot of water, plus they like acidic soil. So keep them away from your sunflowers if you want them to thrive.
6. False Sunflower
False sunflower, or heliopsis, is a distant cousin of the sunflower, but it’s not exactly the best buddy to have around. It’s a really fast grower and can get pretty aggressive if you don’t keep an eye on it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do sunflowers like onions?
Sunflowers usually have no problem with onions as they’re low-growing and take up very little space. But onions don’t like shade! So if your sunflowers will cast too much shade on the onion patch, then it’s best to keep them away.
What are the natural enemies of sunflowers?
Some of the biggest enemies are grasshoppers, sunflower beetles, sunflower moths, and cutworms. These pests can damage the flowers, leaves, and roots of sunflowers. The best way to protect your sunflowers from these pests is to use covers and grow trap crops.
What flowers can be planted with sunflowers?
Marigolds make a perfect sunflower companion. They improve soil structure, deter pests, and act as a trap crop. Other good options are crimson clover, daisies, and snapdragon.
Sunflowers can be friends with plants that can handle their shade and won’t crowd their delicate stalks. Some of the best sunflower companion plants are lettuce (low growing, tolerates shade), sweet corn (provides support), summer squash (provides live mulch, weed control), and herbs like rosemary (helps keep pests at bay).
If you’ve got enough space, you can also give tomatoes, cucumber, and other vining plants a shot. They’ll need some support, though. On the flip side, there are a few plants that don’t play well with sunflowers—like potatoes, bush berries, and garlic—so it’s better to keep them apart.