Aren’t sunflowers gorgeous? Their bright yellow petals and giant center with seeds – they’re a sure-fire way to boost your garden appeal.
However, sunflowers are a bit tricky. While they aren’t necessarily challenging to grow, they aren’t the friendliest of plants.
If you try growing sunflower alongside the wrong species, they may affect your garden’s whole growth. For that reason, we want to show you the best sunflower companion plants to prevent that from happening.
Below you’ll find everything there’s to know about sunflowers and their companions. Check it out!
Why Use Sunflowers Companion Plants?
Sunflowers thrive by themselves. You don’t need to care for them too much as long as you provide them with enough sun, quality soil, and adequate moisture.
But in that case, you’d be missing the benefits sunflowers bring to other plants, and vice versa. If you want to increase their success, planting them alongside suitable companions can increase the chances of a beautiful and thriving sunflower.
On top of that, companions can help to both attract pollinators and repel pests. This increases the chances of the sunflower living a long time.
Suffice to say, companion plants are always worth trying. If you want to build a flower bed, you’ll want to try them. Below, you’ll find some of these companions.
Best Companion Plants for Sunflowers
We found many different species that will thrive in unison with your sunflowers. We decided to talk about the 4 most common and then give you a general idea of the rest you can try:
Despite being decently tough, sunflowers may sometimes get overrun by pests. To prevent that, you can use deterrents like onions.
They share similar nutrients without harming each other. More importantly, onion has a strong smell and certain chemicals that squirrels, deer, and other mammals hate. This can be helpful to sunflowers.
Plus, sunflower gives some shade to the onion leaves and soil, keeping them growing safely at the right temps. Similar to onions, the garlic plant also thrives alongside sunflowers.
The tomato plant is incredibly fragile, especially against insects like aphids. They eat away the stalks and leaves, causing damage to yields. In the worst-case scenario, aphids may even kill the tomato plant.
Guess who can help tomatoes in that case? Yes, you guessed it right. Sunflowers come like a superhero for tomatoes. They attract all the aphids to their stalks and flowers, keeping them away from tomatoes.
If planted together, sunflowers help tomatoes enormously. And because tomatoes attract some pollinators, it is a win-win situation.
Veggies like zucchinis and squashes can benefit enormously from sunflowers. First, because sunflowers give them essential shade that these plants require to thrive. And second, because these plants rely heavily on pollinators. When their big leaves hide their flowers, they struggle to pollinate.
Sunflowers can help them in both cases. Being large flowers with dense bodies, they give sufficient shade to other plants. And with their bright-yellow flowers, pollinators love getting around them.
If planted sufficiently close, squashes can help keep away maggots from the sunflower stalk.
Another superb companion for sunflowers is the pepper. Because they also tend to suffer a lot from aphids, they may get deeply bothered when alone. But when you plant them with sunflowers around, these aphids leave the peppers alone.
That’s not enough, though. Sunflowers also keep peppers from scorching. Because most sunflowers are either large or dense, they keep the short pepper plant free of unwanted sun damage with the shade.
The widely known maize is an overlooked companion plant for sunflowers. It feels counter-intuitive, considering how fast corn grows and how many nutrients it demands. But that’s not a challenge for sunflowers in the slightest.
When planted together, they share chemicals and other properties that improve the taste of the maize. On top of that, sunflowers attract some of the pests that maize plants hate.
#6. Shade-Loving Plants
All those plants that thrive in the shade can also become exceptional sunflower companions. This is especially true with the largest sunflower species that have giant blossoms. The flowers are often big enough to cover large soil areas, including those that may get damaged by scorching sun rays.
Among the species to consider, you can find:
Some of the most gorgeous flowers will also appreciate being alongside sunflowers. This mostly happens because the big and bright blossoms tend to attract many pests, keeping them off the fragile flowers. When this happens, these other flowers can thrive.
If you’re building a flower garden bed, for example, planting sunflowers alongside the other species can be an excellent idea (not to forget it will look a lot better!). Here are some flower species to consider:
- Dead Nettle
- Pink Carnation
- Purple Coneflower
You will find many other species that thrive alongside sunflowers. But if you want an anti-fail experience, stick with these.
#8. Viny Plants
Every ivy plant you can think of could make for an excellent sunflower companion. Why? Because sunflowers are often extensive and have a thick stalk. This size and girth make them exceptional structures for those plants that like climbing and knotting around stuff.
Among the different viny plants that go well with sunflowers, you can find:
- Black-Eyed Susan
- Common Ivy
- Morning Glory
- Ornamental Hops
- Passion Fruit
- Sweet Pea
Be aware that here you’ll find flowers, vegetables, and fruits. They all go well with sunflower, especially the ones that require a lot of shade.
#9. Beans & Peas
While peas and beans could easily go as vines, they benefit from sunflowers entirely differently—for example, most beans like the same type of soils as sunflowers. As long as the soil is slightly acidic (from 6.5 to 7.5 pH), both plants will thrive.
But more importantly, beans increase the nitrogen in the soil a little bit. This improves the sunflower’s growth exponentially.
Some of the beans and peas to consider include:
- Bush Beans
- Green Beans
- Lima Beans
- Snap Peas
- Snow Peas
- Wax Beans
It’s worth mentioning that they all act differently around the sunflower. Having said that, they all thrive.
#10. Shrubs & Ornamentals
Believe it or not, sunflowers make for an excellent landscape border plant. For that reason, they may also work seamlessly with your shrubs, hedges, and similar ornamental plants.
These include species like:
- Common Hibiscus
- Winter Jasmine
The main advantage is that sunflowers keep these plants in tolerable shade while they grow. And as a side benefit, they help sunflowers fight pests.
#11. Herbs & Grasses
Lastly, it’s worth considering some simpler plants like grasses and herbs. They may benefit from the slight shade from sunflowers while keeping the soil nutritious. This is especially true with herbs, which often require a bit of protection from the sun. Herbs can positively affect soil chemistry.
Some of the species to consider are:
- Centipede Grass
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Lemon balm
- Zoysia Grass
In contrast with other plants, almost all of these can grow super-close to sunflowers without a problem. We recommend them for herb gardens and yards.
Worst Companion Plants for Sunflower
We’ve gone over the best companions. But what about the worst ones? What are those plants that you should absolutely plant away from sunflowers to prevent damage?
Well, you’ll be happy to know that probably the only plant you should stay away from is the potato. Yes, you read that right.
Potatoes suffer from a disease that preys on sunflowers: Verticillium dahliae. This disease causes discoloration and may affect the blooming season. For potatoes, it may keep them from even growing or producing yields.
If you’re growing potatoes close to sunflowers, try to keep them several feet apart. Not only for the disease but also the beetles that love both plants.
2. Pole Beans
The chemicals sunflowers can be damaging to some plants. But it’s not always the case. When it comes to pole beans, however, it’s better to just avoid planting them close.
Pole beans struggle to grow and even germinating when planted alongside sunflowers. If you aren’t careful, you may completely waste some seeds or end up killing an already mature plant.
Are Sunflowers Toxic as Companion Plants?
We mentioned how sunflowers can be exceptional companions for many plants. But we also said how they can be damaging to others, like pole beans.
This happens because sunflowers are a bit toxic. The toxicity makes them dangerous to other plants, especially in their germination period.
And it’s all because sunflowers produce some biochemicals that stay in the soil. These chemicals can be damaging to other plants, inhibiting growth, especially in the germination period.
The phenomenon is called Allelopathy. It causes allelochemicals that are sometimes good. But in significant quantities, especially from the seed shells, it damages soils and growing plants.
Types of Sunflowers to Plant
Are all types of sunflowers this beneficial? Well, yes. But you’ll get completely different results depending on the type you pick. Let’s take a look:
1. Lemon Queen Sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’)
Known for their slightly “lemony” color, these sunflowers are a bit greener than others. These are perennials and grow to about 5 feet at their max.
What sets them apart is their ability to attract tons of pollinators. For plants that struggle to do that, sunflowers may become their favorite companions.
You can also find sunflowers filled with bees, butterflies, and even birds. Similarly, they catch most of the pests that eat other plants.
2. Annual Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
One of the largest flowers, the annual sunflower can grow to about 10 feet in some cases. And sure enough, they cover a lot of ground and provide a fantastic amount of shade. This can be super-helpful to plants that require protection from the sun.
What sets them apart, however, is their extra-tough stalks and flowers. Because they attract all kinds of insects, they need to be sturdy to withstand them – especially aphids and maggots. And guess what, they do.
That makes them exceptional companions to keep pests away from other plants.
3. Willow-Leaved Sunflowers (Helianthus salicifolius)
One of the smallest kinds of sunflowers is the willow-leaved. Not growing more than 3 feet, these have a uniquely dense stalk with tons of leaves coming off it. To make them even more unique, the flowers are the smallest of all sunflowers.
The name willow comes from the dense “hairy” appearance they have. This makes them fantastic shade-giving plants, keeping almost everything around them cool and safe from scorching sun rays.
Interestingly, they also attract pollinators, making them excellent companions for plants that struggle to pollinate.
Gorgeous and easy to grow, sunflowers make for an exciting addition to any garden. But nothing like learning which plants to grow them with.
With the sunflower companion plants above, you’ll have a blast with your sunflowers. So, why don’t you try them up? There are tons to test – so get your hands dirty now!