In theory beans and sunflowers should go together like peas and carrots right?
The long, thin stems are perfect for growing beans, or are they?
Can you grow beans up sunflowers?
That is what we are going to look at today and hopefully clear up some misinformation at the same time.
So without further ado let’s dive in.
Can You Grow Beans Up Sunflowers?
You can grow beans up sunflowers, it is a misconception that sunflowers are toxic to beans. The sunflower stems act as a natural trellis for the beans, providing support to them whilst they grow. Plant your beans around a fortnight after you sow your sunflowers and the two should grow well together.
Dispelling Myths About ‘Deadly’ Sunflowers
As bright and cheery as sunflowers look, they do hide a deadly secret behind their vibrant exterior – they kill.
Ok so that might be being overdramatic, but sunflowers are what is known as allelopathic.
That means they give off toxins that can stop certain other plants from growing, or even kill them.
They do this to protect themselves, as these toxins do not harm their own seedlings. In effect, it leaves more space around them to grow.
In this, and other respects, the sunflower is an unusual plant. Did you know the sunflower can also absorb certain toxic metals and radiation from soil?
That is why thousands and thousands of sunflowers were planted around the sites of the Hiroshima, Fukushima, and Chernobyl nuclear disasters.
They were able to help clear up the contaminated soil.
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Anyway, we digress, these unusual properties have created the belief that certain plants, including beans, should not be grown anywhere near sunflowers.
However, in my experience, and that of many others from what I read when I was researching this article, a lot of what is put forth and stated as fact is ‘fake news’, as a certain person might say.
Yes with their huge frames, sunflowers can take A LOT of nutrients and water from the soil, and cast plenty of shade that can make it difficult to grow things around them, but I have had no problem growing beans up sunflowers in the past and, from what I have read, neither have many others.
Allelopathy in sunflowers is usually a function of nutrient stress, as long as the soil is fertile then you should be able to plant whatever you like next to them.
How to Grow Beans on Sunflowers
There are a couple of ways to do this, but you must remember that essentially the sunflowers are supporting the beans. So you need to wait until the sunflowers are sturdy enough to take the weight of the beans.
Giving the sunflowers time to grow a little will also prevent the beans from stifling them.
Sow your sunflowers at the normal time. This is usually after the last frost date has passed.*
Around a fortnight later, sow your beans at the base of the sunflowers. Don’t plant them too close to the sunflower as the roots of the sunflower take up quite a lot of space. I usually space them around one foot apart.
Once the beans begin to sprout attach them to the sunflower stem if needed.
Keep an eye and water as necessary and in a couple of months, they should be ready to harvest.
*NB: as an alternative to this you can try starting your sunflowers indoors around three to four weeks earlier.
Now this isn’t my method, so I must give kudos to John Yeoman from the Kitchen Garden forum for this, but it seems logical and I am sure it would work just as well.
He suggests putting an empty cola in the soil beside your sunflower when you plant it.
Then when your sunflower reaches three feet tall or so simply pull out the can and replace it with a bean transplant. This avoids disturbing the sunflower roots.
As an alternative to this, he also suggests placing two cans in the soil next to the sunflower and adjacent to the bean.
One of the cans should be perforated at the sides and base and kept filled with water. This ensures both plant’s roots get the water they need.
This second method also seems like a good option to me and one I might just give a try next year.
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What Else Can You Plant With Sunflowers?
On the most part, despite some scaremongering about their allelopathy, sunflowers make great companion plants.
The most obvious bonus is the fact their sheer size provides great shelter and shade for anything growing that needs protection from harsh weather conditions.
Insects love sunflowers too, so planting anything around them that requires insect pollination is a great idea as well.
And as alluded to above, the soil around sunflowers becomes healthier due to their ability to clean surrounding areas, which benefits any plants in the vicinity.
Good Salads and Vegetables to Plant With Sunflowers
Both peas and sweet peas thrive growing in the shade of a sunflower as they love being in the cool. The sunflower also provides a stabilising point for them to wrap their tendrils around.
Another vegetable that benefits from the shade a sunflower offers is lettuce. In return lettuce keeps the soil cool for sunflowers and acts as living mulch.
Cucumbers too are a good companion vegetable for the sunflower. The support of the sunflower lifts the fruits of the cucumber off of the ground and the cucumber’s large leaves shade the soil for the sunflower, keeping it moist and free of weeds.
Other vegetables that grow well with sunflowers include squashes, onions, peppers and vine tomatoes.
Good Flowers to Grow With Sunflowers
Marigolds are both easy to grow and great at attracting ladybugs that can deal with any rogue aphids and black flies that might be bothering your sunflower. Their flowers combine nicely with sunflower blooms as well.
Impatiens keep the soil moist for sunflowers, attract a host of pollinators and their vibrant colors of pinks, reds, oranges and purples combine beautifully with the bold yellows and oranges of sunflowers.
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Nasturtiums are often used to attract pests like aphids and squash bugs, so if planted alongside sunflowers they can play a vital role in keeping them away. They also attract good pollinators like butterflies and bees. To top it off they are easy to grow and their colors also look great with sunflowers.
Other flowers that grow well with sunflowers include geraniums, daisies, snapdragons and bizzy lizzies.
What You Shouldn’t Plant With Sunflowers
Potatoes and sunflowers will compete for the same nutrients in the soil, and the fast-growing roots of the potato can negatively affect other plants they may be growing near.
Potatoes are also prone to potato blight, causing the potatoes to collapse and rot, with the disease easily spreading to anything nearby.
As you can see, it is a bit of a myth that sunflowers and beans cannot be grown together.
I’ve done it, and as I researched this article I found plenty of others had as well. Make sure the soil around the sunflower is in good condition and fertile and you should be fine.
As long as you plant the beans a couple of weeks after the sunflowers they can use the sunflower as a giant climbing frame to support their growth.
The end result can be the beauty of the sunflowers plus some delicious edible beans, the two can most definitely cohabit happily together.