Sunflowers & tomatoes: great companions


I love the bright and cheery look of sunflowers. I love the taste of a homegrown tomato. I am so happy that they go together so very well in a garden.

I grow the Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.). My plants grow quite tall, some up to 12 foot or more. Of course, I have to put stakes in to support them as they get very top heavy with their large flower heads (up to 10 inches across), especially when the sunflower seeds weigh the heads down.  You can see the poles I have stuck in the ground to provide support for these tall sunflower plants.
The sunflower heads attract bees when they are producing flowers and that is great. Bees have had some major declines both in the United States and other countries. That is scary because bees–both the non-native honeybee that was imported to North America and native bees–pollinate a lot of our food crops as well as many other plants. Here are two photographs of a Whole Foods produce section: the first one shows the produce with the service of bees then without bees–boy does this illustrate the importance of bees for our food supply.  After the seeds are on the plants members of the finch family come to eat them.


I love to grow tomatoes in my garden not just because they are so delicious to eat but I like the smell of the tomato plants which is especially strong when I pinch the suckers off. Can you guess how many plants I have grown this year? The photo above seems to show a bunch of plants but I only planted 2 plants–yes, all that growth above is from two plants. But don’t think that means I will get lots of green and no tomatoes–these two plants have already produced about 2 dozen tomatoes in my garden in Colorado and have at least 5 dozen green tomatoes on them waiting to ripen.


The main reason I get a lot of tomatoes from my plants is because the bees that come to drink the nectar from the sunflower plant flowers also pollinate my tomato blossoms. As can be seen in the photos I plant my tomatoes right next to the sunflower patch–that allows the bees to pollinate the tomato blossoms without having far to fly from the nectar bearing flowers on the sunflower plants to the flowers are my tomato plants. And they pollinate most of the tomato blossoms so I get fruit from almost each of them.

Indeed, tomato plants and sunflowers are great companion plants.

  1. Ann Plumback says

    I planted a few sunflowers about 7 years ago and they have continued to come back every year, so many I need to pull them up. I give plants to anyone that will take them. I don’t like to throw away plants and some time I leave too many and it is a big job pulling and cutting them up at the end of summer. I do not water or feed the plants. Most are 12 feet or more tall. My sunflowers are the yellow flowers like in the pictures with the tomatoes. The different color sunflowers did not come back after the first year.

    The bees are very plentiful and also yellow finch birds love the seeds. I would like to try growing tomatoe with the sunflowers, I am limited on space and the sunflowers make so much shade as well as my trees.

    From Indianapolis IN

  2. Paul Jones says

    I plant sunflowers through the our growing areas quite extensively. Our method is space them 3′ from tomatoes. Closer than that SEEDS to hurt the tomatoes fruiting.We have tried from 1′ out and 3′ gives use the best shading with no decline iin finished fruit.

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