Friends help friends. They stick up for each other and they hang out well together. Some plants are extremely good friends, inviting beneficial insects to visit the other plants in the garden and warding off diseases. These are companion plants, the friendly pairings and more that can turn your garden from stark rows of vegetables into a diverse and thriving ecological system.
Why Use Companion Plants?
There are as many understandings of gardens as there are gardens and gardeners. In a more interventionist gardening frame of mind, a gardener might spray plants and use synthetic fertilizers to boost the nutrients in the soil. This is a target-oriented approach that focuses on the plants that the gardener wants to grow. To grow lettuce, give lettuce food and spray for lettuce pests.
Those who embark on a journey into organic gardening often begin with the organic versions of pesticides and fertilizers. Natural pesticides and organic fertilizers do help plants repel pests and develop resistance and vigor to overcome weeds and bugs. However, there’s more to organic gardening than using fewer chemicals. Organic gardening can bring about a whole new frame of mind, one that treats the garden as an ecosystem and the plants, animals, water and soil as integral and interconnected parts of that ecosystem.
Companion planting is one of these ecosystem ideas. In an ecosystem, many plants work together. Some plants also have defenses against other plants. To create a thriving garden ecosystem, it’s important to discover how you can ask your garden plants to get along. Companion plants can lead to fewer crops ruined by garden pests and can also lead to more vigorous plant growth.
Common Vegetables and Their Companion Plants
Companion planting does not need to involve years of effort and study. Many, many people have done this before. Try out groups of companion plants in your garden and then watch the progress of your garden over time. You’ll develop your own opinions about what works and what doesn’t work in your space. Check out this companion plant chart.
From asparagus to zucchini, here is a list of common vegetables and their companion plants so that you can get growing:
Asparagus loves tomatoes, parsley, and basil.
Beans love to grow with most vegetables and herbs. They particularly enjoy the company of potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower. A bean plant can also grow up the stalk of a sunflower, and sunflowers provide light shade and attract plenty of pollinators for the less-showy bean flowers.
Beets enjoy the company of onions and kohlrabi.
Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other members of the cabbage family can have trouble with cabbage worms. Many aromatic herbs deter cabbage worms, including dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, and rosemary.
Corn is a heavy feeder, so it grows well with nitrogen-fixers like peas. It also acts as a trellis for vines like beans, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.
Cucumbers love radishes, since they repel insects. They also grow well with beans. Cucumbers can use corn and sunflowers as a trellis.
Lettuce is a favorite of slugs and planting onions in the lettuce offers slug protection.
Peas grow well with just about any vegetable, since they add nitrogen to the soil. They can also be used as a cover crop. Radishes repel insects from your pea plants.
Basil and bee balm improve the growth and flavor of tomatoes.
Borage acts as a worm repellent for tomatoes, and its beautiful blue-purple flowers attract many bees to pollinate the tomatoes. Be a little wary of borage in the garden, since it does spread abundantly. Pot marigolds discourage pests.
Tips for Companion Planting
There are many tales about the ways to find suitable companion plants. Some say that companion plants taste good together, but many vegetables taste delicious when cooked together. Really, what works is what happens in your garden. However, there are a few logical tips for companion planting.
Choose plants that support each other. Plants can literally be each others’ support system. Plants like peas and beans and squash need somewhere to grow. Why not make this another plant? Grow cucumbers up your sunflowers and beans on your corn.
Plant herbs to attract beneficial gardening insects. Many herbs are aromatic and lovely to us, and they’re just as lovely to bees and other pollinators. Use herbs to attract bees and butterflies to your garden. You can also use herbs to attract predatory insects to the garden. These insects eat the bugs that eat your plants.
Get tricky. Use trap crops to create places in the garden where the bugs will have a party. Fava beans attract aphids and eggplant attracts the potato beetle. If you plant a decoy, bugs may leave your desired crops alone. This is a bit of a gamble, but try it for a season and it may work, especially if you have serious problems with a specific pest.
Invite beloved guests to your garden. Garlic and marigolds are two of the best companion plants. Garlic not only scares vampires, it also scares away many pests. Marigolds discourage nematodes. Plant them freely in small quantities throughout the garden.
Think about the health of your soil. Some plants are heavy feeders and require many soil nutrients to grow. Others are light feeders and may even enrich the soil. Planting solely heavy feeders will tire out your soil, so be conscious of the needs of your plants before choosing their location. Use legumes like peas to add nitrogen to tired soil at the end of the season, too.
Adding companion plants to the garden doesn’t mean that you’re following old wives’ tales. It means that you’re a savvy gardener, considering the multiple needs of your plants. Whether your plants need nitrogen, a trellis, a pollinator, or pest control, companion plants can fill these roles. As you plan your garden, think about grouping plants to allow friends to help friends.
Want to learn more about companion planting?
Don’t miss these resources:
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by by Louise Riotte (Amazon affiliate link)
Companion Plants Chart from Alabama Cooperative Extension
Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.
Tricia Edgar loves her small garden. She is an organic gardener who is intrigued by permaculture, straw bale and cob building, and green roof design. She also runs a sustainable skills mentorship program.