Keep the potatoes away from tomatoes, and the cucumbers away from squash.
Like people, plants compete for resources, and relationships among them are varied. In plant communities, certain plants support each other while others, well, just don’t get along.
Through science, gardeners have discovered that some plants may exude toxins that may retard the growth of their neighboring plant. Some may take more than their fair share of water, sun and nutrients. To prevent this from happening, gardeners are applying a much-needed gardening concept.
It’s called Companion Planting.
Companion planting is an age-old practice. It is defined as the selection of certain crop combinations to achieve specific benefits like pest control and enhanced growth. It’s simply planting different garden plant species next to each other.
Scientists base it on the theory that certain plants can either enhance, or in some cases inhibit, the growth of others. As it turns out, certain vegetables will do better or worse depending on what plants are growing around it.
The Three Sisters
One of the most popular companion planting methods is called the ‘Three Sisters’, which was used by Native Americans. It groups pole beans, corn, and pumpkins or squash.
The pole beans produce nitrogen that the corn consumes. In return, it uses the cornstalks for support. While the corn provides shade to the squash, the latter’s prickly vines smother weeds and deter animal predators from feasting on its companions.
How does it Work?
Successfully incorporating companion planting can expand the diversity of your garden. It helps you avoid monoculture, and minimize pest and disease problems.
Basil is a great companion for tomatoes and peppers, as they help improve growth and enhance flavor. Planting radishes near your cucumbers is beneficial because they help repel cucumber beetles.
Enriching the Soil
Some plants actually return more nutrients than they consume. Legumes are the best examples. Around 20 percent of the sugar they produce will be absorbed by Rhizobium bacteria, to convert it into nitrogen compounds that plants can use.
Repelling Pest Insects
Some plants produce repellent or toxic compounds that chase pests away or stop them from feeding. In other cases, the aromatic compounds released by plants can mask the scent of companion crops.
Luring Pests from Crops
Plants that have an irresistible appeal for certain pests are called ‘attractant plants’. They are often used as decoys to lure pests away from your main crop. Once the pests are concentrated on the attractant, they are easily controlled.
Shelter Beneficial Insects
Beneficial insects eat or parasite plant pests. For example, growing dill can attract pest-eating spiders and parasitic wasps, which will help control caterpillars on cabbage, beetles on cucumbers, and aphids on lettuce.
Benefits of Companion Planting
Companion planting can maximize the use of garden beds. What’s more, your garden will look more aesthetically pleasing with different plants growing on your veggie bed. It will promote a diverse healthy environment for your crops to flourish.
Here are the benefits of Companion Planting:
- The companion plant may improve the health, or flavor of the target plant. This is because they don’t compete for root space, light and nutrients.
- The companion plant can assist the growth and life cycle of its partner. Some plants release substances through their root systems that improve the wellbeing of other plants.
- The plants may repel or trap an undesirable critter or attract beneficial insects. Some plants make pest management simpler. Pests normally attack only one species of plant, making it harder for pests to wipe out your entire crop.
Types of Neighbors
Companion planting is about choosing the best possible neighbors for your crops. A good neighbor may enhance the growth and quality of nearby crops. It may provide maximum ground cover, improve the soil, or any combination of the three.
The best companions often include plants with contrasting properties:
A. Fast-growing and slow-growing
Fast-growing plants are ideal companion plantings with slow-growing plants. Get the most benefit through intercropping, or planting cool-season veggies with longer-season, heat-loving vegetables. Plant radish or lettuce around cabbages. By the time the cabbage grows big, the former will have been long eaten.
B. Tall and short
The best example for this would be corn and squash, which make for great companions. Remember the ‘three sisters’ practice? Since corn grows upwards, it goes out of the squash’s way. Meanwhile, the latter covers the ground, preventing it from drying too quickly.
C. Heavy-feeders and soil improvers
Do not let your plants fight for their food. To keep them in check, it’s best to plant heavy-feeders with light-feeders. Corn and squash belong in the heavy-feeders list. Examples of light-feeders include root crops, such as carrots, radishes, beets, etc.
D. Sun-loving and shade-loving
Some plants don’t mind a little protection from the sun. Lettuce are somewhat shade-loving. That’s why it’s a great companion for taller plants, like beans and corn.
E. Aromatic and non-aromatic
Basil and tomatoes are a classic Mediterranean culinary duo. Both do well together in the same bed because they enjoy the same growing conditions. With full sun, well-draining soil, and a healthy dose of fertilizer, your basil can improve the taste of the tomato. They are ready to harvest at the same time too.
There are so many possible plant combinations that it can be hard for beginners to know which plants to combine. Increase your chances of success by trying a companion planting scheme that’s already found effective in scientific studies, or approved by gardeners from varying climates.
What types of garden do you wish to have? Understand that each plant has a specific requirement in which it will survive. There should be a balance between what is going to be planted and what’s already there.
Take the following into consideration:
- Existing structures and plants
- Soil’s pH or the amount of alkalinity and acidity
- Microclimate and the hours of sunlight per day
Caring for companion plantings may be very different from how you normally care for your garden. Observe the performance of your garden throughout the season. It’s recommended to try a combination at least twice.
Companion Planting Guide
Here’s a companion planting guide that contains recommendations for allies, as well as compatible companions. You may start with your favorite crop!
Companions: basil, coriander, dill, parsley, carrots, tomatoes, marigolds
Keep away from: garlic, potatoes, and onions
** Marigolds, parsley, tomato protect from asparagus beetles
Companions: most garden crops
Keep away from: rue
**Improves the flavor and growth of garden crops, especially tomatoes and lettuce. Repels mosquitoes.
Companions: beets, cabbage, carrots, catnip, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, marigolds, potatoes, savory, strawberries
Keep away from: fennel, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots
**Potatoes and marigolds repel Mexican bean beetles. Catnip repels flea beetles.
Companions: corn, marigolds, potatoes, radishes
Keep away from: beets, garlic, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, shallots
Companions: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bush beans, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kohlrabi, onions
Keep away from: charlock, field mustard, pole beans
**Corn is a natural trellis, and provides shelter for beans. Beans provide nitrogen to soil.
Companions: squash, strawberries, tomatoes
**Repels tomato worms. Improves flavor and growth of companions.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Companions: beets, buckwheat, calendula, carrots, chamomile, dill, hyssop, marigolds, mints, nasturtiums, onions, rosemary, sage, thyme, wormwood.
Keep away from: strawberries, grapes, mustard, oregano, strawberry, tomato
**Marigolds repel cabbage moths. Nasturtiums repel aphids. Rosemary repels cabbage fly. Dill attracts wasps for pest control.
Cabbage and Cauliflower
Companions: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, chard, spinach, tomatoes.
Keep away from: strawberries, beans, mustards, peppers, strawberry, and tomato
**Celery, onion and herbs keep pests away. Rosemary repels cabbage fly.
Companions: cabbage, chives, early potatoes, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, rosemary, sage, salsify, wormwood.
Keep away from : dill, parsnip
** Beans provide nitrogen in soil which carrots need. Onion, parsley and rosemary repel the carrot fly.
Companions: apples, berries, carrots, grapes, peas, roses, tomatoes.
Keep away from: beans
**Improves flavor and growth of companions. Deters aphids and Japanese beetles.
Companions: beans, cucumbers, marjoram, parsnip, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and zucchini
Keep away from: tomato
**Soybeans deter chinch bugs. Tomato worm and corn earworm like both plants. Beans and peas supply nitrogen.
Companions: beans, cabbage, corn, early potatoes, radishes, and sunflowers.
Keep away from: potato, sage, strong aromatic herbs, and tomato
** Cucumbers grow poorly around potatoes and sage. Radishes deter cucumber beetles. Cucumbers encourage blight in late potatoes.
Companions: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, onions
Keep away from: carrots, cilantro, and tomato
**Improves flavor and growth of cabbage family plants. Cross-pollinates with cilantro, ruining both. One of only a few plants that grows well with Fennel.
Companions: cabbage, cane fruits, fruit trees, roses, tomatoes
Keep away from: peas, beans
**Deters Japanese beetles and aphids. A garlic oil spray deters onion flies, aphids, and ermine moths. A garlic tea helps repel late potato blight.
Companions: beets, cabbage family, carrots, chamomile, lettuce, parsnips
Keep away from: beans, peas
**Deters most pests, such as maggots, aphids, the carrot fly, and other pests.
Companions: basil, beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, flax, hemp, marigolds, peas, and squash
Keep away from: apples, birch, cherries, cucumbers, pumpkins, raspberries, sunflowers, tomatoes, walnuts
** Cucumber, tomato and raspberry attract harmful pests to potatoes. Horseradish increases disease resistance. Hemp deters phytophthora infestans. Basil deters potato beetles. Marigolds (dug into crop soil) deter nematodes.
Plant near: chervil, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, peas, nasturtiums, root crops
Keep away from: hyssop
** Radish is often used as a trap crop against some beetles (flea and cucumber). Chervil makes radishes hot. Lettuce helps make radishes tender. Nasturtiums improve radishes’ flavor.
Companions: asparagus, basil, cabbage family, carrots, gooseberries, mustard, parsley, onions, rosemary, sage, stinging nettles
Keep away from: fennel, kohlrabi, potatoes, walnuts, brassicas, beets, corn, dill, peas, potatoes, and rosemary
**Growing basil about 10 inches from tomatoes increases the yield of the tomato plants.
You can also click on this vegetable and herb companion planting chart if your choice of plant is not mentioned above.
Use of Containers
Did you know that you can also use containers for your vegetables? It’s the most forgiving style of planting for garden plans. Let’s say the plants are not growing well in its current location. With container gardening, you can simple relocate it.
According to Dale Meyer’s book, ‘The Complete Guide to Companion Planting’, you can grow the following herbs and vegetables in 5-gallon sized containers, or window boxes:
-Snap beans -Broccoli -Basil -Parsley
-Onion -Pepper -Catmint -Thyme
-Spinach -Squash -Chives -Nasturtium
-Tomatoes -Cilantro -Lemon balm
Make sure any pot that you purchase has holes in the bottom, at least ½-inch wide to facilitate good drainage.
For more help on how to start container gardening, you can read this great guide.
Have you tried companion planting before? What plant combinations did you use? Do you have a friend that could use some help with companion? Share this post with them.
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IOTA Australia. (2015, July) Container Gardening: How to Plant Garden Pots and Planter Boxes Guide. Retrieved from https://iotagarden.com.au/how-to-plant-garden-pots/