A simple guide to increasing your yields by growing certain plants together to maximize mutual benefits in the garden
What is Companion Planting?
Companion Planting is the practice of growing certain crops next to each other for beneficial effects such as attracting pollinators, suppressing weeds, increasing pest management, increased uptake of nutrients, and upholding diversity. Even if you’ve never grown a garden before, this is a good practice that anyone can easily apply and get noticeable results, regardless of experience.
When you’re planning your companion garden, pick out a space in your yard, whether you’d like it to be a raised bed or any other type of small plot and consider planting varieties of flowers and vegetables that are inviting and can be admired by people, hummingbirds, bees and butterflies alike.
The Tradition of the Three Sisters
One of the most well-known examples of companion planting, and one that you may be familiar with already, is the “Three Sisters Method”, widely used by Native American farming communities. Corn, Pole Beans and Squash are planted together for the mutual benefit of all three plants, as well as the soil. The Beans climb up, and use the Corn stalk as support, and at the same time will help keep the Corn plant sturdy and restore essential Nitrogen to the soil for the benefit of future crops. Squash contributes to this relationship by helping keep the weeds down, providing shade, and preventing too much moisture from escaping via excess evaporation.
Companion Planting Fails to Avoid
Just as there are several plants that “get along” and make great neighbors, there are some combinations you’ll want to steer clear of. There are a few ways plants can compete against each other due to conflicting needs like nutrient requirements, water, space, and the amount of sunlight they receive. Some plants may also be more susceptible to the same types of diseases or pests, and these should be planted as far away from each other as possible. Another thing to be aware of when planning your companion garden, is that some crops can hinder the growth or success of other plants. For example, Fennel is recognized as a poor companion plant, and should be given its own space to grow far away from all other crops.
Perfect Companion Planting Combinations
Here are some examples of the best companion planting combinations for your garden:
- Basil and tomatoes are not only companions in the kitchen but also best friends in the garden. Basil repels certain insect pests such as thrips and have also been shown to disorient the moths which lay tomato hornworms. Researchers also found that interplanting tomatoes with basil resulted in less egg-laying by armyworms. Basil also attracts bees, which improves pollination, tomato health, and flavor.
- Dill attracts ladybugs, which eat small garden pests such as aphids and spider mites.
- Borage pairs well with tomatoes, attracting pollinating bees. Borage also pairs well with strawberries, enhancing their flavor and vigor.
- Garlic and garlic spray has a strong scent deters many insects. Aphids (which affect more than 400 plants) can’t stand garlic! Garlic also repels onion flies, ermine moths, and Japanese beetles. Plant between rows of potatoes, alongside lettuces and cabbages and near fruit trees.
- Mint deters aphids, ants, and flea beetles. Just be careful to plant mint nearby in its own pot or bed, as it spreads and is a very aggressive grower!
- Nasturtiums attract hungry caterpillars away from brassicas like cabbage and broccoli and kale, so grow these pretty flowers close to those crops; nasturtium also lure blackfly away from fava beans.
- Parsley attracts beneficial insects to protect and pollinate tomatoes. Plant these herbs between tomatoes.
- Poached egg plants (a wildflower) draws in hoverflies, which control aphids on nearby lettuce.
- Sage is a useful herb that repels carrot fly. Also plant it around a cabbage patch to reduce injury from cabbage moths.
- Sunflowers pair well with cucumbers and pole beans: Sunflowers help provide support for climbing plants, as well as shade for crops which, in hotter climates, can become sun-stressed.
- Tansy is excellent at attracting pest-eating bugs such as ladybugs or ladybirds, and predatory wasps. At the same time, tansy repels many of the common baddies such as cutworm which attacks asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes, and tomato plants. Tansy is also a perennial, which means you only have to plant it once. (Score!)
Still want even MORE color and diversity? Add more flowers! Planting Calendula or Cosmos nearby will attract tiny parasitizing wasps to aphid-hungry hoverflies. Marigolds are another eye-pleasing classic, and are excellent for attracting pest-hungry beneficial insects.
It can be easy to become overwhelmed by all the information of what parings to make or not make when planting your companion garden. The important thing to remember is to stick to the basics. Start small and start out with as little as two plant varieties that you and your family enjoy most — Afterall, in your garden, you’re both the mayor and the city planner! By growing plants with favorable companions, you’ll bring peace and prosperity to your “town”, right before your eyes.
If you’ve had experience with this gardening method, what were your results? Did you notice any combinations of plants that grow well together or disrupted each other’s growth? Comment on this post and let us know!