Growing vegetables and companion planting is a joyous past-time. It is a hobby good for the mind, body, and soul, to work the ground and have your hands in the soil. Fresh vegetables picked from the garden do also taste better than any from a supermarket.
Yet, growing garden crops is also full of challenges. From the weather to weeds to pests that are out to attack and damage your precious vegetable plants.
Too often, people reach for chemical fertilizers and bug sprays. But, there is an organic approach available to help. It can help gardeners grow strong plants, get bumper harvests and deal with pests.
What is companion planting?
Companion planting means growing different plants together. This is because they offer mutual benefits to each other.
It is a fantastic organic way of helping to maintain a healthy balance in the vegetable garden.
It creates communities in the garden and maintains a natural equilibrium. And it can work in whatever space you have.
When planning a new garden do not think of each crop on its own. Try also to consider the combinations of plants that will be in the vicinity.
It is the symbiotic relationship between the plants that promotes a positive influence. It offers an all-around win for the grower.
Companion planting can work at any scale. On a large plot or a few raised beds, there are combinations that will be applicable and beneficial to you.
Companion Planting in History
Companion planting has been around for thousands of years. Stories claim the Ancient Greeks and Romans used companion plants for their grapevines.
The classic ‘Three Sisters‘ companion planting combination originated from North America’s indigenous tribes. It involves the planting of corn, squash, and climbing beans together.
Companion planting has continued to be been used throughout history in various guises. It enjoyed a real resurgence thanks to the organic movement of the early 20th Century.
Modern trends have helped promote companion planting. Moving it into the mainstream as a way to fight general garden pests and boost the growth and flavor of crops.
This includes the rise in the popularity of permaculture in certain countries.
Benefits of Vegetable Companion Plants
Anyone growing vegetables can take advantage of the many benefits of companion planting. These include:
- helping combat pests,
- aiding strong, healthy growth,
- and helping prevent disease.
Growing certain plants together also improves soil and flavor.
Pest Repelling and Attracting Beneficial Insects
Pests are an ongoing battle for any gardener. But the right companion planting combinations can help.
Some plants put off pests that could otherwise threaten a crop. Meanwhile, others can act as a repellent. You can confuse insects that seek certain plants by growing different plants together.
Yes, some plants can be grown as a trap crop. Such a trap plant means attracting bugs to that rather than having them ravage another crop. It is a sacrificial plant.
The smell given off by plants is often what attracts pests. And companion plants can confuse those predators.
Carrot fly detects the smell of carrots from miles away. They can also feed on parsnip, celery, and celeriac. One way to combat this is to plant crops with distinct smells to confuse the pests.
For example, sage deters carrot fly as well as alliums including onions or garlic. Aphids can also easily be repelled by the smells of other plants. Garlic deter aphids, and planting nasturtium deters aphids and white flies too. Also, you need to keep it close to tomatoes.
Cabbage moths and spider mites can also be repelled by the smell of alliums. These pests repeatedly damage plants in the cabbage family.
Some plants are a huge help as they attract beneficial insects into the vegetable garden.
These can attract two types of favorable insects. Such as bees which we rely on to pollinate the plants, or insects that can eat other pests.
While pests are often attracted to one type of plant, their enemies tend to eat a variety of pests. So the more of these beneficial insects you can attract, the more pests they can target.
Improves Growth and Flavor
Growing certain combinations together ensures vegetables are healthy and provide a bumper harvest. It can actually boost the growth and flavor of crops.
It is well known that basil is one of the best companions for tomato plants. The herb helps the tomato growth by repelling garden pests, including white fly. It also boosts the flavor and yield.
Studies have shown that growing basil near newly grown tomato plants results in more fruit. It also brings a bigger harvest. Both are natural partners as they need the same growing environment to succeed.
Aiding Plant Growth
Companion planting helps combat threats posed to plants by the weather. This includes sun, wind, and rain.
Some plants like full sun, while some others prefer a shadier spot and wouldn’t thrive in that baking heat.
Using one tall crop provides much-needed shade to another low-growing plant. A classic example of this is sweet corn providing shade to lettuces.
As well as shade, tall plants like Jerusalem artichokes can form a wind barrier. This can help protect more delicate crops from strong winds.
Some plants can actually improve soil fertility. This offers benefits to other plants in the near vicinity.
Legumes, like peas, pole beans, and bush beans, have a symbiotic relationship with soil. They add nitrogen back into the soil by fixing nitrogen through nodules in their roots.
They make good companion plants as the vital soil nutrients are taken up by the plants growing in the same bed. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plants. It gives them the energy to grow and also to produce flowers or vegetables.
Legumes are a good companion plant for the cabbage family. This is as the latter have big leaves that need lots of nitrogen to grow.
Weeds are an ongoing problem for gardeners. Planting sprawling crops such as squash or pumpkins can help with weed suppression. They smother otherwise open areas to stop weeds from coming through.
These spreading plants also help to keep moisture in the soil. Vital moisture that would otherwise be lost due to evaporation. They also protect the roots of other plants from sun or wind erosion.
Efficient Use of Space
Planting in mutually beneficial combinations can help maximize the potential of any space. It helps boost yield, maximize the growing space, and reduce time spent weeding the area.
Mixing crops that grow at different speeds can help conserve space. Such as growing early and quick-growing crops with others that mature later in the year.
When the early crops are harvested, the leaves of the other maturing crops start to fill in. They quickly cover the ground and suppress weeds.
This system works well with leafy greens like lettuce or spinach. These would be planted alongside slow-growing plants in the cabbage family.
Whereas some plants provide protection, others can provide support. These include sunflowers or sweetcorn. Tall plants grow high and strong so provide a sturdy structure for the likes of peas or pole beans to grow up.
Taller crops can also be under-planted with low-growers like lettuces. These again act as a ground cover to retain moisture in the soil and repress weeds. Helping produce strong growth and reducing the time needed to water and weed the plot.
Key Features to Remember When Planning a Garden
There is a lot to consider when planning a new growing patch. Consider several aspects of each plant you want to grow. What will attract pollinators? What improves growth and flavor? And what two plants work well together?
If you need further help, look at this companion planting chart. It shows an array of proven planting combinations.
Any crop will likely either benefit another or from another near them. This applies if you are going to plant tomatoes, plant cucumbers, or plant chives. Looking closer at one, you find chives improve growth in carrots and repel several pests.
For another example, what if you want to plant brussels sprouts? There are various things to consider.
You could research and look at a companion planting chart found online. It will show you can combat pests such as cabbage moths and Japanese beetles.
Planting herbs, garlic, nasturtium, and marigolds near brussels sprouts can achieve this.
Brussels sprouts are hungry plants. They will prosper if planted near green beans to take in extra nitrogen.
In our part two to companion planting, I take a focused look at 10 plus of the best combinations to use. I will also highlight some plants that don’t like growing near each other, along with the perils of mixing heavy feeders.