What is Companion Planting?

Companion Planting

In life, some people make you better, or some leave you worse off.  Don’t worry. This is still a gardening blog. When it comes to gardening, this statement remains true.  Some plants benefit from being planted near each other, while others suffer when planted near each other.  So if you knew you could produce a specific plant, flower, or herb next to your crops that would help increase yields or pest resistance, would you?  In this article, we will discuss the idea of companion planting, how to get started, and discuss some of the benefits of companion planting.  At the article’s end is a link to a companion planting chart.  If you can’t wait until the end of the article, here you go.

What is companion planting?

Companion planting believes that some plants receive certain benefits when planted near other plants. Growing individual plants in proximity has been shown to either increase pest resistance, yield, or even flavor.  Not all crops benefit from things planted around them.  Plant the wrong plants together, and you could increase the frequency of pests, decrease harvest because plants compete for the same nutrients, or even completely inhibit the growth of some crops.  

Compatible Pairs (Friends)

Companion planting is not a new concept. Indigenous Americans practiced a planting method known as three sisters; Three sisters is a combination of planting corn, squash, and beans. The corn stalks act as a pole for the beans to grow, the beans supply nitrogen for the corn and squash, and the squash leaves shade the ground and stop weeds from growing in the soil. For this to work, you must plant each at different times. Corn first so that it has time to grow tall enough for the beans to use as a trellis, and squash last so that the vertical components have significant time to grow.  

Here are a few other familiar planting friends:

  • Basil and tomatoes
  •  Strawberries and Dill 
  • Corn and Beans 
  • Nasturtium and tomatoes 
  • Marigolds and tomatoes. 

Incompatible Plants (Foes)

Like my mom says, everything is not for everybody; the same is true about plants.  Not all plants can be planted next to each other. We call plants that don’t grow along well with each other foes.  

Why are plants foes?  Nobody has any scientific evidence on why this is, but from my gardening experience, I have noticed it sometimes to be true.  Maybe plants are foes because of an issue with their roots, how they feed, or what they remove or deposit into the soil.  Whatever the case, enough people mention certain foes, so maybe you should heed the warning.

Here are some common poor planting combinations that you should avoid. 

  • Peas and Garlic
  • Peas and Onions
  • Peppers and Broccoli
  • Tomatoes and Potatoes

For more ideas, download my companion planting guide below.

Should I Care About Companion Planting?

There is not much scientific evidence to support these claims about companion planting.  I had a hard time locating any information that was backed by science.  But I do not always need science. I believe that if enough cultures from various regions of the world have the same beliefs, there has to be some truth.  

While I pay attention to my companion chart, I also love experimenting and discovering if there is any truth to the rumors.  I find that companion planting helps me spend a little more time considering what and where I will plant anything. 

Don’t stress these rules too much if you have limited space; focus on creating a mini ecosystem with various plants: vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Pay attention and keep a journal.

Benefits of Companion Planting

When it comes to companion plants, how do these unspoken benefits work?  There are many different factors at work: the oils secreted by a plant and the smell it produces. Also, other bacteria and fungi within the root zone work together in a symbiotic relationship.  Often the benefits are provided due to the beneficial insects that the companions attract.  Some things you can’t explain how or why they happen. It is just nature.

Pollinators and beneficial insects

Growing fruits and vegetables with flowers and herbs are the best way to attract pollinators to your garden. Even though some vegetables are considered self-fertile, meaning they don’t need a pollinator, every garden benefits from more pollinators and beneficial insects.

For more information on companion plants and the best plants for pollinators, check out these articles.

Whenever you think of pollinators, do not only think of bees and butterflies. There are many other small beneficial insects like hoverflies, ladybugs, lacewings, and more, and every one of these insects plays a vital role in natural pest control.

Three Ways to Pest Control with Companion Planting

  1. Trap Crops. Like humans and other animals, insects have a certain type of preference for food. We can use companion planting as they weigh to entice or attract various garden pests in two specific areas. Trap crops are used to attract pests away from important/ cash crops. So we can use companion plants like nasturtiums to attract aphids away from our cole crops. Often you plant trap crops around the perimeter of the garden. Have you ever wondered why people put the herbs around the edge?
  2. Increasing Predatory Insects. We have already established that companion planting can increase the number of pollinators and beneficial insects, but those aren’t the only types of insects that are tracked. Companion plants also attract predatory insects. Some of our beneficial insects are predatory insects. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs feed on aphids and other soft body pests throughout your garden. So by practicing companion planting and increasing the number of beneficial insects in your garden, you are also decreasing the number of garden pests.
  3. Pest Deterrents. The third way companion plants can be used to deter pests is by simply planting them along the border. For some reason, some past can’t stand certain plants. There is something to these plants, whether it’s the oils they secrete or their pungent smell. For example, fragrant herbs like basil, Rosemary, chives, dill, and cilantro help repel aphids. Lemon scented plants such as lemongrass, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme are all said to help repel and did her mosquitoes. Part of the reason why people tell you to plant marigolds with tomatoes is that the flowers reportedly keep insects away.

Companion planting is ideal if you have a small space.  Companion planting is a form of polyculture, or planting several crops together in a small area.  As an urban gardener, I know about this whether you’re an urban gardener or not; I recommend all of the polyculture planting styles; vertical gardening, succession planting, intercropping and more.

More Complanting Tips

  • Look at garden centers and information online; they will tell you to plant marigolds with tomatoes to deter pests and nematodes.  While planting marigolds will deter pests, just planting it will not stop the nematodes.  You must grow the marigold throughout the season and till it into the soil to help with the nematode issue.  Also, the benefit that is often overlooked with marigolds is all the beneficial insects they bring to the garden.  
  • Herbs are the best addition to any garden.  Most herbs have no known foes, so you can add them anywhere without second-guessing yourself.  The vital oil production and scents are excellent additions to grow with flowers and annual vegetables.
  • Planning your garden is essential.  To get all the benefits associated with companion planting, you need to know where to place these plants. What often happens is that we purchase or start more plants than we can fit into our garden. Every gardener knows the feeling of strolling down the aisle and whispering to themselves, “I know I don’t have any more space, but I bet I can find somewhere to place this. Having a plan in your garden helps you stay more organized.
  • Don’t let all the benefits associated with companion planting make you forget the importance of proper spacing. Crowded plants lead to sick plants, increased pests and diseases, and plants fighting for nutrients, water, sunlight, and air.

 So what are some common friends and foes? Click here to download companion planting list. Try them out over different seasons and see which pairings work for you.  Like I was told in life, everythig is not for everyone, meaning not every pair listed here may work for you a lot depends on your garden.

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