Companion Planting Overview
for Vegetable, Herb, Fruit and Flower Gardening
Companion planting consists of several fascinating gardening theories rolled up into one. While it's only recently become popular again, companion planting vegetables (as well as herbs, flowers, and fruits) has been used in gardening by native cultures worldwide for centuries.
Why Companion Planting?
- Better (bigger) harvest of crops
- Healthier plants, fewer plant diseases
- Natural pest control
- Save (maximize) space in your garden
- Attract pollinating insects
Companion Gardening Example #1: It is NOT advisable to plant chard and potatoes together when practicing companion planting. It is easy to see from the picture below that the potatoes on the end are stunted. Being weakened, they were also the first ones the potato beetle larva sought out. Likewise, the chard was stunted compared to a patch only 5 feet away in the other direction. Not a good companion planting choice.
What is Companion Planting?
In short, the basic theory of companion planting is that by planting selected varieties of plants together in your garden, they can both benefit.
Companion Planting theory suggests that different types of plants exude different types of natural chemicals. Certain combinations of garden plants thrive on the mix of these natural chemicals. These companion plants (whether a combination of vegetables, herbs, fruits or flowers) planted together, produce higher yields of crops, are more vigorous, and are better able to defend themselves against disease and insects.
Likewise, the opposite is also true in companion gardening. Companion planting theory suggests that planting certain types of incompatible plants (whether vegetable, herb, fruit or flower plants) together actually interferes with their growth. These incompatible plants, placed near each other in your garden will tend to be less vigorous, produce fewer vegetables and be more troubled by plant diseases and insects.
For more suggestions on companion planting combinations, review the Companion Planting Chart.
Companion Planting Example #2:
Planted as neighbors, chives (or garlic) can stunt the growth of peas or beans. However, if planted near roses, garlic can help repel aphids.
Companion Planting Example #3:
Cucumbers won't thrive if planted near aromatic herbs.
Companion planting vegetables can also help with space management in your garden. Consider which plants can be planted together based on soil requirements, seasonal timing, root depth, lighting needs, watering needs, fertilizing needs, etc.
In a simple example, you might consider trellising sun loving plants (such as melons or squash) over shade (or part/shade) loving plants (such as lettuce) to save space & create an environment that works well for both.
Don't forget to check the Companion Planting Chart first when planning your garden.
Using companion planting in your vegetable garden can also help keep insect pests at bay. In a nut shell, pesty insects are attracted to your crops largely by the smell of the plant they like to feed on. (Not unlike how you might be drawn to the kitchen over the smell of fresh bread.) However, if you mix the crops in your garden (using the companion planting guidelines), the bugs have a harder time finding their target crop.
Note: Most of us like to plant our gardens in nice tidy rows of the same crop. However, this actually works against the companion planting theory mentioned above. To be effective in controlling insects with companion planting, you need to intermingle the various vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
Companion Planting Example: This one's from an old farmer’s “wives tale.” The companion planting tale suggests that you should plant pumpkins together with your corn. The tall corn stalks act as a decoy to protect the pumpkins in your garden from pesty bug predators like squash borers (believe it or not, there is actually some scientific evidence to suggest that this works!). Reciprocating, the pumpkin provides very prickly leaves and vines that are supposed to act as natural “barbed wire” to any raccoons that may be eyeing your tender ears of corn.
Note: I've had mixed reviews on how effective (or not) this companion planting combination is at keeping the raccoons away... let us know of your experience with this! firstname.lastname@example.org
Companion Planting Example:
Gardeners have planted corn as a companion for pole (climbing) beans for generations. The beans grow up the corn stalks (as if they were trellises). In return, the beans process nitrogen and help fertilize the corn. Additionally, the bean vines help brace the corn against wind damage. Native American Indians practiced companion planting with their gardening by adding squash into the mix. They called these three vegetable plants, growing together, the “Three Sisters.”
Note: I suggest giving the corn a head start though. Otherwise, the beans may strangle the young stalks before they get well established.
Your vegetable garden will benefit by mixing herbs and flowers together throughout the garden as you practice companion planting. Placed strategically, these non-traditional vegetable garden plants can help attract pollinating insects to your garden. Without enough pollinators, you will have a nice crop of flowers, but few fruit. So, plan to place plants that attract bees, butterflies, etc. throughout your garden.
Note: consider successive plantings of any short season flowers and herbs used in companion planting. (They're only successful in helping your companion planting efforts to attract pollinators while the flowers are in bloom.)
The more friendly bugs you have flying from flower to flower, the more fruits and vegetables you will have growing in your garden!
Be sure to review the Companion Planting Chart as you're planning your garden.
Companion Planting - To Attract Insect Predators
Companion gardening tip: If you see pests with egg casings attached to the "bad" insects, you know that your companion gardening system is working. Don't destory those insects, as you want to encourage the life cycle of the predatory insects in your garden.
Certain insects devour the harmful insects and are thus good for your garden. You can attract these insect predators by including plants that they favor in your companion gardening plan. (These types of plants are sometimes called "nursery crops.") The best plants for this type of companion gardening seem to be ones that have an abundance of small flowers.
Common Beneficial Insects: Lady Beetles (Lady Bugs), Lacewings, Parasitic Wasps, Spiders, Hover Flies, Assassin Bugs
Companion Planting Suggestions to Attract Predatory Insects:
Dill, Mint, Yarrow, Catmint, Lavender, Bee Balm, Marigold, Cosmos, Sunflowers, Asters, Dahlias, Coreopsis, Tansy, Basil, Thyme, Hyssop, Marjoram, Sage, Caraway, Fennel, Angelica, Butterfly Flower, Milkweeds, Chives, Clover, Coneflowers, Daisies, Buckwheat, Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrots).
For a steady supply of friendly insects in your garden, you'll want to plan the planting of "nursery crops," so that you have a constant supply of blooms throughout the season. (Consider successive planting as a possibility.)
Note: When companion planting to attract insect predators, you'll want to mix the attracting plants in among your other garden plants (specifically, among the plants that you want to protect).
Don't forget to review the Companion Planting Chart.
Companion Planting - for Trapping Harmful Insects
You can use Companion Planting as a "defensive" minded gardening strategy by trapping insects. When companion planting trapping crops, you plant a decoy crop that the harmful insects love. Once they're lured to the trap crop, you then address the "bad bugs" in the trap crop (before they move on to the real crop).
Some things to keep in mind when companion planting a trapping crop:
- Place the trap crop as close as you can to (or even intermingled) with the "real" crop in your garden.
- Watch the companion trap crop carefully. If you don't monitor it and deal with the harmful insects timely and efficiently, it becomes a breeding ground that can turn into an infestation.
- Timing is important. The trap crop must be up and running when the harmful insects are at their height. Depending upon the life cycle of the insect you're trying to trap, you might need to do successive plantings of the companion trap crop, to ensure adequate protection.
- This method isn't always practical if you have a small garden, as it takes space that would otherwise be used for producing an edible crop for you
Companion Planting - For Support
Lastly, you can use companion planting for plant support. Plant weaker plants next to stronger ones, to help lend support to the plant.
For example, pole beans planted among your corn patch will help fortify the corn stalks against the wind. (Although, as mentioned above, give the corn stalks a little bit of a head start when using this method of companion gardening.)
** Looking for the Companion Planting Chart? **
(It moved - click here... Companion Planting Chart.)
Note: the advice and information contained herein is based upon our experience and study. As with any advice, please apply at your own discretion.