Companion planting is a term used to grow certain vegetables, herbs and flowers alongside each other to benefit all the plants. Conversely, it’s used to keep certain plants away from each other that could be detrimental to their growth.
A perfect example of companion planting is a Native American tradition famously called “Three Sisters.” Three vegetables: corn, climbing beans and winter squash are grown together for their complimentary properties. The tall corn supports the beans, the beans provide nitrogen to the soil and the low-lying leaves of the squash discourage weeds and pests.
Although there are not many scientific studies to prove that companion planting works, master gardeners agree that the more diverse your plants are, the healthier your garden will be. This means that, even if you’re planning to grow only vegetables, you might want to consider adding some herbs and/or flowering plants also.
Some of the benefits are easier pest control, healthier and stronger plants, more bountiful harvest and easier maintenance for you, the gardener.
For a quick summary of which plants grow well together and which plants to keep apart, make sure you check out the chart at the bottom of this article.
This short video gives a nice overview and visual of how companion planting works when growing vegetables.
Benefits of Companion Planting
Some plants give off strong smells that deter certain pests and insects. For example, marigolds and chrysanthemums repel many bugs, and the strong scents from herbs such as rosemary, mint, bay leaves, lavender and basil discourage a whole host of pests from approaching.
As you might have guessed however, not all herbs can grow together either, so keep companion planting for herbs in mind when making decisions about which ones to grow near each other.
Not surprisingly, companion planting for pest prevention will minimize the need for chemicals or pesticides. But don’t rule it out completely, as companion planting is not 100% foolproof and it may not deter pests completely. However, don’t rush out to buy a traditional chemical pesticide; there are a number of natural pesticides and pest control methods you can add to your arsenal of tricks to get rid of the remaining persistent ones while keeping your food organic.
Attract Beneficial Insects
Some plants, on the other hand, by providing shelter and food, attract insects that are natural enemies of other pests. Some predatory insects, including spiders, mites, ladybird beetles, mantids and lacewings, are attracted to various herbs such as parsley, fennel, dill and cilantro.
We have bees, butterflies and hummingbirds among other pollinators to thank for helping bring our fruits and vegetables into existence. So, planning your garden with pollinators in mind will help ensure a steady stream of these welcome and even crucial visitors.
Since they are looking for pollen, plan to have a continuous bloom of herbs and flowering plants in your garden in addition to vegetables. Variety is the name of the game here. It’s said that mixing flowers and herbs causes their scents and competing colors to confuse pests so they can’t find your vegetables.
And, as an added benefit, having colorful flowers tucked away among your vegetables will make your boring green vegetable garden much more delightful and enjoyable for all the family.
Keep Plants Strong and Healthy
Some plants can be robbed of their basic life support: sunshine, water and nutrients when nearby plants take more than their fair share.
So, tall plants can prevent shorter plants from getting the sun they need (although this can benefit plants than can’t tolerate much sun). This can be overcome by spacing the competing plants away from each other and placing the shorter plants in a position facing the sun.
Some plants have a need for a lot of water whereas for other plants this would be a death knell. For this reason, it would be impossible to give both plants the right amount of water if planted right next to each other. The same is true for fertilizer. Bottom line is to keep plants with competing water and nutritional needs quite separate.
On the other hand, two plants that have a high demand for the same nutrient could also negatively affect each other. Broccoli and tomatoes are a good example of this, since they both have a high intake of calcium.
Depending on the season, maintaining a vegetable garden can be a daily task, some might even call it a chore. Either way, you want to be as efficient as possible. By keeping plants with differing needs apart, your gardening life will be much easier.
Containers and Raised Garden Beds
There are many reasons to grow your fruits, vegetables and herbs in containers or in raised garden beds, and companion planting is just one more reason.
If you’re not planning on a large vegetable garden, containers are an easy way to group non-competing plants together without needing much forward planning. As long as you have enough room in your garden or patio to keep containers at a distance from each other, this might be the way to go. You can even grow plants alongside each other that have differing water and nutrient needs if they’re in separate pots.
Raised garden beds (also called garden boxes) are becoming very popular. They are simply structures, three or four feet wide and six to eight feet long, that sit on top of existing soil or even on your patio or balcony. They are little mini gardens and have many benefits. You could, for example, have one raised bed for plants that need acidic soil and another raised bed for plants that prefer alkaline soil.
Chart Source: here
If you practice companion planting in your vegetable garden, you could save yourself a lot of frustration and angst. Imagine doing everything right for a plant, and then unbeknownst to you a nearby plant is undoing all your good work. Be a smart gardener, use a chart like the one above and let it be your guide. You’ll have bigger harvests and much more pleasure and success in growing your own food.
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