A Beginner’s Guide to Companion Planting

By Michael Jenkins | April 14

Whether you’ve been gardening a while or just doing some reading as you get started, you may have heard of companion planting. Put simply, companion planting is the practice of planting different crops in proximity to each other for their mutual benefit.  With a long history and a lot of lore built up around it, companion planting can seem daunting if you’re new to it. In reality, however, companion planting is an easy way to enhance your garden. Let’s dig in and take a look at what companion planting is, how it works, and how you can use it.

An Intro to Companion Planting

While it’s gotten more attention in recent years, companion planting as a practice dates back to antiquity. The ancient Chinese learned to plant mosquito fern (Azolla spp.) in their rice paddies because mosquito ferns provide much needed nitrogen while block out plants and pests that would compete with the rice. In ancient Mesoamerica, farmers developed the Three Sister system of planting beans, corn, and squash together. They worked in harmony to help ensure a bountiful harvest, with the corn providing a support for the beans to climb, the beans adding nitrogen to the soil, and the squash running on the ground providing shade to prevent weeds and keep the soil moist. Farmers and gardeners across the Americas still use the Three Sisters together to this day, as it’s an effective way to maximize both garden space and resources.

Over the last century, companion planting has become of special interest to organic gardeners and farmers, who use it as an alternative to pesticides, herbicides, and artificial fertilizers.  This can be especially effective for home gardeners who generally have more limited space than even a small farm.

Companion Planting for the Home Garden

So now that we know a bit more about companion planting, how can you make use of it in your garden? The best place to start is by looking at which plants go together in a complimentary way. In general, companion planting works when one plant provides something the other needs by addition nutrition, attracting pollinators, repelling pests, or offering support or shade. With that in mind, here's a short selection of some companion planting combinations that work out particularly well. This information comes to us courtesy of the North Dakota State Agricultural Extension Office:

Plant

Plant Companions

Plant Allies

Plant Enemies

Asparagus

Basil, parsley, tomato

Pot marigold deters beetles.

 

Beans

Beet (to bush beans only), cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, pea, potatoes, radish, strawberry.

Marigold deters Mexican bean beetles. Nasturtium and rosemary deter bean beetles. Summer savory deters bean beetles, improves growth and flavor.

Garlic, onion and shallot stunt the growth of beans.

Beets

Bush beans, cabbage family, lettuce, onion.

Garlic improves growth and flavor.

Pole beans and beets stunt each other's growth.

Carrots

Bean, lettuce, onion, pea, pepper, radish, tomato.

Chives improve growth and flavor. Rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.

Dill retards growth.

Celery

Bean, cabbage family and tomato.

Chives and garlic deter aphids. Nasturtium deters bugs and aphids.

 

Chard

Bean, cabbage family and onion

 

 

Corn

Bean, cucumber, melon, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, squash.

Odorless marigold and white geranium deter Japanese beetles. Pigweed raises nutrients from the subsoil to where the corn can reach them.

Tomatoes and corn are attacked by the same worm.

Cucumber

Bean, cabbage family, corn, pea, radish, tomato

Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtium deters aphids, beetles and bugs, improves growth and flavor. Oregano deters pests in general. Tansy deters ants, beetles, bugs, flying insects.

Sage is generally injurious to cucumber.

Eggplant

Bean, pepper.

Marigold deters nematodes.

 

Lettuce

Beet, cabbage family, carrot, onion, radish, strawberry.

Chives and garlic deter aphids.

 

Melons

Corn, pumpkin, radish, squash.

Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtium deters bugs and beetles. Oregano provides general pest protection.

 

Onions

Beet, cabbage family, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomato.

Chamomile and summer savory improve growth and flavor. Pigweed raises nutrients from subsoil and makes them available to the onions. Sow thistle improves growth and health.

Onions stunt bean, pea.

Parsley

Asparagus, corn, tomato

 

 

Peas

Bean, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnip.

Chives deter aphids. Mint improves health and flavor.

Garlic and onion stunt the growth of peas.

Peppers

Carrot, eggplant, onion and tomato

 

 

Potatoes

Beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, pea.

Horseradish, planted at the corners of the potato patch, provides general protection. Marigold deters beetles.

Tomatoes and potatoes are attacked by the same blight.

Pumpkins

Corn, melon, squash.

Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtium deters bugs, beetles. Oregano provides general pest protection.

 

Radishes

Bean, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, melon, pea.

Chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor.

Hyssop

Spinach

Cabbage family, strawberry

 

 

Squash

Corn, melon, pumpkin.

Borage deters worms, improves growth and flavor. Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles. Oregano provides general pest protection.

 

Strawberry

Bean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thyme.

Cabbage.

Borage strengthens resistance to insects and disease. Thyme, as a border, deters worms.

Tomatoes

Asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, pepper.

Basil repels flies and mosquitoes, improves growth and flavor. Bee balm, chives and mint improve health and flavor. Borage deters tomato worm, improves growth and flavor. Dill, until mature, improves growth and health. Once mature, it stunts tomato growth. Marigold deters nematodes. Pot marigold deters tomato worm and general garden pests.

Corn and tomato are attacked by the same worm. Mature dill retards tomato growth. Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth. Potatoes and tomatoes are attacked by the same blight.

Turnips

Pea

 

 

Cabbage Family (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chinese Cabbage, Kale, and Kohlrabi)

Beet, celery, chard, cucumber, lettuce, onion, potato, spinach.

Chamomile and garlic improve growth and flavor. Catnip, hyssop, rosemary and sage deter cabbage moth. Dill improves growth and health. Mint deters cabbage moth and ants, improves health and flavor. Nasturtium deters bugs, beetles, aphids. Southernwood deters cabbage moth, improves growth and flavor. Tansy deters cabbageworm and cutworm. Thyme deters cabbageworm.

Kohlrabi and tomato stunt each other's growth.

 

This is far from a comprehensive list, but it covers most common plants found in house hold gardens and should provide a good starting point if you’re interested in companion planting as part of your garden this year. By making use of good companion planting along with other forms of pest protection and maintaining soil health, you’ll be setting your garden up for success!


Are you new to companion planting? Already using it? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Please leave a comment below or find us on social media. Gardzen is all about community and we welcome you to be part of ours!

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