Just like people, our plants have friends as well. And planting your herbs and vegetables alongside their “friends” can keep them healthy and thriving. Any time you partner plants together for such a purpose, it’s called vegetable companion planting. This article will cover everything about this age-old practice, along with different companion plants and a companion planting chart, to help you understand all its ins and outs for optimisizing your garden’s success.
Download my Vegetable Companion Planting Chart Infographic below!
Understanding Vegetable Companion Planting
First, a quick explanation. What exactly is companion planting?
Companion planting is the art of strategically planting different vegetables, flowers, and herbs based on compatibility. Simply put, it is when two plants are grown near each other for their benefit – essentially, a type of symbiosis.
Sometimes the benefit is mutual, with each plant sharing its strength to enhance the other’s vigor and health. In other cases, the benefit is one-sided, with one plant selflessly offering most of the partnership advantages to the other.
Companion planting could be as simple as growing two vegetables alongside each other to confuse pests, or growing flowers near your crops to lure in beneficial pollinating insects.
But how to know which plants complement each other and which aren’t companion plants?
While most combinations are a result of traditional gardening knowledge, the origin of others is firmly based on science, and it’s only fair that I discuss both sides of the story (or shall I say techniques?) for a more comprehensive insight.
Historical Perspective of Companion Planting
My grandmother always planted tomatoes next to her basil. She claimed the tomatoes tasted sweeter because of them. Grandma never spent time in the library studying scientific articles on companion planting. Instead, she relied on the advice passed down through the generations of family gardeners. You get my point.
Companion planting has been used for centuries to promote healthier crops and reduce the need for chemicals. And it’s because of this trial-and-error by our ancestors that we now have such an extensive collection of combinations to try.
One of the best examples is the iconic Three Sister Combo developed by Native American tribes who planted beans, squashes, and corn together, believing they grew best alongside each other.
What Does Science Say About Companion Planting?
Most historical plant partnerships increase crop yield, but what’s the science behind them? Are they just based on folklore and old wives’ tales?
Well, this is where the golden principles of compatibility come in. Compatibility is said to depend on several factors, and knowing about them can help you find the right neighbor for your crop.
When partnering two or more plants, consider how they can reduce pesticide use, improve pest management, enhance pollination, increase nutrient uptake, and produce more abundant harvests.
Benefits of Companion Planting:
Companion planting benefits both you and your plants in several ways.
1. Improved Pollination
Even if you are not a fan of the insects summertime brings, your garden sure is! Pairing your veggies with other vegetables or flowers like borage and calendula is an excellent way to attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
However, these are not the only good guys we want to visit our garden. Companion planting with herbs like parsley, sage, dill, cilantro, and fennel also creates a perfect habitat to lure other small beneficial insects like moths, flies, wasps, and beetles.
These guys aid pollen transfer between relatively distant individuals, yielding more bountiful harvests.
2. Pest Control
Companion planting can help control pests in a number of ways. As already discussed above, some companion plants bring in pollinating insects – some of which are predatory in nature and can help keep pest populations at bay.
For example, our little lacewing and ladybug buddies ferociously feed on mealybugs while parasitic wasps eat other soft-bodied pests.
Another way through which companion plants deter pests is by releasing certain chemicals and odors that repel them. For example, my Swiss chard used to get a ton of aphids. It got to the point where I nearly gave up growing them. But then I tried planting them with onions (known to produce a sharp smell to repel aphids). And guess what? No more aphids!
Other plants that work this way include chives, cilantro, basil, dill, and other fragrant herbs.
Another example is hot pepper plants that contain a substance within their root system for effectively warding off root rot-causing pests.
3. Weed Suppression
My philosophy is that if you don’t want weed sprouting somewhere, plant something else on that spot to let the weed know it is already taken!
Companion planting can keep weeds in check by acting as living mulch and covering the bare soil where it will likely pop up. A great example of this is nasturtiums that expand rapidly and block the growing space with their leaves, leaving no room for weed seeds and unwanted seedlings to grow.
4. Enhanced Nutrient Uptake
If all plants are the same, they will compete at the same root depths for the same nutrients.
Therefore, planting crops with different root systems next to each other prevents nutrient competition and assists the growth of both.
5. Soil Improvement
Some nitrogen-fixing plants enrich the soil by converting atmospheric nitrogen and “fixing” it into a form required for growth, nourishing other plants within their proximity.
Beans are one of the most powerful nitrogen fixers. They pull nitrogen from the air and push it through their roots to share with the root systems of surrounding plants, resulting in higher-quality crops.
Herb & Vegetable Companion Planting Chart
All of this companion planting information is well and good, but let’s be honest, who has the time to research companion planting combinations?
Fret not, as I’ve compiled this companion planting chart to make the process much easier and more productive.
Note: The vegetables/herbs in green are companion planting superstars that are beneficial to a lot of herbs and vegetables in the garden
|Asparagus||Tomato, eggplant, strawberry, basil, dill, nasturtium||Alliums, potatoes, carrots|
|Basil||Oregano, tomatoes, pepper||None|
|Beans||Radishes, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, corn, beets, peas,||Onions, garlic, chives|
|Beets||Beans, cabbage, onions, lettuce, garlic||None|
|Bok Choy||Alliums, nasturtium, rosemary, carrots, celery||Strawberries, tomatoes, other brassicas|
|Broccoli||Beans, beets, chives, carrots, dill, sage, thyme, oregano||Pepper, strawberries, squash, tomatoes|
|Cabbage||Beets, lettuce, onions, spinach||Tomatoes, pepper|
|Carrots||Beans, peas, peppers, lettuce, onions||Dill|
|Cauliflower||Onions, mint, hyssop, potatoes, dill||Strawberries, corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, peas|
|Corn||Cucumber, climbing beans, parsley, peas, sage||Tomatoes|
|Cucumber||Beans, corn, lettuce, dill, onion, peas, tomatoes, nasturtiums||Sage|
|Dill||Corn, cucumber, lettuce, onion, cabbage family||Tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, peppers, lavender|
|Melon (Cantaloupe)||Nasturtium, radishes, lettuce, tansy, corn, beans||Potatoes, cucumber, watermelon|
|Mint||Carrots, tomatoes, squash, marigolds||Parsley, chamomile, rosemary, strawberries|
|Onions||Carrots, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes||Peas, beans, leeks|
|Oregano||Basil, sage, thyme, cabbage, rosemary,||Lettuce, collards, mint, chives, raspberries|
|Parsley||Chives, carrots, corn, onion, sage, thyme, pepper, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus||Mint, fennel, dill coriander|
|Potatoes||Beans, cabbage family, aubergine, marigold, coriander||Pumpkin, cucumber, tomatoes, squash, melon|
|Peas||Beans, carrot, celery, radish, spinach, parsley, strawberry||Onion, garlic|
|Radishes||Beets, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, spinach, squash||Hyssops, potatoes, turnips|
|Raspberry||Alliums, nasturtiums, marigolds, chervil, peas||Tomatoes, eggplants, beets|
|Rhubarb||Strawberries, beans, sage, beetroots, garlic||Melons, cucumber, black walnut|
|Sage||Broccoli, corn, parsley, strawberries, tomatoes||Cucumber, basil, rue, alliums, fennel|
|Spinach||Radishes, lettuce, beans, carrots||Strawberries, broccoli, nightshades, melons|
|Squash||Corn, lettuce, marigolds, nasturtiums, peas, pepper, melons||Cabbage family|
|Strawberries||Beans, garlic, peas, lettuce, onions, sage, spinach, thyme||Cabbage family, potatoes|
|Tomatoes||Beans, basil, carrots, cucumber, marigold, thyme, sage, parsley||Corn, dill, potatoes|
|Turnip||Beets, carrots, onions, chives, spinach||Kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, cabbages, potatoes|
|Yarrow||Brassicas, nightshades, rosemary, chamomile||Cucumbers, ginger, squash|
Classic Companion Planting Combinations
Some vegetable companions are simply outstanding in bringing out the best in one another. They’re superstars at preventing common diseases and pest issues. Among these winning combinations are:
- Squash, Corn, and Pole Beans (aka The Three Sisters): This perfect trifecta was developed thousands of years ago. Squash, with its large leaves, provide shade and block out the weed. Corn provides upright support with its sturdy stems. Lastly, the pole beans are potent nitrogen-fixers, providing essential nutrients for all three sisters.
- Tomatoes and Parsley: Parsley keeps damaging tomato plant-attacking pests in check by attracting beneficial insects that prey on them.
- Tomatoes and Basil: This can be considered another “power couple” in the garden. Basil disrupts moths’ habits and repels thrips that cause tomato hornworms. It’s also said that basil enhances the flavour of tomatoes
- Sage with Cabbage or Carrots: Sage is a proven repellent for cabbage moths and carrot flies.
- Pole beans, Cucumbers, and Sunflowers: These plants follow the same principle as the three sisters; the cucumber vines shield the ground, while the sunflower supports the climbing pole beans.
- Marigold and Tomato: Marigolds repel nematodes and deter aphids, protecting tomato plants.
- Basil and Peppers: Basil repels aphids, spider mites, and mosquitoes while enhancing the pepper’s flavor.
In addition to this, some plants benefit almost any plant they’re paired with. These champions include:
- Dill: It is known for attracting ladybugs which are voracious predators of spider mites and aphids.
- Mint: The strong scent of this plant repels ants, flea beetles, and aphids.
- Nasturtiums: It lures hungry caterpillars away from kale, broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas.
- Garlic: The strong scent of this onion relative repels a variety of mites, beetles, and moths and is repugnant to aphids.
- Zinnias: It attracts the ever-useful ladybugs into the garden for controlling unwanted pests such as cabbage flies.
- Sage: Another helpful herb to protect your plants from cabbage moths.
Companion Planting Mistakes to Avoid
Despite its many benefits, there are common mistakes that both beginners and seasoned gardeners can make when it comes to companion planting. The outcome? Plants that were once “friends” suddenly turn into “foes.”
Let’s explore some of the most common companion planting mistakes to avoid.
Planting Incompatible Species Together
Just like people, some plants clash and are not healthy to hang out with. One common mistake gardeners make when companion planting is pairing incompatible species together. This can lead to reduced yield, poor growth, and even plant death.
So, make sure to do your homework before you start companion planting. Research about the compatibility of the plants with one another, their growth habitats, and nutrient requirements. Some plants may release chemicals that inhibit the growth of surrounding plants, while others may have similar needs and compete with them for resources.
By choosing compatible plant combinations, you can ascertain the good health of your plants, creating a thriving ecosystem in your garden.
Overcrowding Your Garden
Walking through an overcrowded garden is like navigating a busy city during rush hour. The plants are fighting each other for the necessary resources and it also makes crop rotation near impossible.
As an experienced gardener, let me tell you about the importance of crop rotation.
By rotating crops, you give the soil time to recover from any issues that might have occurred during the previous growing season. And since an overcrowded garden makes this practice difficult, it leads to the build-up of diseases in the soil, which is a big no-no.
Therefore, avoiding overcrowding is essential at all costs to ensure that your garden continues to thrive for years without relying on harmful pesticides and chemicals.
Planting Relatives Near Each Other
“Seating” plants of the same species near each other is an open invitation to pests and harmful diseases.
Take tomatoes and potatoes, for example. You should avoid growing them together, even though they’re related. This is because their kinship makes both vulnerable to blight – which can quickly spread between the two species, possibly causing you to lose both crops rather than just one.
Shading Out Your Crop
Many of the awesome benefits of companion planting are counteracted if one plant overgrows and shades out another. Because sunlight fuels plant growth, this competition for light can cause issues for the unfortunate, smaller crops.
For example, letting your bush beans alongside fast-growing tomatoes will quickly shade out the beans. Similarly, tall companions like unruly nasturtiums and sunflowers can create a canopy over your cucumber vines, hindering their growth.
Most major garden crops need full sunlight. Hence you should opt for low-growing companions wherever possible.
Another tip is to pay attention to the solar aspect (how the sun hits your garden) since there are fewer issues with south-facing gardens where plants are properly spaced and can get the warm sunlight they need.
Conclusion: Vegetable Companion Planting
And there you have it, a comprehensive guide on vegetable companion planting, along with a companion planting chart and a review of popular companion plants. Now, you are all set to embark on your journey of unlocking the true potential of your garden.
So, what are your thoughts? Are you ready to experiment with this technique, or is the jury still out?
If you ask me, there’s no harm in trying. And trust me, when you start seeing the difference in your harvest, you will be so pleased you did!
About the Author
Elle Reed is a passionate gardener and advocate for teaching beginner gardeners how to grow their own food. Elle’s mission is to inspire and empower people to get back to basics, grow their own produce, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle. “Whether it’s a few herb pots in an apartment, a potager or a full garden plot, we can all ‘start somewhere’ to grow our own food, and in doing so, provide healthier food for ourselves and those we love”.