Companion Planting 101: Putting Your Garden to Work for You

published Apr 10, 2014
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(Image credit: Steve Steese)

Maybe you are already familiar with the concept of companion planting. It is a phrase that is tossed around frequently in many gardening circles. At its core, it is the grouping together of plants that will be beneficial, in some way, with one another. The benefits of companion planting may include healthier plants, less use of pesticides, improved yields, better flavor, less frequent watering and more efficient use of your personal garden space.

Lose the notion that a garden has to be a perfect set of rows. Regardless of your current space, whether it is a 2×2′ raised bed or a quarter acre, suburban mini-farm, plant your vegetables, herbs, and fruits in clusters that complement each other. Here are a few basic tips to get you started.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

5 Companion Planting Basics

1. Some plants can improve the health of surrounding plants. For example, plant parsley, bee balm, and basil around tomatoes to aid in their growth and, perhaps, even intensify their flavor. Plant valerian, lovage, and dill around any struggling plant to improve its health and vitality. Plant crops like clover, beans, or peas that impart crucial nitrogen into the soil.

2. Other plants prevent unwanted garden pests. My favorite additions to my garden are marigolds and nasturtiums. They are both excellent, natural pest deterrents with beautiful orange flowers. Basil, dill, aster, and cat mint also inhibit garden pests and attract garden pollinators. Try planting onions or garlic near fragile, tender plants to discourage garden foes. Plant fragrant, perennial lavender throughout your garden: the culinary addition invites bees and also repels mice, moths, and mosquitoes.

3. These plants attract beneficial insects to your garden. Lady bugs are a gardener’s best friend, consuming many garden pests. Attract more to your yard by planting cosmos, marigolds, or mustard. Invite more pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, with a continuous succession of blooming flowers amongst your garden. I like to plant nasturtium, pansies, and borage, all of which double as edible flowers.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

4. Some plants, unfortunately, just don’t get along. Although onions and garlic are great pest deterrents on garden boundaries, they inhibit the growth of peas and beans, when planted in close proximity. Similarly, do not plant cabbage near cauliflower, mint near parsley, or sunflowers near beans. Fennel is almost every plant’s enemy in the garden. Plant it in an isolated spot.

5. Companion planting increases the versatility of your garden space. Shelter delicate greens under the shade of tomato plants. Plant a patch of radishes around the base of a young squash; you will harvest the radishes long before the squash overtakes the area. Consider the classic Native American planting technique of planting squash, beans, and corn together. I apply this concept of partnership, for example, by filling the space around my tomatoes with lettuce, carrots, and basil.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

Further Resources for Companion Planting

Isn’t it great that with proper planning, our gardens can actually work for us? I have fallen in love with this concept, and I would treasure any further tips to apply this season. What combinations work well for you in your garden?