Benefits of Companion Planting
Companion planting has been used by gardeners throughout history as a way to maximize the results they get from their vegetable gardens. Companion planting is the idea of planting certain vegetables, herbs and flowers close together. The closeness or proximity of the plants leads to them “helping” each other. The plants “help” each other by drawing in insects, deterring pests, even providing shade and nutrients for each other.
Do you love the idea of having a garden? I do, but I’ve had varying degrees of success and I’m always on the lookout for ideas that will lead to a thriving garden. If you would like to have a garden but are unsure of your options read Gardening Solutions for Any Space or 7 Reasons Raised Bed Gardening Might be Right for You. Our garden plan or layout is designed to take advantage of the benefits of companion planting to have a healthier garden and avoid using any chemicals.
1 – Companion plants maximize space
Many times when people think of a garden they thing of long rows of single plants. Companion planting allows you to plant in layers and maximize the space you have available. This method allows for more plants and more variety in a much smaller space. Plants that have shallow root systems can be planted next to plants with deeper root systems. An example of this would be tomatoes planted next to carrots or onions.
2 – Companion plants help each other grow
There are several examples of how companion plants help each other grow. Plants with large stalks like corn or sunflowers provide the perfect trellis for beans or snap peas. Squash, cucumbers or pumpkins that grow on the ground as spreading vines can provide shade for taller plants. These plants keep the soil cool and prevent weeds. In our garden. in our garden this year we have planted lettuce under taller plants like tomatoes. The tomatoes should provide some shade for the lettuce in the Texas sun.
3 – Companion plants share nutrients
Companion plants also help each other by bringing nutrients to each other. Beans or legumes add nitrogen to the soil which feeds the other plants around them.
4 – Companion plants attract pollinators
Using marigolds or other flowers with bright colors assist your plants in drawing in bees to pollinate those flowers giving you the start of your vegetables. We planted marigolds in each of our beds to assist in drawing in bees. We were in Sonoma last year for a half marathon and went to the Sunset Test Garden. They had a beautiful display with grape tomatoes over steel trellises with lavender at the bottom to attract bees. I’ve planted lavender in each of my beds to try and replicate this.
5 – Companion plants deter insects
Companion planting wisdom advises that you should not plant large groups of like plants together as pests are attracted to large groupings. Think of the traditional rows of crops or bunches of plants. The garden pest or insects see’s this grouping of plants as a buffet. The idea is that if you mix your vegetable plants in with herbs and flowers many insects or pests become confused. Mixing up your plants with different colors and scents removes the “Eat at Joe’s” sign from your garden.
Bringing it all Together – A Companion Planting Story
The simplest explanation or example of how plants can help each other through companion planting is referred to as “The Three Sisters”. This method was used by Native American’s for centuries. This method was focused on plating corn, beans and squash together. According to legend, these three plants were gifts from the Gods and were meant to be grown, eaten and celebrated together.
- The corn was the older sister and provided support for the beans to climb and grow
- The bean plant was the giving sister. The beans pull nitrogen from the air and share that nitrogen with corn and the squash
- As the beans grow up the corn stalk they hold each of the plants together, essentially holding the family together
- The large leaves of the squash shade the soil and the roots of all the plants preventing weeds and keeping the roots cool
- The prickly leaves of the squash keep animals away from all of the plants
Common Companion Plantings or Groupings
This is a simple list of companion plants.
- Beans – Beans seem to get along with everyone. Plant beans with corn, tomatoes or spinach
- Tomatoes – Basil, Peppers, Onions, Parsley, Radishes, lettuce
- Onions – Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Lettuce, Peppers, Spinach, tomatoes
- Peppers – Basil, Coriander, Onions, Spinach, Tomatoes, Beans
A comprehensive listing of companion plants can be found at this link for Farmers Almanac site. I hope you will put some of these strategies to work to keep your garden flourishing this year. Happy Gardening!