Beginners guide to companion planting

I've been working on the garden lately. A little late, I know but better late than never right? Anywhooo, last year I decided to focus more on companion planting. It's kinda nice because it really makes my garden planning easier! Once I discovered that certain vegetables grow better by certain herbs or flowers, my garden sort of planned itself.

This post is updated for 2020 now that I have 7 years experience with companion planting.

Companion planting guide

What is companion planting?


Companion planting is placing different plants close together that enhance each other's growth, discourage pests and diseases, or have some other beneficial effect. There are plants that need a lot of nitrogen and other plants that put nitrogen back in the soil. Some plants naturally deter pests. 

Certain flowers attract pollinators, which every garden needs. By placing complementary plants by each other, they all thrive.

For instance, plants that use a lot of nitrogen like corn would be placed by plants that put nitrogen back into the soil like beans. Companion planting is also used to protect plants from insects that like to snack on them. Certain plants repel certain insects and you would plant those plants by the ones the insects are attracted to, hoping the insects would stay away from both. 

I started by planting beans amid my corn and couldn't believe what a difference it made! Then I added marigolds by the squash to repel squash bugs and it actually worked! So I've done tons of research and different experiments each year to get the most out of companion planting.

Companion planting


I think the most common example of companion planting is the three sisters method. This is when you plant corn, beans and squash together. 

Corn takes up very little ground space, so planting the squash at the bottom gives it space to sprawl out and the large leaves help protect the soil from the sun, keeping it from drying out quickly. Climbing beans take up very little soil space and climb up the corn stalks. Beans also provide nitrogen into the soil which the corn and squash need. 

Related reading: How to control weeds in the garden.

Companion planting with flowers


Marigolds, that is where I started. I've always planted marigolds in the garden, I was taught that way and that's just what I did. I started paying attention to where I put them though after planting the beans and corn along the south side of my corn patch. 

The marigolds just happened to be close by and that year I did not have any problems with squash bugs. In fact, marigolds planted throughout the garden discourage many insects and their bright colors help to attract pollinators.

I have always planted a lot of flowers in my garden to attract bees and butterflies. I've used sunflowers, bachelors buttons, zinnias, snapdragons and other flowers just to break up the green up the vegetable garden, while expecting them to attract pollinators to the garden

Nasturtium planted around the garden deters aphids.

Growing sunflowers in your garden helps to repel whiteflies and aphids. They also attract birds which can help clean up weed seeds before they have a chance to sprout.

Related reading: 8 Flowers that you need to plant in your vegetable garden.

Chamomile growing in the garden. Very large plant!

Companion planting with herbs


I learned that Chamomile attracts ladybugs which eat aphids. Aphids can be a big problem in the garden so this has been a VERY beneficial herb over the years! 

Chamomile is hard to harvest perfectly and every flower that dies on the plant starts to drop seeds. Tilling just spreads it all over the garden where it pops up. I have it growing everywhere now, so I have not had an aphid problem since the first year I planted chamomile

Chamomile also deters mosquitoes which is great for me while I'm out in the garden.

Dill can be amazing for the growth of tomatoes, which I found out one year after the dill tried to take over my garden. I had several herbs try to take over my garden over the years and I learned a lot through where they managed to plant themselves.

Catnip is said to help ward off rats, mice and weevils which I've never had a problem with in my garden even though the mice hang around the chicken coop which is right behind the garden...see picture below. It's also on that list of herbs that tried to takeover my garden! 

Now I pull all the catnip plants in the middle of the garden and leave the ones on the border. This prevents mice from coming into the garden. Cool, right?

garden ready for planting

Chives or garlic planted between rows of peas or lettuce can also help control aphids. Strawberries do really well when planted near chives.

Rosemary, thyme, sage, catmint, hyssop, or mixtures of all three between rows of cabbage helps deter the white cabbage moth.

Choosing companion plants


When selecting your companion plants consider more than which pests are deterred. Think about what each plant adds or takes away from the soil and what effect the proximity of strong herbs may have on the flavour of your vegetables. Avoid placing two heavy feeders or two shallow rooted plant types near each other.  

Since I only have limited experience in companion planting, this is by no means a complete guide to every vegetable that goes with every other herb or flower. 

If you need more details for plants I haven't covered, I love this vegetable Companion Planting chart from Farmers Almanac. You should be able to have the rest of your questions answered there....although I will continue to update this post as my experience increases.

For more gardening posts, check out my gardening page with links to my most popular posts. 

~L 

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