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Companion Planting Guide For Fruits And Vegetables

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In this companion planting guide, we will cover practical ways to improve your garden’s productivity by organizing and planting in a way that maximizes plant health! These simple tips can be used by anyone.

Have you ever met someone that said, “I have a black thumb?” Or maybe you know someone who has a “green thumb.” These are phrases that seem to indicate that gardening is either something you are lucky about or not.

Of course, it isn’t true. But people who are successful at gardening are always learning new tips to improve their garden from year to year.

Companion planting is one of those secrets that average gardeners don’t really know about. They may have heard the term but don’t really know what it means. But I like to call it one of the best-kept secrets in growing a successful vegetable garden.

What Is Companion Planting?

Tomatoes and marigolds companion planted in a garden
Tomatoes and marigolds companion planted in a garden

Companion planting is a method of growing plants together that offer beneficial properties to the other plants around them. Sometimes one plant is primarily benefiting the others, but oftentimes there are benefits that go each way.

So instead of planting a whole bed with one vegetable like tomatoes, you would instead choose to plant several different things in one bed.

You may have heard that tomatoes do well with onions and Basil or something like that. You may wonder why is that the case. Well, both onions and Basil have strong insect-repelling qualities.

So tomato production will often be higher when it is companion planted with these two other vegetables because tomatoes will have less insect damage if they are together. It doesn’t mean you have to plan both of them…planting with one or the other will offer benefits. However, planting a variety of companions together often improves the benefits.

What Do Good Companion Plants Do?

Companion plants can be grown together for a variety of reasons.

They may share similar growing conditions

Maybe they all prefer to be in warm, well-drained soil. Most herbs can be grown together for this reason. 

Companion plants can repel damaging Insects

Some plants are vulnerable to insect damage. Plants in the brassica family are prone to damage from whiteflies and cabbage moths and cabbage worms as well as many other things. Other plants will repel cabbage moths, cabbage worms, and whiteflies.

Plants like thyme, dill, oregano, lavender, onions, garlic, and marigolds will repel the pests away from cabbage and broccoli so it is wise to plant them near the plants in the brassica family.

Companions can attract insect pollinators

Close up of a bee in flight pollinating a cherry blossom
Close up of a bee in flight pollinating a cherry blossom

Many vegetables and fruit are dependent on insect pollinators to produce a high-yielding crop. This is the reason you will see some gardeners planting rows of beautiful flowers between their vegetables. Yes, the flowers are beautiful but they are also attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

Companions can repel rodents and mammals

If you live in an area where your garden problems are rodents or deer, then you will want to research plants that repel them. Common plants that repel both rodents and deer are strong-smelling herbs like oregano, sage, and chives, and flowers like marigolds. Of course, there are many others. But you will want to plant these deterring plants around the edge of your garden as a natural barrier to pests.

Some companions have antifungal properties

If you are raising a crop that is prone to fungal disease, you will want to raise companion plants with antifungal properties.

Chamomile has known antifungal and antibacterial properties. It can be planted near apple trees to combat fungal infections.

Companions can add nitrogen to the soil

Plants growing out of dirt with nitrogen oxygen water and more being listed
Plants growing out of dirt with nitrogen oxygen water and more being listed

If you are raising crops that use a lot of nitrogen, you may want to use plants that fix nitrogen in the soil. These can be planted nearby or they can be planted in a rotation. Beans and peas are some of the best plants for fixing nitrogen.

This is the reason farmers will rotate planting soybeans and corn. Soybeans are nitrogen fixing and corn needs a lot of nitrogen. By rotating these crops the soil is not depleted.

Some companions use different layers of soil

If you are planting root crops, that use a lot of the soil for root growth, they can be planted near trellising vining crops that do not have a large root structure. An example of this is planting cucumbers (vining and trellising crop) next to beets, onions or carrots which are all root crops.

Some companions provide a structure for plants to climb on

In the famous “Three Sisters Trio” of companion plants, gardeners will plant corn, pole beans and pumpkins or squash together. They start by planting corn. When it is several feet tall, they will plant beans at the base of the corn which will climb up the corn and use it as a trellis. The beans in that trio benefit the others by providing nitrogen and the squash plants will suppress weeds.

Other plants that can act as living trellises include sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes, and broomcorn.

Simple Companion Plant Combinations to Get Started

When you are first getting started with companion planting, you will likely need to start with just a few and build up your knowledge over time. You may begin with just one companion…and then find that you can add in extra plants as you go.

Here are some simple companion plant ideas that you can consider:

Tomatoes and Basil: Tomatoes and basil are a classic companion planting combination. Basil can help repel pests that might attack tomatoes and enhance the flavor of the tomatoes.

Beans and Corn: Beans and corn make a great pair because beans can fix nitrogen in the soil, which corn needs to grow well. Additionally, the beans can use the cornstalks for support as they climb.

Carrots and Onions: Carrots and onions make good companions because they can help repel pests that attack each other. Onions can also help deter carrot flies.

Marigolds and Vegetables: Marigolds are known for their ability to repel pests, so planting them among your vegetables can help protect them from harmful insects.

Cucumbers and Radishes: Cucumbers and radishes can be planted together because radishes can help repel cucumber beetles, which can be harmful to cucumbers.

These are just a few simple companion plant ideas, but there are many other combinations that you can try depending on the plants you want to grow.

What Are Bad Companion Plants?

Of course not all companion plants are good. Some plants should NOT be planted near each other because they will attract pests or suppress growth. Knowing what not to use as a companion is just as important as knowing which plants make good companions.

Bad Companion Plants May Attract Damaging Insects

Some vegetables attract a lot of damaging insects. The squash family attracts squash bugs, vine borers, aphids, beetles, and slugs. A good companion plant would deter these pests, but a bad companion will attract MORE pests to the squash.

Many other plants in the squash family have the same pests so planting a lot of squash, pumpkins and cucumbers together may be a bad idea especially if you do not include other good companions to repel these insects.

Bad companion plants are prone to blights and other fungal diseases

When plants are in the same family, they are often prone to the same pests and diseases. Tomatoes are prone to blight as are potatoes which are also in the nightshade family.

These do not make good companions because blight that affects one can spread to the other.

Bad companion plants are both heavy feeders

Using the same example above, tomatoes and potatoes are also not good companions because they are both heavy feeders that use the same nutrients.

Other plants that are heavy feeders include corn, squash, peppers, melons, and cucumbers.

Of course, gardeners may still choose to plant heavy feeders together if they plan to heavily amend the soil to add extra nutrients. In that case, you would want to consider whether plants had any other reason not to be planted together.

Bad companion plants shade or crowd out other plants

Some plants will shade or crowd out other plants as they grow. Corn grows very tall and vining squash spread their shady leaves over everything.

Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of daylight to grow well so planting them with shade will reduce crop growth. Broccoli, kale, and cabbage need lots of sun, and planting them in the shade of corn will prevent them from growing.

If you are growing near taller plants, be sure to account for the direction of the sun and whether the plants will still get enough sun when planted near taller plants.

Bad companion plants compete for space in the soil

The last example of poor companions is plants that compete for space in the soil. For example, root crops like potatoes, beets, and onions require large amounts of space underground. Densely planting crops that are all root crops will crowd the root space of other vegetables and limit the growth of other plants.

What Vegetables Should Not Be Planted Next To Each Other?

Here are a few examples of common vegetables and fruits that should never be planted near each other. 

  1. Fennel: Fennel should not be planted near most vegetables because it releases a chemical that can inhibit their growth. It can also attract pests like aphids and slugs.
  2. Potatoes and Tomatoes: While both potatoes and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, planting them together can increase the risk of spreading diseases and pests like blight and Colorado potato beetles.
  3. Beans and Onions/Garlic: Onions and garlic can stunt the growth of beans and other legumes.
  4. Brassicas and Strawberries: Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, and strawberries should not be planted together because they can attract the same pests, such as slugs and cabbage worms.
  5. Sunflowers and Potatoes: Sunflowers can produce a toxin that can inhibit the growth of potatoes.

These are just a few examples of bad companion plants, but it’s important to research the specific plants you want to grow to ensure they are compatible with each other.

How to Companion Plant Simply

1. Pick 10 or fewer kinds of plants that you want to try to companion plant

This is just a general number to begin practicing companion planting. These should be the MAIN plants that you are growing.

For example, you may want to start with common garden favorites like tomatoes, peppers, onions, peppers, cucumbers, and pumpkins.

2. Next, research our companion plant lists or use a companion planting chart

Identify one or two plants that can grow well with your MAIN plant. Add those companions to your list and mark in your notes which plants go together.

3. Make a Garden Plan – Map Out Your Garden

First sketch out each bed. Use notebook paper or graph paper.

Second, using your notes, plant what goes in each bed.

Third, make note of special growing requirements for each bed. For example, some plants may do better in a raised bed and others may need extra fertilizer.

4. Plant Your Garden

Once you have a plan, go ahead and plant your garden with 2 or 3 companion plants in each bed. If you want to do more, think about adding herbs in beds with other plants.

5. Keep Notes

Using a garden planner can help with this as well. Keep notes on what worked and what you would like to change. You can also keep track of how much produce grew as well!

What is the best planting layout for a vegetable garden?

As part of companion planting, you will want to figure out the best planting layout for a vegetable garden. This depends on a few factors, including the size and shape of your garden, the types of vegetables you want to grow, and your personal preferences. However, here are some general guidelines to consider when planning your vegetable garden layout:

Orientation: Your garden should be oriented to receive as much sunlight as possible. Vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to grow well.

Spacing: You should leave enough space between your plants to allow for good air circulation and to prevent overcrowding, which can lead to disease and pest problems.

Crop rotation: To avoid depleting the soil of nutrients and to prevent disease, it’s important to rotate your crops each year. This means not planting the same type of vegetable in the same spot for at least two years in a row.

Companion planting: As mentioned earlier, certain plants can benefit from being planted together, while others should be kept separate. Consider companion planting when planning your layout.

Raised beds: Raised beds can be a good option because they allow for better soil drainage and can help prevent soil compaction. They also make it easier to control the soil quality and prevent weeds.

Paths: It’s important to leave enough space for paths between your garden beds to allow for easy access and maintenance.

Ultimately, the best planting layout for your vegetable garden will depend on your specific situation, so it’s a good idea to do some research and planning before you start planting.

It is also a good idea to keep the notes from your research in a binder or garden planner to refer to year after year. You will also want to record any important successes or failures in that notebook so your garden continues to improve year after year!

Companion Planting Is a Practical and Free Way of Planting To Improve Gardening

The reality is, that every gardener can and should use companion planting to improve productivity. It doesn’t cost any more to use companion planting, but it may require a few more minutes of research.

Companion planting is ideal for the home gardener who wants to grow a large variety of plants in a small space.

If companion planting feels overwhelming, simply start with one thing you will companion plant this year. Start with that one plant and add good neighbor plants. Next year, do it with another plant or two. Before you know it, you will be planting your garden with friendly plants!

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