What is Companion Planting and its Benefits to Gardeners


 It’s fascinating how we never take plants as the friendship type!

Companions are important for everyone and plants, as living breathing creatures are no different. They eat, drink, breathe, and sleep but the one thing most of us don’t realize is that they’re also team players! They choose their partners and even prefer one over the other. They grow fast and yield better when planted with the chosen ones.

Successful companion planting or intercropping is all about observation and interest. You should explore different combinations, spend time with your plants, have fun trying out new combinations, and see how it works out!

Why you should choose companion planting:

It may sound like a weird idea at first but companion planting is the natural way of gardening. One that you see in every forest, where each plant depends on the other for its survival and growth. Plants have different needs and you need to be very careful with how you stage your garden. Companion planting is all about identifying and addressing those needs to make the overall garden great.

Intercropping helps plants in numerous ways, such as support, pest control, and coherent space utilization. Some plants require a dry patch of sand and some need more water, growing such plants together can be a huge mistake. Companion herbs and flowers can make or break your garden, choose them wisely. Using herbs like basil, marigold, and chive gives your plant a natural defense against garden pests. Some plants even attract beneficial insects and pollinators into the garden.

Find the friends and foes of each plant and organize your garden accordingly as some plants can’t survive in the presence of another. Mixing and matching plants of different sizes and families into a single garden means smaller garden space. Strategic planning can save you a huge amount of space and energy. Planting small weak-stemmed plants or vines around large trees gives the smaller plants shade from direct sunlight and physical support to aid in their growth.

In a nutshell, plants depend on each other as much as human beings. Using companion planting makes efficient use of space, provides support and shade to smaller plants, keeps the pests away, and attracts beneficial insects into the garden. To top it all, it’s a vision!

How do I start companion planting?

Now we know the many benefits of companion planting but,

How are you going to proceed with it?

Will you plant the crops of your choice together in a garden?

Hold On! That’s not how it works!

Companion planting is more than just putting a variety of plants together. It’s an art of putting together a variety of plants in such a way that they support each other and make the garden splendid. Growing non-compatible plants together can tear down your garden. Before starting companion gardening, make sure that you understand how it works and willing to make an effort.

Major benefits of Companion gardening:

Companion planting is almost as old as gardening itself. Plants growing in a bunch resolve the major issues of space, and productivity in a garden. Intercropping makes better use of gardening space by growing a variety of plants in a closed space. Some plants repel pests and attract insects that benefit the garden by eating these pests and carry out pollination. On top of it all, the variety of plants planted close together present a view one can’t forget!

1. Efficient use of planting space:

A garden artist doesn’t need a huge space to create an amazing garden. They use companion planting to create a garden just as splendid in a smaller area. The strategic layout of the garden allows for different species of crops to be planted together and make better use of the garden space.

2. Provides shade and support:

The tall and strong plants protect and support the small plants in the garden. Direct sunlight and wind can destroy fresh and delicate plants, a big tree will provide shade and support to such plants. Vines can grow around trees without any external support.

3. Keep the soil healthy:

Utilizing garden space efficiently does more than saving space, it keeps the soil healthy. Abandoned spaces between plants can lead to erosion (removal of the topsoil). Companion planting and crop rotation keep the soil moist and healthy by keeping it occupied. Plants like beans and peas restore nitrogen to the soil to make the soil fertile.

4.  No place for weeds:

A garden full of plants has no place for weeds to grow. Intercropping maximizes space utilization and keeps the ground shady which in turn keeps garden weeds from growing. Every garden is filled with the weed seeds but only the seeds in the topmost layer grow as they get direct sunlight. Keeping the soil moist and maintaining shade stops weed growth and saves you the trouble of cleaning up.

5. Disease control:

The major reason for plant diseases are pests, insects, and an unhygienic environment. It can destroy a perfectly healthy plant from within and without, and move on to the next one in line. If you’ve planted the same kind of crop in the entire garden, then the disease will spread fast. Having different species of plants will slow down the process and give you more time to take adequate action. 

6. Attract beneficial insects:

Plants like dill and angelica attract beneficial insects that feed on common garden pests like Caterpillars, Aphids, and Beetles and indirectly save the plants. Ladybugs, ground beetles, and Aphid midges are among the garden-friendly insects. These insects are the reason why gardeners are advised to take caution in using insecticides.

7. Repel garden pests:

Marigold, mint, and Basil belong to the family of plants that repel common pests. If planted with a vegetable patch, it’ll keep bugs and flies from destroying the crop. Marigold has a strong odor that covers the scent of more precious vegetable plants by confusing the nuisance.

Companion planting Examples:

Companion planting holds the wisdom of ages. It’s practiced in every country and culture due to its many benefits. We see a rough example of companion planting in the forest. There are all kinds of plants, small and large, growing alongside one another. Each one supports and aids the other in ways we can’t fathom. Plants can be combined in a number of ways, but we’re going to discuss the most compatible companion planting combinations.

The three sisters | corn, beans, and squash:

‘The three sisters’ is the most popular companion planting combination and goes back to the early 1200s. It’s named after the fact that corn, beans, and squash are like three sisters that thrive in the company of one another. Among Native Americans, the three sisters hold spiritual importance and are seen as gifts from the great spirit to sustain life on earth.

Each sister has certain qualities and contributes to the well-being and growth of the overall plant. Together they fashion the best companion plant there is.

1.     Corn in the three sisters garden:

Corn is a tall and strong plant and it holds the topmost stack in the three sisters’ garden. Corn plays a part as the perfect supporting beam of the plant but you can also use sunflower as an alternative. Whether you use corn or sunflower, the plant needs a head start to grow and become tall in order to support the beans. Corn also contributes carbohydrates to create a healthy diet for the three sisters.

2.     Beans in the three sisters garden:

Beans are the delicate middle element that holds the whole plant together. Initially, it grows under the shade of the squash and moves up to the corn stalk as it matures. As each sister contributes an important nutrient for the diet, bean pulls nitrogen from the ground to be used by the sisters

3.     Squash in the three sisters garden:

Growing squash or pumpkin give your beans a protective shield from animals like deer or rabbits. There’s a variety of squashes like spaghetti squash, bonbon squash, goldrush squash, etc. Whichever kind you plant, it prefers a direct exposure to sunlight and grows at the edge of the overall plant. Squash is rich in vitamins and its large leaves keep the ground cool, moist and keep the growth of weeds at bay.

Companion planting | Tomatoes:

Tomatoes are an essential part of any garden and their delicate skin and aroma invite a number of insects making it difficult to keep the plant intact. Rest assured, picking companions for tomatoes is easier than any other vegetable. The companions improve the health, and growth of the tomato. Keep it safe from common insects and enhances the taste.

What should be planted near tomatoes?

Tomato grows well with a lot of plants and herbs. These plants include basil, asparagus, bean, borage, carrot, lettuce, marigold, onion, parsley, peas, sage, squash, mint, borage, chive, garlic, lemon balm, and nasturtium. Companion planting basil with tomatoes doesn’t just keep the pests away but it’s said to improve the taste also. They’re harvested together and make an amazingly appetizing salad.

What should not be planted with tomatoes?

Tomato may sound like a friendly plant but it doesn’t work well with the cabbages family that impedes its growth. Corn, dill, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, fennel, and walnut are also not suitable to be planted near tomatoes.

Companion planting | Carrots:

Who doesn’t like a carrot? It’s the life and soul of a salad and has multiple health benefits to its name. Carrots have multiple companions and the best part about carrots is that you can grow them in any season, all year long. Using the right companion for carrot can drastically improve the growth, taste, and health of the carrot.

What should be planted near carrots?

As opposed to the tomato, cabbage is a great companion to the carrot. Growing peas, beans, lettuce or any member of the cabbage family alongside carrots results in rapid growth. Sowing radishes along with carrots can also be beneficial as radishes are harvested earlier and leave room for carrots to grow. The major carrot companions include beans, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, rosemary, sage, and tomatoes. Rosemary, parsley, and peppermint are among plants that work pest control for the carrots.

What should not be planted with carrots?

Carrots shouldn’t be planted anywhere near potatoes, parsnips, dill, anise, and Umbelliferae. Potatoes and parsnip compete with the carrot for the nutrients and growing space and planting them together will slow down the growth of the carrot.

Some common companion plants:

Basil:

An interesting fact about Basil is that it’s considered a sacred plant in Hinduism and a crucial part of almost every Indian household. It is one of the most efficient and commonly used companion plants for vegetable gardens. It keeps harmful insects and pests away from the plants and even repels mosquitos. It can be planted with tomatoes, potatoes, chili, beans, eggplant, cabbage, beets, asparagus, and oregano. It’s not a good companion for the rue. It’s also said to keep the mosquitos away.

MariGold:

Marigolds are bright yellow flowers commonly found in greenhouses. They add more than ambiance to your garden. Marigolds have a strong odor that confuses the pests and keeps them away from other precious plants. It works as a strong pesticide but a downside of growing marigold is that it may attract insects like spiders, and mites, and slugs.

The marigold family also includes French marigold and Mexican marigold. French marigold produces chemicals that work as a strong pesticide even when the plant is gone. Mexican marigold is said to produce a stronger version of the same chemical, repel rabbits, and help the more delicate herbs.

Sunflowers:

Sunflowers are tall and strong plants and make great companions to the weak-stemmed plants like grapevines, cucumber, and beans. They provide shade and support along with pest control and pollination. Above all, grapevines planted with sunflowers are a sight for sore eyes.

Dill:

Dill is compatible with a number of vegetables and other herbs. The exception to which are angelica, cabbage, caraway, chili, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, fennel, and lavender. The best companions for dill are tomatoes, garlic, coriander, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflowers, corn, lettuce, onions, and cucumber. It shouldn’t be planted anywhere near carrots as they belong to the same family and can cross-pollinate.

Chive:

Chive is easy to grow and used to add flavor and garnish to a number of dishes. Adding it to your vegetable garden will keep pests like aphids and beetles away. Carrots and beets are the best companions for chive but you shouldn’t plant it anywhere near asparagus, peas, beans, and spinach.

Sage:

Sage is a dry-earth plant and needs direct sunlight to grow. You can grow sage in a shady place but direct exposure to sunlight improves the flavor. It grows well with tomatoes, carrots, thyme, and rosemary.

Mint:

Mint is known for its refreshing scent but it also offers assistance to a number of plants. It’s easy to grow and does so vigorously in the presence of broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Planting mint in the garden deflects the cabbage moths, aphids, slugs, snails, and ants. It’s not a good companion for parsley and chamomile. It’s also said that mice avoid anything that comes in contact with mint making it an efficient companion for a number of plants especially in places where mice are a major issue.

Rosemary:

Rosemary is a common flower plant used in companion planting to repel insects. The beautiful flowers on the rosemary plant also attract pollinators. The best companion plant for rosemary is broccoli but you can also plant it near cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, kale, and radish. It may not work well around carrots, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Related questions:

Does companion planting cost more than conventional gardening?

Companion gardening costs almost the same amount of money as conventional gardening in terms of resources. In addition to that, intercropping requires less gardening space and keeps the plants safe from insects. The plants grow in a healthy natural environment and support each other.

Which plants shouldn’t be planted together?

Every plant chooses its own companions and planting incompatible plants together can lead to a major wreck. A few plants that shouldn’t be planted together are,

  • Mint and onions with asparagus.
  • Pole beans and mustard near beets.
  • Anise and dill around carrots.
  • Basil neighboring rue.
  • Potatoes alongside carrots.

How does companion planting work?

Companion planting works by using a plant’s natural resources like odor and chemicals to help their neighboring plants. Planting different species together keeps the pests away and enhances the growth and taste of the plant.

Does Companion planting affect taste?

The taste may not be the primary goal when one considers companion gardening but a number of pairings have been said to affect the taste. The example includes basil and tomato pairing in which basil improves the taste of the tomato.

Conclusion

Companion planting will not only save space in the garden for those limited in space, but can also aid in pest and disease control. In this day and age where we are all looking to reduce the amount of chemical pest controls, nature provides an answer for the gardener.

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Remember folks you reap what you sow!

Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter and long term gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 45. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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