Companion Planting: A Success Guide

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Several garden strategies can ensure a healthy harvest and a bountiful harvest. There are many tips and tricks farmers and gardeners use to help their plants grow, and one that has been passed down through generations is companion planting.


Some farmers swear that companion planting makes the crops taste better. We won’t depend on folk knowledge though, this guide includes tips from the Farmer's Almanac on how to succeed in companion planting.


Let's explore why you should be using companion gardening (just in case you're on the fence):


COMMON REASONS FOR COMPANION PLANTING

1. Improved plant health and soil fertility


This is probably the most common reason for companion planting. Some plants absorb certain soil nutrients, and the by-products they produce positively alter the soil's biochemistry for other plants.


Beans, for instance, increase the availability of nitrogen in the soil. Likewise, long-taproot plants like burdock enrich the topsoil by drawing up nutrients from deep within the soil and bringing them up to shallow-rooted plants.


2. Preserve gardening space


This is especially true for urban or container gardeners. While companion planting is more popular with gardens planted in beds, it is also applicable to container gardening. A container garden can produce multiple harvests by using companion planting and effective space planning.


3. Control of pests


There are some plants that serve as deterrents for certain insects and pests, such as caterpillars and aphids, while others attract beneficial insects, like pollinators.


4. Shade regulation and natural support


A large plant provides shade for a smaller plant that is susceptible to the sun. It is common to plant sunflowers for their shade and corn stalks for shielding lettuce plants.


It is also common to plant corn and sunflowers to support lower-growing, sprawling crops such as cucumbers and peas. An added perk is that sprawling plants can act as mulching and weed control for the taller plants.

There are some plants that serve as deterrents for certain insects and pests, such as caterpillars and aphids, while others attract beneficial insects, like pollinators.

COMPANION PLANTING COMBINATIONS


To start off your companion garden, here are some of the best combinations for your garden.


1. Sunflowers + cucumbers/pole beans: Sunflowers can be planted to shade sun-sensitive plants and give support to climbers.


2. Tomatoes + basil/parsley: Apart from the amazing scent, basil repels whiteflies, mosquitoes, spider mites, aphids, and mosquitos and improves the growth and flavor of your tomatoes. It also attracts pollinators which improve the health and flavor of tomatoes and promote pollination.


3. Borage + tomatoes/strawberries: Borage attracts pollinating bees and tiny pest-eating wasps to tomato and strawberry plants. It's also known to enhance their flavor and vigor of strawberries.


4. Nasturtiums: broccoli/cabbages: Nasturtiums lure cabbage and broccoli pests like caterpillars away and also attract black flies away from fava beans.


5. Carrots + tomatoes: Tomatoes provide shade and pest prevention, and carrots aerate the soil.

Lettuce and chives: Chives repel insects that are naturally attracted to leafy greens.


6. Garlic + tomatoes/cabbages/roses: Garlic spray has a strong scent that repels aphids, flies, and other insect pests. If you don’t want to plant garlic, you can also use garlic spray for the same effect.


7. Cucumbers + peas: Peas add nitrogen to the soil, which helps cabbage growth and taste.


8. Sage + cabbages: Plant sage around your cabbage patch to reduce the effects of cabbage moths.


9. Mint is a powerful insect deterrent that will keep aphids, ants, and flea beetles away from neighboring plants. Mint grows invasively, so be sure to plant it in its own pot or bed.




CONDITIONS FOR COMPANION PLANTING


You should prepare your companion garden by keeping these factors in mind:


1. Watering


Plants that thrive when they are watered more frequently should be paired with similar plants, so make sure the watering schedules are the same. Common companion planting herbs like basil and parsley need more consistent moisture than rosemary, thyme, and sage, which like dry soil.


2. Soil conditions


There are different growing requirements and soil requirements for different plants. As a gardener, you should also be an avid researcher of best gardening practices.

Some plants are acid-loving plants and benefit from acidic soil, while others will not thrive in those growing conditions.

You should enrich your soil according to the nutritional needs of your plants. To make the most of your companion garden, you should choose fertilizer types and application frequencies that work for each plant.



3. Planting duration


Having companion plants with varying maturation rates can cause problems when one plant is ripe, but the other isn't. When one plant is removed, the other plant could be exposed to the environment and to pests.

As much as possible, choose companion plants that mature at the same rate. Even if they don’t mature at the same time, the harvest of one plant should not impact the health or growth of the other.



3. Lighting and space


An example of an ideal companion plant combo is a shade-loving plant and a sun-loving plant covering it from the direct rays of the sun. You should, however, make sure that the shade-tolerant plants are also getting sufficient sunlight.

In addition, you should assess how much space each plant will require before placing it so that one plant does not take up all the space for another.


4. Cross-breeding


New plant varieties can be created when some plants cross-pollinate with each other. It may seem like an interesting experiment, but rarely provides useful results for gardeners. As a general rule, try not to plant the same species of plants close to each other: spearmint and mint can cross-pollinate with interesting results.


5. Aesthetics


Gardening does not have to be practical all the time. Plants that look great together can bring some whimsy to your favorite hobby.


In addition to their decorative uses, herbs also contribute to the feng-shui of your space and provide a pleasant smell. These are some examples: the purple florets of creeping thyme makes a great landscape installation with rosemary or sage (and the flowering thyme also attracts bees to pollinate your garden). Lemon verbena and lemon thyme smell great together, and the lemon thyme provides ground cover for the verbena.




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