Garden Buddies: Companion Plants, Better Together
Gardeners in Italy always plant
basil near tomatoes. Is it because they're cooked together in many Italian
recipes, or is it because somehow, as they grow, their aromas influence each
other for the good? It's hard to say. But some people believe the distinctive
odor from the aromatic oils in basil leaves keeps insects away who might
otherwise come near and mess with the tomato plants. It's sort of like the
basil is the tomato's bodyguard.
That's what is mysterious and fun
about companion gardening: some crops that are really different from each other
still, for various reasons, grow better near to each other.
And others hate, hate, HATE growing
near certain plants. Instead of being best friends or bodyguards, they are arch
The first rule of grouping plants
together in a garden is to make sure you neither crowd them too much so that
they grow poorly for lack of space and sunlight . . . and also that you don't
plant them so far apart that weeds go wild in between the plants you want, and
you have tons more work to do in the garden.
So look carefully at the planting
directions on seed packets and the informational stakes stuck in to most
seedlings you buy at the nursery. Follow those directions for spacing plants
properly so that they can be pleasant companions, not competitors.
The second rule of grouping plants
is to consider how they change over the entire span of the growing season. For
example, in spring and early summer, tomato plants are small and don't create
much shade. They need the high heat of the summer to get huge. So in spring and
early summer, you can plant radishes or lettuce right next to tomatoes, and those
cool-season crops will be harvested and out of the way before the tomatoes get
too big and crowd them out or shade them out.
There's no sense leaving the ground
around a young tomato plant bare and useless - with smart plant placement, you
can maximize your growing space and harvest more out of it without hurting any
of your plants.
You can also make good use of the
natural tendency of tomato plants to get huge late in the season. How? Think of
plants in late summer that need shade from the hot summer sun. As long as you
have proper support for your sprawling tomato plants - cages or ladders - you
can plant lettuce and other leafy greens to the east or north of tomato plants,
and they'll grow better with a little afternoon shade, compliments of their
It is important to keep up to speed
on the light needs of various plants as you decide what to plant, where. In
contrast to leafy greens, peppers and eggplants need full sun all summer long.
So they shouldn't be located by plants that will eventually overshadow them.
Here are a few more good garden companions:
- Beans or parsley with carrots
- Cabbage family with thyme
- Native American trio: corn, squash and pole
- Swiss chard at the base of tomatoes to shade
- Bibb lettuce in the partial shade of peas,
since there will be extra nitrogen in the soil as peas (legumes) can get
a lot of their nitrogen straight out of the air
Marigolds, garlic and onions are
thought by some to keep away insect pests from your crops because of their
distinctive aromas. Whether or not that's true, it's fine to grow them in several
locations in the garden.
Radishes may attract flea beetles,
so you could try planting some extra radishes that you don't care about
harvesting (since seeds are so cheap!) near broccoli, eggplants and turnips as
a "trap crop." That means the flea beetles will eat the radish leaves instead
of the broccoli, eggplants and turnips. Ah ha! You TRICKED them!
Try to always put plants that don't need a lot of
fertilizer, such as carrots, with plants that feed heavily, such as tomatoes.
That way, they won't "rob" each other and they can live in peace.
Consider planting plants that have deep roots with
those that have shallow roots, such as parsnips and onions, together. That way,
their roots won't compete underground.
Always put leaf crops such as lettuces near to tall
companions, such as pole beans.
Probably the best-known example of good companion
planting is the famous Native American "Three Sisters" Garden. See what that's
all about in the article in Garden Themes elsewhere on this website.