Companion Planting and why you should consider it
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
Many of us want nothing more than a big, beautiful, healthy, and most importantly ORGANIC garden. The secret to an organic garden is creating a healthy balance of insects that feed on the pests you wish to be rid of. You can achieve this through companion planting.
What is companion planting? Companion planting is the act of pairing plants that benefit from growing in close proximity of one another by either providing ground cover, attracting pollinators, attracting predatory types of bugs that feed on pests, deterring certain pests from ruining your crop, or providing certain key nutrients another plant needs to thrive. Companion planting also means learning what plants should not be paired at all. Certain plants can and will cause detrimental effects to your crops. Companion planting also teaches you that it is absolutely a good idea to spread out your crop. By doing so you eliminate some of the risks associated with losing an entire crop of one vegetable. For example, if a certain pest attacks one plot of tomatoes, luckily the rest of your tomato plants aren't directly in the same plot, which would highly increase its chance of being affected as well. If they are spread out and planted with plants that complement them throughout your garden plots/beds, then you have a bit more control of pest situations. You may lose your crop in one plot/bed but not in all by applying these methods.
Marigolds- They will always be at the top of my list for companion planting. Marigolds deter a huge variety of pests that are harmful to your crops. They also contain a toxin that can kill harmful nematodes in your garden like root-knot. Marigolds attract parasitic wasp which feeds on the pests you want out of your garden. The bright yellow and orange blooms also attract pests that would normally lay eggs on your vegetables. Squash vine borers for example are attracted to the bright yellow blooms of a squash plant. By companion planting marigolds nearby, you can reduce the number of eggs laid on your squash plant. Making it more manageable to control. I recently discovered that the flower of marigolds are edible and used medicinally. Who knew? The best perk of all is that this plant has no enemies. It is said that it can be planted next to any other plant, and only benefits others. What a multi-purpose plant, and one that is truly easy to grow. Clearly, a must-have in every garden if you can.
Onions- Onions are not only good to cook and eat, they make a great companion plant to many other plants. However; onions are not best suited next to all plants. It is said that when you plant onions next to beans and peas, onions can stunt their growth. Best to not plant onions near asparagus, bush/pole beans, or peas. I plant onions around other plants with deeper root systems to keep them from fighting over nutrients in the soil. Since a lot of pests hate onions, I tend to plant them randomly throughout the garden. Keep in mind the onion fly obviously likes onions, so that is one pest it may attract. Thankfully, mint in a container or marigolds planted close by can deter those whiteflies.
Garlic- Garlic is an amazing buddy to add to your list. It is in the same plant family as onions. Keep in mind to not plant garlic near the same plants you cannot plant onions by. Garlic contains sulfur, which is a natural fungicide. It is said that this fungicide can protect the roots of plants nearby it like potatoes and tomatoes. Garlic can even help prevent potato blight. Common pests garlic tends to deter are the Colorado potato beetle, aphids, rabbits, squirrels, and deer.
Tomatoes, Peppers, & Squash- These three plants work very well together. They all like full sun and for the temperatures to be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot peppers planted next to tomatoes is a win. Hot peppers release chemicals that prevent root rot and other diseases. Both tomatoes and peppers have almost the same water needs. These three plants have some of the very same beneficial neighbors such as chamomile. Chamomile is said to improve the pepper plant's yields and taste. Chamomile attracts the hoverfly, which eats aphids for breakfast that like to snack on your pepper & tomato plants. A plot/bed filled with a few tomato, pepper, squash, onion, garlic, chamomile, marigolds, and basil could be a great option for controlling several pests at once.
Basil- Basil is amazing when paired with tomatoes. It is known that they both increase each other's flavor. Basil also drives away a host of pests including the dreaded mosquito. I don’t know about yall, but Arkansas mosquitoes are like the size of hummingbirds here. Joking of course, But if you've been through here in the summer you know all too well what I mean. Basil attracts pollinators but is also very loved by our bunny friends. Plant close to garlic or onions to keep the bunnies away but attract the butterflies.
Borage- Borage is not only a colorful addition to your garden, it is edible, attracts pollinators and predatory wasp that feed on pests. Borage also deters those pesky squash vine borers, hornworms that feast on tomatoes, and cabbage worms. Borage doesn't seem to have any plant enemies and only benefits your garden. So even if you aren’t going to eat it, go ahead and grow it for the bees, add some pretty blue flowers to your borders, and let it work its magic against unwanted pests.
Lettuce- Lettuce is great for hedge borders and ground cover. Its shallow root systems help protect other larger roots, it likes a little shade especially as it gets warmer later in the year, you can pack it in tight spaces within your garden and let the other companions within those plots/beds work for you in protecting the lettuces pests.
Lavender- Lavender is a perennial although it never makes it through our winters here even in the south. Besides its pretty flowers, lavender as we all know has so many benefits. It is calming and said to help promote sleep. Its fragrance is well known and sought after. It is this fragrance that wards off so many pests like mosquitoes, flies, fleas slugs, caterpillars, deer, and it attracts only beneficial insects.
Nasturtiums- These flowers are a good trap crop for aphids and a perennial. They repel the Colorado potato beetle, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and many other beetles. These flowers do not seem to have any enemy plants so go wild with planting them along back borders or train them to climb around the bottom of your beds or along a trellis.
Herbs- So many herbs are beneficial to your vegetable plants by either promoting growth, deterring pests, working as a decoy for pests, attracting pollinators, or enhancing their flavors. Rosemary likes full sun but can be grown in partial shade which makes using this plant as a companion pretty flexible. Its only bad neighbor is carrots. Since it is a perennial you only plant it once but it keeps working for you every year. If rotating crops and you need to plant it in the same plot/bed as carrots, take care to plant them at opposite ends. Rosemary deters flies that can lay eggs that cause root maggots, cabbage moths, and mosquitoes. Basil as explained above works to deter many pests. Thyme is very resourceful in the garden besides being a great cooking spice. Thyme deters hornworms, cabbage worms, whiteflies, corn earworms, and mosquitoes. Thyme also attracts pollinators. Sage is a picky plant. It doesn't do too well when planted with basil, onions, cucumbers, or garlic. Sage can stunt the growth of some plants like cucumbers. Sage does have its benefits. Plant sage next to carrots to keep carrots flies away. Since carrots take two years to flower to produce seeds, and sage as it ages loses its flavor, plant these two together two years in a row each time. You’ll benefit by having carrot seeds to save, and it reminds you when to replant new sage to keep that amazing favor. Sage also attracts pollinators but wards off caterpillars, flea beetle, cabbage moths, snails, carrot flies, and possibly an evil spirit.
Corn, pole beans, & melons- I love to throw these three together. The corn benefits from the nitrogen the beans provide the soil. Pole beans make great use of the corn stalks for support, and the melon plants provide great ground cover. I used the three sisters method with this but swapped my squash for melons. The corn also aids in providing just enough shade from the afternoon sun. When it gets too hot melons can often crack open from the heat of the ground beneath them. I start my corn around March, then by the time I plant beans and melons, my corn has established enough stalk to provide support for my vines. I do throw in many other companion plants along the borders of this plot to help with pests, but these three together have been a power couple in my garden.
Below is a rough draft example of the bed layouts for my family's garden and the donation garden. Each bed is labeled by its main vegetables that are best compatible with each other. I am still working out calculations for how many plants per person, how I can fit that equation into square foot gardening within all my plots, and companion planting at the same time. It sounds complicated, but it's not. I should already be done but I have undoubtedly put my time more into working on several other things at once this week. Once I am finished I will update this post with the final drafts of each plot's full layout. My hope is that it may help someone else out there trying to maximize their garden space, garden organically, and companion plant. For now, I am posting the drafts I am working on to give you all examples.
Garden layout rough draft
I've recently made a few changes to where I was adding these new plots for donations and where I'm adding plots to help feed my family longer every year. It made way more sense to continue further straight back to our wood line versus pushing more towards our neighbors. We will be adding more animal pens as well so I had to account for that. I've made a few adjustments and will be adding more borders and possibly fruit trees in containers.