In The Garden: Companion Planting
I have been studying companion planting in the garden.
With a single google search you or I can come up with myriad charts for companion planting, so I see no reason to repeat that arrangement of information. Rather I am going to write about how I am grouping the vegetables I am planting this year and why. I have included links to a couple of companion planting charts at the end of this article. My primary resource for companion planting information is John Jeavons book How To Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I really like that it includes a list of herbs, their companions, and some beneficial weeds and flowers as well. This book was a gift from my Master Gardener classmate and friend Eva, who is a proponent of organics and natural growing systems and had been along with the first wave of the enlightened growers in the 60’s. I would recommend this book to any level of natural gardener. It has something to offer all of us.
What are companion plantings, and why are they helpful for us? Companion plants in the garden are plants that help one another when planted in close proximity. They may stimulate vigorous growth or flavor in one another, or deter insect attacks or positively affect soil for one another. Antagonists are plants that should not be planted in close proximity because they have a detrimental effect on flavor or a stunting effect on one another. Sometimes all one plant has to offer another is a physical compliment, like shade or support. Cucumbers or lettuce might get some shade benefit from corn or sunflowers growing nearby. Some plants are better off having followed other plants in the garden because of the nutrients they bring or remove from soil. For instance, heavy nitrogen feeders like lettuce tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cabbage, and corn, do well to follow heavy nitrogen givers like beans and peas. Light nitrogen feeders like root vegetables can give the soil a rest before heavier feeders come again. This is called crop rotation, and it is a type of companion planting over time.
Herbs being aromatic are never wall flowers in the garden. They have a distinct effect on plants around them. Nasturtium is an excellent companion all over the garden, in addition to having edible leaves, flowers and seeds, all of which are great in raw salads,it makes a good companion to radishes, cabbage family plants (cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli and mustards), deterring aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles, and improving growth and flavor. I make sure I have a nasturtium plant in nearly every one of my garden beds. Fennel another strongly aromatic herb is disliked by most plants and so should stand alone in a small bed or pot, or with ornamentals outside of the vegetable garden. I grow a lot of greens from the cabbage family, and I love to cook with rosemary. Rosemary is a good companion for cabbage family plants, beans, carrots and sage. It deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, and carrot fly. Because I can keep a Rosemary plant for several seasons I often grow it in a pot and move it into the garden when I start my greens in the fall.
Peppermint can also be grown in pots (as it can take over a garden bed) and then clipped and used as mulch around your cabbage family plants to repel white cabbage butterfly.
I love my salad gardens and most of the salad vegetables I want to grow make good companions. I can grow leaf lettuces, radishes, carrots and cucumbers together. I can plant another cucumber companion sunflower nearby to help support the cucumbers, and provide some shade making it possible to start those salad vegetables a little earlier than I could otherwise without the shade. By the time the sunflowers are done, so are the cucumbers, and the new lettuces and radishes are ready for all the sun they can get. I often plant carrots near radishes because radishes germinate very quickly, grow to maturity in as few as 26 days, and have loosened the soil for carrots seeds which germinate more slowly and do not break through the soil as vigorously.
Cucumbers do not care for aromatic herbs or potatoes, and radishes also don’t care for potatoes. Potatoes do however like bush beans so I like to use the same bed for bush beans and potatoes, either one following the other, or side by side. Bush beans make good companions for cucumbers, corn, strawberries, celery and summer savory, but not for onions. Onions should not be grown with bush beans or pole beans, but do well with lettuces, tomatoes, and strawberries, and summer savory. I am putting eggplant in with bush beans, and I may put some beets on the edges. Beets won’t grow well with pole beans, but they are fine with bush beans.
I like to grow Okra but have not found much written on its companions aside from corn which I do not grow. I have grown okra with black eye peas and find that if I grow the peas first and the okra after cutting the peas down the okra grows well. I have also put in black eye peas around established okra at the edge of the garden so that the peas get some sun exposure and that seems to work well too. If seeded together and at the same time the peas are too vigorous, beating the okra out of the ground and making too much shade for the okra to emerge well. I have also found that the peas I have planted on the edges of the okra go far less noticed by the aphids that have been colonizing the rest of my peas this summer.
Although it is said that carrots grow well with tomatoes I don’t do it because my tomatoes use up an entire bed and block out the light before the carrots grow to maturity. Tomatoes are companions with chives, onions, carrots, parsley, asparagus, marigolds, and nasturtiums. I do use nasturtiums near tomatoes, and have grown parsley with tomatoes before. It worked well, but it was difficult to reach the parsley to harvest around the tomato plants. Planting anything in the same bed with tomatoes requires some foresight to imagine how much bigger the tomato plants will soon be.
Last year I made a rough drawing of my garden beds and wrote in all of the plants that grew in each bed throughout the season. I did this so that I would not plant the same plants in the same beds again this year. It is important to rotate crops.
This helps plants and soil to remain healthy season after season. Repeating crops invites disease and insect attacks on the garden. In several places I have read that it is a good idea to replant tomatoes where tomatoes were the year before because tomatoes prepare the soil for themselves, but when I have done this in the past it has not worked out very well, so I inform you that it is written, but warn you to have some back up tomatoes elsewhere if you are going to try repeating tomatoes in the same space in case of failure. It may be that with our soil issues, nematodes and such, that repeating tomatoes is not a good idea in S. Florida. If you try it do let me know how that works out for you. I may do my own tomato replant experiment this year.
Learning to use companion planting can seem very complicated at first. To keep it simple I recommend you choose one internet companion planting chart and print it. I have included links to companion planting charts I like, one for vegetable plants and one for herbs. Make a list of the vegetables and herbs you intend to plant, and just make sure you are not putting antagonists together. I grew for many years without considering companion planting in my beds. I have always grown a pretty wide variety of leaf vegetables and tomatoes with herbs and flowers mixed in. Now that I am growing many more types of vegetables, adding in beans, cucumbers and gourds, and beets, I am paying attention to companion issues. If this twists you up to consider all of this, drop back a little, it is important that your garden gives you more pleasure than angst. Most plants have lots of companions and only a few antagonists, so chances are you could plant good companions without even knowing about it.
Here is a great link for a Companion Planting Chart. This ATTRA site provides a link to a printable pdf. document for its whole companion planting article, though you can just print the chart.
Here is a great link for Herb Companion Plants. Herbs in addition to making great kitchen companions make great companions to many of our favorite vegetables and will help protect your vegetable plants from insect damage.
Here is a bonus link for a Companion Planting Chart for both herbs and vegetables.