Plants need friends, too! Find out how pairing companion plants with your edible crops leads to a hearty, healthy harvest.
5 Companion Plants to Pair with Edibles
As humans, we're lucky to be able to pick and choose who we let into our lives and who we don't. We try to surround ourselves with people who are positive influences and who help us to grow into the best version of ourselves. However, the plants in our garden aren't so lucky-they don't get to choose who grows near them, even if their neighbors are leeching all their nutrients or shading their sun. That's why it's important for us, as gardeners, to choose our plants' companions wisely!
What is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is a gardening strategy that helps to maximize plant growth and crop production. In principle, it's about pairing plants that provide a benefit to one another.
We find companion planting especially useful when growing edible plants. While it isn't down to an exact science quite yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that some plants may release compounds from their roots that impact their neighboring plants. Furthermore, there are plenty of other practical reasons to pair certain plants together that we know to be tried and true. Garden plants can help to deter pests from your yummy veggies, increase soil fertility in the area, and provide shade, which can result in a bigger, tastier harvest.
Companion Plants to Pair with Edibles:
Here are some of the best companion plant pairings for better harvests:
Beans, Corn, and Winter Squash
Also referred to as the "three sisters," beans, corn, and winter squash have been paired together for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Mayan empire. Each part of this trio contributes something to the rest, making them a perfect little planting family. Corn plants offer support to bean plants, who climb the stalks like a trellis. Beans can filter nitrogen from the air and bring it down to the soil, which supports the corn and squash plants. Squash plants produce large leaves that sprawl across the ground, shading the soil from the sun. The added shade helps to retain soil moisture and prevent weeds in the area. Squash leaves are also quite prickly, which deters rodents and other pests.
Tomatoes and Marigolds
You know yourself that it's hard to resist picking your plump, red tomatoes off the stalk as soon as they start to ripen. So, you can only imagine just how delicious these fruits are to aphids and other pesky bugs that like to show up on your tomato plants!Luckily, marigolds are one of the best flowers to plant in your vegetable garden to deter pests, as they naturally release compounds that these critters despise. Keep in mind that it takes time for these repellent properties to build up in the soil and become effective. Keep your marigolds in the same place for at least two years, and then you'll see a benefit to your tomatoes.
Cabbage and Dill
We love growing dill in the garden to garnish our fish and chicken dishes in the kitchen, but it's more than just a tasty herb. Pests don't seem to like the scent as much as we do, so the dill plant tends to ward off aphids, squash bugs, tomato hornworms, and cabbage loopers. Although it's a great ally for a variety of veggies, we love pairing it with our growing cabbage. Not only does it target some of the biggest cabbage-eating culprits, but dill also attracts wasps to the area. We know what you're thinking-why would I ever want to attract these saucy little stingers? Well, moth larvae like to munch on your cabbage, and wasps love to munch on moth larvae!
Lettuce and Alliums
Alliums, like chives, leeks, and shallots, are great insect repellants for leafy greens and other garden veggies. Their strong scent repels aphids, slugs, cabbage worms, and even rabbits. Plus, alliums are adaptable plants that don't require very rich soils to grow, so they won't compete with your lettuce for nutrients. We suggest scattering alliums around your garden in pockets, as too many together in the same spot will attract onion flies. Just keep them away from your peas, beans, turnips, and asparagus-they aren't very good friends!
Cucumbers and Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums work to protect your veggies from harmful pests like aphids, squash bugs, cabbage loopers, and whiteflies by releasing an airborne chemical. Nasturtiums are considered one of the best companion plants for your vegetable garden for this reason. In addition to repelling insect villains, they also attract tiny heroes like spiders (who help with pest control) and bees (who help pollinate your garden). When your cucumbers are finally ready for harvest, whip up a fresh cucumber salad and garnish it with a couple of your nasturtium blooms! They're beautiful, edible garnishes that will add pops of color and a slightly spicy flavor to your dish.
How Close do Companion Plants Need to Be?
Spacing companion plants is somewhat of an art in and of itself. They have to be close enough to reap the benefits, but not so tightly packed that they compete for soil nutrients. We suggest taking an average of the recommended spacing for both plant varieties. For example, tomato plants should be spaced about 24 inches apart, while marigolds should be spaced approximately 10 inches apart-so spacing these two plants about 17 inches apart would be ideal. Of course, this is all trial and error-after a few seasons of companion planting, you'll know just what to do!
Keep in mind that there are plenty of other companion pairings that work well together, so do a little research on your own and discover what other pairings are out there. Once you have your garden arranged in a beneficial way, stop into Plant Perfect and pick up some organic fertilizer to keep your edibles happy and healthy!