The Definition of Companion Planting

comments (3) April 2nd, 2009

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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Picture by Abri Beluga under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.Click To Enlarge

Picture by Abri Beluga under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Photo: Abri Beluga

Companion planting by definition is simply any plant that is purposefully planted next to another to enhance growth, beauty or flavor. Typically we see companion plants that do any number of supportive things for both vegetable gardens and our ornamental plants. Sometimes you've companion planted completely by accident.

If you have giant sunflowers and decide to plant cucumbers in between to take advantage of the space underneath the flowers, you have companion planted. Gardeners swear by this companion planting because the sunflowers provide afternoon shade for the cukes and end up producing a higher yeild of veggies.

The sunflowers benefit form the cucumber plants because they act as living mulch keeping moisture in the soil and deterring weeds. The result is productive and gorgeous plants – and the added benefit of less weeding makes this a serious win-win situation in my book.


Specific Companion Needs

Your specific growing goals will determine which plants combinations you choose. Do you want to attract beneficial insects to your veggie garden? Repel the bad guys away from your fruit trees? Or mask the delicious odor of your cabbages or your tender rose buds? Maybe you’re interested in conserving water?

Another way to companion plant is to grow plants that emit a strong odor to repel unwanted bugs from the immediate area. Strong fragrances also mask the delicious scent of your tender rose buds or cabbages. Mints and Rue are also great for masking the great smell of your desired plants as well as repelling insects.

Luring beneficial insects to your yard or garden is one of the best ways to incorporate organic pest control. It’s also one of the most popular ways since good bugs are cool little dudes to watch. The two components that bring the beneficials to the garden are pollen and nectar. Grow plants that are high in these things and they will come.

Beneficial insects fall into two categories; the pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and the predators such as ladybugs and parasidic wasps. Some general plants to consider planting as calling cards to the beneficials are zinnia, asters, cosmos, marigolds, sunflowers, coriander, dill, anise and fennel. More specifically are:

  • Baby-Blue-Eyes (Nemophila menziesii) – attracts syrphid flies.
  • Candytuft (Iberis spp.) – attracts syrphid flies
  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) – attracts ground beetles
  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica) - attracts lacewings and ladybugs
  • Yarrow (Achellia spp.) – attracts prasidic wasps, hover flies, and bees
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – attracts parasidin wasps (we really like these), predaceous beetles and lady bugs

One of the best ways to take advantage of companion planting is to not plant any massive amounts of one desireable vegetable in one place. The idea of planting with diverse plant species is not to have a concentrated area of one crop (say a large crop of cabbage, or squash), so the bad bugs aren’t alerted to the feast. Plus, by planting varying plants, a beneficial bug habitat is created.

Some Tried and True Companionships:

  • Cucumbers – plant nasturtiums and radishes for cucumber beetle control
  • Asparagus – tomatoes, parsley or basil will help control asparagus beetles.
  • Potatoes – horseradish to repel Colorado potato beetles
  • Eggplant – catnip will deter flea beetles
  • Tomatoes – basil will repel tomato hornworms
  • Carrots – onions control some nematodes and rust flies
  • Corn or Squash – peanuts inter-planted will produce a higher yield for all of these crops

Companion Planting Isn’t Just About Bugs

Companion planting for weed control and water conservation is easy if you use cover crops such as clover planted under your corn. There’ll be virtually no weed pulling and clover is a perfect green manure crop, as well. If you till the clover into your soil after the corn harvest, it’ll add tons more nitrogen back into the bed. Which you need after the nutrient sucking plant that corn is has lived there.

Are you a garlic grower? If you plant your garlic with a cover crop of oats in the fall, you won’t be weeding in the spring since the oats crowd out weeds and then again, do double-duty as a soil amendment when they break down.

With a little research, you’ll find that plants do triple duty in the garden such as French Marigolds. Tagetes spp. is one of the easiest and most beneficial annuals that you can add to any garden. Marigolds can call in the beneficial insects, repel unwanted bugs with their strong scent (also masking delicious stuff) and have a compound they emit that battles nematodes in the soil.

Certainly, scientists have grounded certain companion plantings as fact and some are still in the folklore category. Whatever the case, I encourage you to experiment in your own yard and report back to Vegetable and share with us your personal discoveries.

posted in: beneficial insects, companion planting, companion plants, beneficial insect plants

Comments (3)

adamscott21 writes: I like your article
Posted: 1:32 am on November 5th
alexreed writes: Thanks for sharing great information.
Posted: 5:20 am on May 24th
mackly writes: Farmers and gardeners find that they can disallow dangerous pests without losing the beneficial allies in campanion planting. There are many varieties of herbs, vegies, etc. that can be used for companion plants. Experiment and find what works in Grow Veg Indoors.
Some possibilities would be using certain plants as a border, backdrop or interplanting in your flower or vegetable beds where you have specific needs. Use area friendly plantsso the insects you want to attract already know what to look for!
Posted: 2:28 am on May 15th
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