Companion Planting with Vegetables…Connecting “Soil Mates”

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Companion Planting, Vegetables, and You. What is companion planting and why you need to master it?

Have you ever heard of the topic of companion planting? No doubt you’ve heard it mentioned once before and wondered what that meant. Simply put it’s a common strategy to employ by planting crops that are in sync with one another. If you have enough gardening experience you can choose plants that will have a “quid pro quo” with certain others. Some go together well and some do not.

What are the Benefits of Companion Planting with Vegetables?

I’m glad you asked. There are many, so let’s break that subject apart…

Weed Control

Planting compatible crops together is one way you can starve off weeds. Easier said than done whatever you can do with getting weeds under control, but this is one way to get a leg up by making it more difficult.

Improvement of the Soil

By planting crops that potentiate each other, you can see both crops (or a small grouping) will be able to use the soil nutrients in a way that benefits all of them equitably. In other words, one plant type won’t take in all the nutrients leaving the others without. Ground cover plants including herbs like oregano, are good to protect the soil from too much moisture which benefits surrounding plants.

Providing support

Physical support in the form of height when paired with shorter, bushier plants, or those that have climbing vines, those plants that have to climb will have ready made structure to climb up on. It’s important for crops like cucumbers to be off the ground, a compatible plant could act as a trellis.

One good example of this is the three sisters approach: Beans, squash and corn, which is a centuries old technique. Corn stalks are tall, beans that vine can climb up the stalks, and squash which always grows close to the ground can be shaded by the corn height.

Balancing out elements

As different plants have varying needs of sun exposure , the plants that need full sun and plants that can do well in shade can have a symbiotic relationship so they both can thrive if planted in the same bed together. Of course it also depends on your outdoor landscape and if there are shade trees around or not, etc. Also things like natural phenomena, gusty winds won’t be as likely to topple plants that have enough support from those that bolster them in the same space.

Lettuce is a good example of a crop that has a pretty wide range of companions. As it’s got shallow roots, it can flourish the most if next to root crops like turnips or beets which derive most of their growth underground, converse to the lettuce family’s above ground growth, so they do not have to worry about out competing each other for nutrients. Cabbage and broccoli are 2 brassicas that don’t do as well next to lettuce due to their root inhibiting chemicals present as with cabbage.

 

Natural pest repellent

Some plant types emit an odor (like certain herbs) that certain pests find repugnant and if planted next to your food crops, can help deter them. For example, a flower like marigolds and candulas are abhorrent to some pests of tomatoes so planting of them is encouraged in their proximity. Not to mention a few flowers can make it look even better too! 

tomato and candula plant pairing
Candulas planted in a row in front of tomato plants – Their fragrance is reknowned to repel whiteflies.

Health of plants

By planting compatible plants with each other can bolster up root growth and health, foliage and fruiting too.Tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen which beans produce in spades. But in the case of pepper plants. they are nitrogen stealers..

Planting Slow-Growing Plants with Those That Sprout Quicker

This is another buddy strategy, if a slower-growing crop is planted next to one that is more expedient, it can serve as a marker. If you harvest the fast-growing plant (example: radishes) it will make room for the slow growers to flourish near that spot.

Here is a handy planting chart I created that gives you a bird’s eye view of compatible plants – as well as their mismatches …You’re free to pin it to your favorite gardening board, share or download for your own use:

companion planting chart

Most vegetable plants belong to certain “families” all of which have specific characteristics These include:

Brassicas : Any of the criciferous vegetables. Cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnips, Aragula, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.

Alliums: Onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, chives

Nightshades: Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes

Even though plants within the same family do well when paired together, there are a few exceptions: Tomatoes (a nightshade) should not be in close proximity to eggplants and potatoes -yes, potatoes are nightshades. that surprised me too, I always classified them as a “root crop”. But their defining characteristic is that they contain trace amounts of solanine.

Why? Well they all have similar nutrient requirements, but they are susceptible to the same kinds of pests and blights. Therefore, it’s smarter to align tomatoes with a “buffer” ornamental or herb that can repel pests, like marigolds and basil.

Examples of good plant pairing:

Tomatoes/Dill/Basil: Basil and dill are two herbs that can help repel pests.

Carrots-Beans, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes
Zucchini/Beans, corn, radishes
Potatoes//Peas, radish/beans

Don’t forget there are some mismatches, too…in which plant types that are inharmonious should not be planted together..

Plant Mismatches:

The allium family (onions, garlic, etc.) with beans
Strawberries should not be planted with nightshades
Squash/Potatoes
Corn/Tomatoes

Other Special Considerations

There are some plant types that should be left off the table entirely because they do not benefit others either way. Allopathic species that inhibit the growth of nearby neighbors, which can spell disaster for them. One example of this is fennel…Keep it potted and not in your beds as it’s one of the worst offenders for being “greedy” and starving off other s in the proximity.

And then there are others that will spread and crowd out neighboring veggies. Mint and catnip are good examples of herbs that are great for their pest-repellent properties, but should be strictly kept in containers for this reason. So not all herbs have good companions.-they should be isolated if they’re allopathic or invasive.

 

Well that’s the meat of it, good luck and let me know in the comments about plant companions that have worked for you.

 

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