Seasoned organic growers know the value of planting companion vegetables and herbs, and fruit tree companion planting for reducing pest and disease problems and boosting yields.
We have distilled their know-how to provide a companion plant guide and companion planting charts to help you reap the benefits in your garden or orchard.
In our companion planting charts I have represented plant relationships in an easy to use two dimensional format… much like the real layout in a garden, rather than the usual long list of friends and antagonists.
Thanks to Michael from TipsPlants for this great graphic >>>>
This approach made it easier for me to make practical use companion planting wisdom and I hope you enjoy it too. But more on that later…
Don’t Sweat It!
The most important thing to glean from this information is a general “feel” for the benefits to be gained from planting companion vegetables and herbs, and fruit tree companion planting. Gardening should be enjoyable, so try not to tie yourself up in knots!
The other thing is to realize is that your situation of climate, soils, drainage, and aspect is unique. Your own companion planting wisdom borne of experience in your area will be superior to anything you may learn from others, so experiment, observe and learn!
WHAT IS COMPANION PLANTING?
Companion planting is the art of putting plants that get along next to each other and those that don’t away from each other.
Companion planting can be applied in both time and space. Plants that don’t get along should neither be planted next to each other at the same time, nor following each other in your crop rotation.
And the benefits from plants that do get along can be reaped by not just planting them together in the same bed, but also by having them in adjacent beds, or by following one with the other in your crop rotation.
WHY DO WE USE COMPANION PLANTS?
In many cases the reasons why some plants get along together better than others is not well understood. However, there are reasons to explain at least some of the benefits of strategic inter-planting as opposed to haphazard mixing, or worse, single crop (monoculture) planting.
Some of the mechanisms that create beneficial plant associations are:
- More Effectively Use Space:
Higher total yields can be achieved through better use of space. In Permaculture this is known as “stacking”.
Shade loving plants such as Lettuce and Cucumber, for example, can be planted with tall, sun-loving plants such as Sunflowers and Corn.
Climbers such as Beans or Cucumber can use Corn as a trellis to climb upon without sacrificing its yield.
Fast and slow maturing crops can be planted in the same bed, as can those with edible parts in different vertical location on the plant – such as radishes with carrots, lettuce and cauliflower.
- Nitrogen Fixing:
Plant legumes (peas, beans, lucerne, clover and some trees) are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen via symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria. This ability provides essential nitrogen not only for their own use but also for the benefit of neighboring plants, making them healthier and more resistant to disease.
Beans, for example, can be inter-planted with corn, cucumber, lettuce, parsley, carrots and cabbage family plants (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts) and broad beans with potatoes.
Similarly, acacias and tagastaste shrubs can be inter-planted with fruit trees to provide them with nitrogen.
Weeds also improve impoverished soils, owing to their ability to extract nutrients where more domesticated plants cannot, leaving biomass and nutrients on the surface available to other plants through the recycling action of living soils or composting.
They also add organic matter to soil and render compacted soils more friable and open to air and water penetration.
Companion Planting a Bug Free Garden
- Repel Pests:
Some plants exude chemicals that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.
Companion planting marigold type plants such as Calendula, African Marigold and Stinking Roger (the latter sparingly) for example, benefits susceptible plants from the release a nematode repellent from their roots.
They also taint the sap of neighboring plants with their smell which deters feeding by White Flies (Flowering Tobacco has the same effect). Mint, on the other hand, attracts White Flies, so should always be accompanied by a few marigolds.
Mature aromatic herbs such as Basil release insect repellants from their foliage, protecting tomatoes, and peach and apricot trees. Companion planting Sage with onions, carrots, cabbage or turnips has a similar effect.
- Support Beneficial Animals:
Plants such as Borage and Lemon Balm attract bees, which are needed for pollination of most food plants, greatly improving yields.
Others, notably Umbelliferous plants (their flowers are shaped like a flat umbrella – see photo) such as coriander, dill, fennel, parsnip, anise, cummin, carrot, and parsley, are magnets for predatory bugs such as wasps and hover flies that prey on aphids, caterpillars and other garden pests. This is because their flowers furnish nourishment for the adult, nectar feeding stage, of the predator.
Bird attracting plants (e.g. Sow Thistle, and a wide range of nectar producing Australian natives) and nest boxes can lure omnivorous birds into your garden where they’ll look for a high protein insect meal after feasting on the flowers.
Allowing hens or ducks periodically into gardens also serves to reduce pest and weed numbers while furnishing a yield for you in their eggs or meat.
- Confuse Pests:
Pest control benefits can also result from the diverse canopy produced when corn is companion planted with squash or pumpkins, which may disorient pests such as the adult squash vine borer and protect the vining crop from this damaging pest. Planting Poplar trees on the border of an orchard of similar looking foliage can confuse parrots causing them to miss the fruit trees within.
- Act as Decoys:
Some plants are more attractive to pests, distracting them from the main crop. For example, Collards can be used to draw the Diamond Back Moth away from Cabbage, and Eggplant with Potato to serve as a lure for Colorado Potato Beetle.
Similarly, Capulin Cherry will attract parrots away from other fruit trees.
Yellow Nasturtiums can be planted around tomatoes to serve as a decoy for Black Aphids, and can be removed with their pest burden before the Aphids’ young develop wings. Borage is reported to have a similar effect on Tomato Worms.
- Suppress Weeds or Pests:
The manufacture and release of certain biochemicals is also a factor in plant antagonism. Black walnut and Wormwood both release chemicals that suppress the growth of a wide range of other plants.
But such effects can also be used positively. A tea made from Wormwood will repel slugs and aphids.
A mulch of mow killed grain rye prevents weed germination but does not harm transplanted tomatoes, broccoli, or many other vegetables.
Tagetes minuta (Mexican Marigold) enriches and cleanses the soil when grown near woody plants (shrubs and fruit trees) while strongly suppressing the germination of annuals such as weeds – good preparation for subsequent vegetable crops.
CROP ROTATION: COMPANION PLANTING IN TIME
Most of the vegetable varieties that humans like to eat (leaf crops such as lettuce, cabbage and silverbeet, and others such as corn, tomatoes and squash) are heavy feeders, requiring fertile soils rich in phosphate, nitrogen, calcium and other nutrients.
Others, such as root crops (carrots, turnips, radishes and beets), are light feeders and prefer low nitrogen conditions but thrive on compost. And then there are the heavy givers that actually add nitrogen to the soil, such as beans, peas and other legumes.
To best utilize and maintain soil fertility it makes sense to rotate crops from each category in this order: light feeding root crops followed by heavy giving legumes followed by leafy heavy feeding crops.
Such a crop rotation in time gives the soil a rest and a chance to rejuvenate between nutrient depleting crops.
A sensible regime for optimum yield would be:
- Prepare the soil for heavy feeders with a large amount of nutrient by growing a heavy giving green manure crop (e.g. vetch, clover, alfalfa) using compost, phosphorus (e.g. the manure of seed eating birds), potash (e.g. the tailings from a wood fire) and bone meal (calcium and phosphorus).
- After heavy feeders have been harvested, phosphorus and potash are returned to the soil in the form of compost, supplemented with bone meal and a little potash.
- Light feeders are then grown.
- After light feeders have been harvested, a rotation of heavy givers is grown to pave the way for the next heavy feeding crop.
Plants that Benefit Everything:
As a general companion plant guide, these plants are friendly helpers to most others:
- Aromatic Herbs – Lemon Balm, Marjoram, and Oregano (but not liked by Cucumber).
- Other Herbs – Valerian and Camomile.
- “Weeds” – Dandelion and Stinging Nettle (gain the benefits via crop rotation or by using to make mulch, compost or liquid manure).
- Trees – Oak, Wattle, Tagasaste.
A COMPANION PLANT GUIDE
The following companion planting charts illustrate both the antagonistic and beneficial relationships between commonly used plants for planting companion vegetables and herbs and fruit tree companion planting.
Plants that share the same circle get along well together, either as mutually beneficial companions, or neutral neighbors. Those that do not share the same circle should not be grown together.
Planting Companion Vegetables and Herbs
In this companion planting chart for planting companion vegetables and herbs I have tried to show the most relevant plant relationships in a two dimensional spatial way.
For example, for companion planting potato, grow it with beans, corn, cabbage, radish, marigold and eggplant.
For chilli companion planting, since it is a type of “pepper”, it will do well with a wide range of plants including Basil, Lettuce, Leek, Borage, Pumpkins, Beans, Onion, Nasturtium and Parsley, but not with Potato or Eggplant.
As a guide to planting companion vegetables and herbs this approach only has a few exceptions:
Cabbage and Tomato: while they share the same circle, the arrow between them denotes an antagonistic relationship. The same is true of Cucumber and Potato.
Another exception to this chart is the Pole Bean, which for unfathomable reasons exhibits relationships unlike that of other beans: while like other beans, Pole Beans enjoy Corn and Summer Savory as companions, they don’t get along at all well with Beets or Sunflowers.
Fruit Tree Companion Planting
Plants outside the circles are those that tend to antagonize most others, such as Black Walnut, Hawthorn and White Pine.
Tansy is a great companion to Apricot, Peach, Apple, Plum, Berries and Pear, while Grapes are better with Nasturtium and Garlic as companions.
While there is no ill effect on Peach, Plum or Berries, grow cabbage family (Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower) and solanum family vegetables (Eggplant, Tomato, Capsicum) away from Apricots.
Finally, planting companion vegetables and herbs with fruit trees in your garden and orchard creates biodiversity. And so it mimics a natural system, sharing in its resilience and high sustainable yield. Over time such systems will just get better and better.
Happy organic gardening!