To succeed in the vegetable garden, it can be wise to know a bit about which plants will thrive together and which once don’t. Some plants will grow less and produce less when planted next to specific plant families. If the same plants are placed next to beneficial plants, they will grow better and produce a larger crop.
This becomes more important when we choose not only to plant a few types of vegetables in neat rows, but instead follow the permaculture principles and throw everything together. This way of growing food has several advantages. You can read more about permaculture here.
We can use companion planting to achieve several things, amongst other:
- Attract beneficial insects
- Repel harmful insects
- Exchange nutrients
- Use the available space better
- Add nutrients
- Support the life cycles of the plants
Well known companion plants
Placing different types of plants together in this way has been done all over the world in the ancient cultures.
The native americans for instance planted corn, beans and squash together. The squash spreads widely on the ground and acts as a ground cover. This prevents weeds from getting established and it also helps keep the earth moist. The beans climb up the corn stalks and at the same time help support the corn in windy weather. Beans are also nitrogen fixing so they help improve the soil quality and the nutrient level in the soil. The squash has s shallow root system, the beans have deep roots and the corn has its root system in the middle of the other two plants. These plants then do not compete for nutrients in the same space in the ground, but stick to separate areas. In addition, all these plants produce a lot of foliage, which if left on the ground, will decompose and return nutrients into the system again.
Plants that like each other
There are lots of plant combination that support each other in ways similar to this. One example is carrots and leek or onions. The carrots are prone to pests like the carrot fly, and the leek is prone to onion flies. The plants produce aromas that distract the pests of each other. By planting these two vegetables together we reduce the attacks of these pests.
Garlic is known to deter pests like aphids and cabbage moths, so this can be planted around the garden. Garlic also produce a natural fungicide which is beneficial to the plants around it. However, the garlic should not be planted next to peas or beans as this seem to have a negative effect on the growth for both plants.
Some of these plant combinations are well known and show up in most overviews of companion planting whilst other combinations are more debated. Sometimes I find certain combinations listed as beneficial in one reference work and then the same combination is stated as negative in other reference material. One of these combinations is garlic and strawberries. Some say they go well together, other say they don’t.
There are many factors that may play a part in how well a companion planting works. For instance which microorganisms are dominating the soil, the pH of the soil, which trace elements are abundant and which are lacking. In the end you just have to try in your own garden and see what works and what doesn’t.
It can still be nice to have a list of companion plants to refer to when you are starting to put together groups of plants in your vegetable patch. Then you can test the different combinations in your own garden and confirm if they work – or not.
You might also want to read: A simple tip to improve the soil quality