Companion planting is a phrase that many gardeners have heard or read about, but what exactly is companion planting? Plainly put, companion planting is the concept of planting two or more plants next to one another to enhance the growth or flavor of the plants. Usually companion planting uses both vegetable plants and some ornamentals in order for the plants to support each other.

Ever heard of the "Three Sisters Garden"?

The Three Sisters Garden consists of growing corn, beans and squash all together on the same mound. The three plants compliment one another by supporting each other in some way. The tall corn provides shade for the squash on those scorching mid-summer days, and gives the beans a support to grow upon. The squash and beans help the corn by retaining soil moisture and prevent weeds. Growing these three vegetables together also increases soil fertility. The Three Sisters Garden is a prime example of companion planting.

Three Sisters Garden

Typical reasons for companion planting are to provide shade, to help control weeds or pests, or to enhance the flavor of the vegetables. For instance, interplanting basil around tomatoes can enhance the flavor of the tomatoes and repel hornworms; growing radishes around squash plants can deter squash borers.

Decide what your growing goals are when companion planting. Are you interested in luring beneficial insects, such as lacewings or ladybugs? You may want to consider this if you have an aphids problem, as ladybugs love to munch on aphids. Planting some marigolds and nasturtiums in the garden can help fend off nematodes, squash bugs and aphids. Petunias can be good for warding off hornworms and leafhoppers.

Attracting beneficial insects into the garden is a good way to support organic pest control. Interplanting your vegetables with some herbs is also a good way to get those "good" bugs in your garden.

Perhaps you are interested in conserving water or preventing weeds in your vegetable garden. Try planting hairy vetch around squash, or clover underneath corn. Clover is also great for the soil because it is high in nitrogen.

If your cucumbers need shade from the hot sun, try planting sunflowers in between the cucumber plants. The sunflowers will provide the shade, and act as a "pole" for the vines to grow up.

Some very popular companion plantings are:

  • 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

Feel free to check out a more thorough listing of companion planting for vegetables. It is a wonderful resource on companion planting.

Many farmers and horticulturists have developed superb companion planting methods and there are some methods that are still just rumored fables. Don't be afraid to try out new things and experiment with companion planting. If you have a companion planting that you would like to share, please leave a comment.

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