Companion planting is something that has taken a lot more consideration than other parts of the process.
I’ve relied heavily on West Coast Seeds for their easy to read list of companion plants. However, it isn’t research until I compare with dozens of other sites.
The purpose of companion planting is to create the greatest yields, in the least amount of space, while protecting your plants, soil, and ecosystem. There are so many benefits to companion planting:
- Higher yields
- Recycled nutrients so less fertilizer
- Better pollination
- Pest resistance
- Better flavor
- Looks really cool
One of the most famous companion planting setups is the “three sisters.” This is the planting of squash, corn, and beans together to produce great yields by releasing the correct nutrients into the soil. Beans give off nitrogen, so anything that loves nitrogen loves beans.
Another pretty common companion planting setup is when people plant flowers near their crops to encourage bees and other pollinators to spend their time in the garden.
The first thing I look at when it comes to companion planting is the space they take up above and below the surface. Above the surface, plants are basically only a few shapes:
- Ground Cover
Below the surface, plants are still only a few shapes:
Generally speaking, most plants can develop different styles of roots, but they have their primary style. For example, beans can have simultaneous taproots and fibrous roots. Additionally, tomatoes grown from seed form a taproot, but tomatoes grown from cuttings form fibrous roots. Plants are crazy.
I aim to make sure the plants don’t crowd each other above or below the surface. Therefore, you generally don’t want to plant to fibrous root plants too close together. However, just because something has a taproot does not mean it is a narrow root system. Most vining or large stalking plants have to have a wide root system to keep them stable.
The second thing to look at is sunlight. Generally speaking, you don’t want to shade plants that want full sun. On the other hand, you can use plants to provide shade for plants that don’t want full sun in the dead heat of summer. Most herbs don’t want the full sun, so why not grow some vining grapes over them to provide some shade?
Sunlight and space are the two easy considerations. When in doubt, start there.
Different plants need different nutrients. My best example for this is how beans produce excess nitrogen thereby feeding their neighbors lots and lots of it. Therefore, you would benefit your garden by planting nitrogen loving plants near your beans. Tomatoes, peppers, and leafy greens love nitrogen. Among its other uses, nitrogen promotes green growth in plants. That’s not a perfect description of what it does in all plants, but that’s a convenient thing to remember about it.
Your ecosystem is pretty much the bugs. Some bugs are good like bees. Some are bad like cucumber aphids. How can you use companion planting to make the best ecosystem? In some cases, it’s easy!
Got aphids? Attract ladybugs. Most flowers and flowering herbs attract ladybugs.
Want bees? Plant flowers.
Hate mosquitos? Plant catnip.
This is how they handled pest control before they had pesticides. You know it works or everyone would have starved. Bugs are relentless if you don’t manage them.
It is actually true that certain plants next to each other can enhance or harm flavor. This is your advanced class stuff right here. I don’t have any experience in this because I’m still just fighting off the bugs and other plant hazards.
One example I’ve read about is how marigolds enhance the flavor or tomatoes. Additionally, onions increase the flavor of broccoli whereas tomatoes will ruin their taste. There are countless combinations and people are still trying things.