Companion Planting & Why We Love It
Companion Planting is a cornerstone practice to organic farming, because it helps position plants with mutually beneficial partner plants. The ‘companion’ or partner plants, positioned strategically with companion planting will maximize the health of your garden by adding nutrients to the soil, deterring pests with natural plant biology, and maximizes the space of your garden by using plant characteristics to your benefit. Companion planting is really about being mindful and aware of your plants and their neighbors so you can create the most beneficial environment for plants and pollinators. There are three considerations I think about when companion planting:
- Pest and disease management
- Hight and light benefits
- Garden space maximization/ efficiency
A garden is happiest when there is diversity, airflow, and sunlight. Using companion planting makes you consider all of these things when planting out. For example, carrots bolt in heat so they do better in shade during the hot summer months which makes them great partners in the shade of tomatoes. Another example is planting basil or borage (an edible flower) with your tomatoes to help deter pests and enhance the tomato flavor.
On the flip-side, there are plants you do NOT want to partner together as they will have adverse reactions to promoting a healthy plant environment. Where basil and borage help a tomato plant repel pests and add nutrients and flavor to the fruit, planting potatoes next to a tomato would be a bad idea. Potatoes are root tubers, requiring a lot of soil nutrients that would compete with the tomato, and the potato beetle is a very devastating pest that would eat on the foliar leaves of the tomato and cause severe damage.
One year I planted peas and onions together. I thought the onions would deter the deer from my peas. But the onions actually ended up stunting the peas and the plants barely produced buds. You only need to make a mistake like that once for the sting to hit hard enough to learn your lesson on Companion Planting! It really does make a difference. Over the last decade I’ve had my fair share of lessons and heart breaks when it comes to companion planting. It is an absolute wonderful practice that supports organic growing and I highly recommend it.
Companion planting has been around for as long as people have been growing. You may be savvy to the Three Sisters Garden approach: growing corn with pole beans and pumpkins. The pole beans trellis up the stalks of the corn as support and the pumpkins provide ground cover to minimize weed pressure. It’s a wonderful symbiotic gardening approach and the perfect example of how team work makes the dream work!
To help you set your garden up for success this season I’ve created a Farm to Table Kids Companion Planting Guide for you to reference, along with a few key plant traits & habits I find beneficial with companion planting.
Remember, learning new information about growing organic veggies is an endless journey – but companion planting is a basic foundation that will get your garden set up for success!
Happy garden season farm friends!
A few things to keep in mind when companion planting.
- When you are planting your garden always consider what the plants look like at full maturity/ when they are in harvest phase so you can think of ways to maximize your garden space and sunlight/shade during the planting phase.
- Be mindful of proper spacing as outlined on seed packets and seed catalogues. Proper airflow around plants is one the best ways to prevent disease.
- Use a plant’s vertical height like tomato and cucumber to create shade for your heat sensitive crops like carrots and lettuce.
- Always have a measuring stick & labels (you don’t have to be exact, but be mindful of spacing per seed packet and catalogue directions) and plant labels with permanent marker.
- Next, think about ways you can use the plant’s characteristics to benefit your garden to maximize space and sunlight. In a raised bed you can save space by trellising your cucumbers and planting lettuce in the shady space of the cucumbers. You can plant fast-producing radish with early season peas then turn that garden space over to later/fall season plants like kale or broccoli.
- Interplanting is fabulous for pest management:
- Plant flowers and herbs along borders and with veggies to deter pests.
- Marigolds are planted along all our borders to deter deer.
- You can add nasturtium to your strawberry or cucumber patch to help with aphids.
- You can add basil to tomatoes to improve taste. Borage with tomatoes will repel tomato worm.
- Dill will repel cucumber beetle and is always fun to harvest with cucumbers to make pickles.
- Alliums (onion family) deter slugs, deer, rabbits, cabbage hoppers, and aphids. Planting them with low lying crops like spinach and lettuce work well.
- Herbs are fantastic at attracting beneficial pollinators, while deterring squash bug, cabbage loopers, and aphids. We interplant herbs with everything. Everything, even flowers.
- I could go on…but my point is, companion planting works, just be mindful and educated about how you partner your plants.
- For more information about companion planting I recommend reading the Farmer’s Almanac Companion Planting Guide.
Please reference our Farm to Table Kids Companion Planting Guide for a healthy successful garden plan and happy growing season sweet farm friends!
Farm to Table Kids Inc. is a non-profit educational farm campus for kids and families in N. Yarmouth, Maine. Our mission is to help children find what lights their heart in nature through organic farming, nature crafting, and farm to table cooking. Please visit: www.farmtotablekids.org for more information.