When growing a vegetable or herb garden, your goal is to get as large of a harvest as you can. After all, you put hours of work into planting and maintaining your garden, so it only makes sense that you would do all you can to increase the yield. That’s why it’s so important to learn about the benefits of companion planting.
And here’s the deal: if you don’t know about the benefits of companion planting, you are missing out on one of the best ways to grow a healthy and abundant garden. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
What Is Companion Planting?
When most people picture a vegetable or herb garden, they think about long rows of vegetables, each row containing the same type of plant. For instance, in the fall, you may see a long line of broccoli plants or onions. But what if we told you that by mixing up some of the plants in your garden it would make it much more productive and healthy?
That, in a nutshell, is what companion planting is. In nature, the same types of vegetables or herbs aren’t lined up in neat rows to grow. Instead, the plants interact with each other and form small ecosystems that help keep harmful pests at bay and produce healthier crops.
And that’s the idea (and benefits of) companion planting.
11 Benefits of Companion Planting
Whether you are growing a vegetable garden or want to understand how to master herb companion planting, the benefits you will gain from using this method are numerous.
Let’s look at a few of them now.
Recommended Read: 7 Best Tips for Growing Vegetables Indoors
1. Make room for the veggies!
If you’re like many vegetable gardeners, you never have enough room to plant all the things you want to grow. Some vegetables take up a lot of room — think Brussels sprouts — and you lose valuable space in your garden for other varieties.
Or do you?
When looking into the benefits of companion gardening — or herb companion planting — one of the most exciting things you will discover is all the space the method frees up in your garden. For instance, the three sister’s method of planting corn, beans, and squash together not only helps to provide each plant with the nutrition it needs, but it also increases the amount of space you have in your garden. This planting system has been around for centuries for a reason — it works!
Here’s a quick primer on how to use the three sister method in your garden:
When looking to save space, you aren’t limited to corn, beans, and squash. You can plant many plant varieties together that will provide support (corn), ground shade to keep the soil moist (squash), and a vining plant (the beans). For example, asparagus, parsley, and tomatoes also grow well together. Just make sure all the plant combinations are compatible by using a chart for reference.
2. No scorched Earth here
When caring for a garden, it’s important to keep the soil moist and prevent any erosion from creeping in. If the soil is left unplanted for a while, that’s exactly what will happen to it. But when learning the benefits of companion planting, you will quickly realize that this system will allow you to use all of the space in your garden. That means no lingering soil that deteriorates because of a lack of nutrients from plants.
3. Weeds no more
Ask most gardeners what their number one challenge is, and many will answer with one word: weeds.
Weeds are a part of gardening, and gardeners resort to many methods to keep them out of their garden beds. They can drain the soil of the nutrients vegetable plants need to thrive.
One way to naturally reduce weeds is to use up all of the space in the garden so the vegetable plants don’t allow any room for weeds to grow. For instance, in the three sister’s method, we mentioned earlier, one of the jobs of the squash is to block out the weeds by covering the ground.
4. Save more for yourself
It’s every gardener’s nightmare: you walk out to pick that squash for dinner and discover that it’s been ruined by squash bugs. Or you find that the cabbage moths devoured your brassicas. You don’t have to sit by and watch pests ruin your garden — instead, use the benefits of companion planting to combat them.
For instance, if you plant marigolds next to your beans, the Mexican bean beetles won’t be as likely to invade them. And to protect your brassicas from cabbage moths, plant wormwood alongside them to keep them away.
5. Put the doctor on hold
When a large group of people gathers together and one of them is sick, it makes it much easier for the disease to quickly spread among them. The garden is no different. When you plant like plants close to each other and one of them gets a disease, it will spread more easily throughout the rest of the similar plants.
But when you break up the plants by inserting different varieties between them, it slows down the progression of the disease.
You can also use herb companion gardening to help deter pests. Many herbs are experts at repelling pests, and if you plant them close to certain plants, you will reduce the chances of disease. For instance, planting horseradish near your potato crops will help keep potato bugs at bay. And to keep squash bugs from ruining your crop, plant nasturtium, and tansy near the beds.
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6. An open invitation
Although keeping pests out of the garden is important, you will want to attract certain beneficial insects to help devour those that would ruin your plants. If you’ve ever had an aphid infestation in your garden and released ladybugs, you know how quickly beneficial insects can solve the problem.
For beneficial insects to want to spend time in your garden, you have to make it appealing to them — and you can do that with the species you choose to plant around your vegetables and herbs.
Planting flowering crops and flowers are great ways to attract these gardening pest assistants. Some of the helpful cover crops are buckwheat, clover, rosemary, thyme, and mint which will provide a home for ground beetles. Additionally, flowers like chamomile and daisies will attract insects like hoverflies and predatory wasps. Don’t forget to provide a few shady and protected areas so the beneficial insects have a place to lay their eggs!
7. Leave behind the expensive trellises
When growing vining fruit or vegetables, you need something to support it as it grows. Most gardeners purchase (or make) trellises, but you can save that expense by using your tall, sturdy plants to support them instead.
For example, corn, amaranth, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes, fruit or nut trees, and sorghum are all great support plants for lighter weight climbing plants. These taller plants can also help provide some shade for plants that don’t thrive in full sun.
8. Who said vegetable gardens can’t be beautiful?
Although most gardeners would argue that a patch of peas, carrots, and onions is one of the world’s most beautiful sights, others (non-gardeners) would struggle to see the beauty. You can change that by planting beneficial flowers and other blooming plants in your garden.
In addition to adding pest control to your garden, it also adds beauty. Just think: a brilliantly yellow/orange line of marigolds lining the front of your garden will not only keep away harmful pests but will make your garden pop with color so even your non-gardening friends will appreciate its beauty!
9. Ooooh, that’s good!
Want your tomatoes to taste better? Plant basil next to them. Want better lettuce? Basil will help with that, too. When you combine certain varieties of plants, one plant can help the other one taste better. Want another example? Chives not only repel aphids but also improve the flavor of carrots!
10. Encourage the yield
The more pollinators in your garden, the bigger the yield you will have. That’s why it makes sense to plant certain herbs and flowers in your garden that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
You can plant sage, oregano, marigolds, lavender, nasturtium, borage, and verbena to attract these pollinators and at the same time, repel unwanted pests.
11. Add some variety to your meals
Growing peas is a great way to add deliciousness to your meals, but adding a variety of peas is even better. And why would you settle for only orange carrots when you can also grow yellow and purple, too? When you use companion gardening, you will free up enough space to plant multiple varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables, ensuring that you continue to enjoy gardening even more!
Related Read: Why You Should Use Coffee Grounds in the Garden
These Two Don’t Get Along: What Not to Plant Together
For all the talk of the benefits of companion planting, you would think that all vegetables and herbs get along fine — but that’s simply not true. Some plants don’t get along, and you should never plant them together.
Here are the vegetables and herbs that just can’t seem to get along.
You say tomato, I say potato
Even though potatoes and tomatoes are both members of the nightshade family, they shouldn’t grow next to each other. That’s because they can both easily become infected with similar fungi that kill the plants. And chances are if one of the plants develops the fungi, the other one will quickly follow suit.
Sweet and savory
When growing cabbage and strawberries, you shouldn’t plant them close together. That’s because the insects that cabbage attracts also like to feed on strawberries. In other words, by planting these two together, you will put your strawberries in peril!
Two trellis plants
Both tomatoes and corn are great to use as trellises for lighter, climbing plants, but not next to each other. For starters, they both feed heavily, and next to each other, they will quickly deplete the nutrients in the soil. Also, both plants attract the tomato fruit worm, also known as the corn earworm. And once one of the plants are infected, the pest will quickly move to devour the other one.
They’re both too hungry
Two more plants that should never grow close together are cucumbers and potatoes. That’s because both require a lot of nitrogen from the soil. Even soil that is heavily supplemented with nitrogen-rich blood meal cannot support both plant’s needs at once.
Are There Disadvantages to Companion Planting?
Now that we’ve talked about all the benefits of companion planting, it only seems right to let you know about a couple of possible disadvantages. According to some, the possible drawbacks are:
- Competition for the good stuff: When you grow crops close together, they can compete for the water and nutrients in the soil, and some consider this a disadvantage. But remember, it can work both ways. For example, when you grow beans near squash and corn, the beans will deposit nitrogen in the soil, which leads to healthier corn and squash.
- Empty spaces: Others say that it’s easier for weeds to grow in the garden once the companion crops are pulled. That would be true if you left the spaces empty, but immediately filling them with another crop should eliminate the chances of weeds growing in the empty area.
The Benefits of Companion Planting: Get Started Now!
Whether you are an expert gardener or a beginner, the benefits of companion planting can help ensure that your garden produces more than ever next season. The system can ensure beneficial insects are drawn to your garden, harmful pests get eliminated, vegetables taste better, and the beauty of your garden shines through.
Do you use companion planting in your garden? If so, we would love to hear how it has changed your garden! Leave a comment below and tell us why you recommend this method!
Featured Image by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash