As you begin your journey of growing vegetables at home, you might come across the term “companion planting”. It’s a really useful strategy, particularly when you want to grow lots of different vegetables and only have a limited space to do so. Today we’ll be looking into basic companion planting, and which vegetables can be grown together so that they thrive in your garden.
What is Companion Planting?
First things first: let’s get an understanding of what companion planting actually is. At its simplest level, companion planting is where you grow specific plants close to each other so one – or both – grow better.
In some cases, there’s some science behind the benefits of companion gardening. For example, a study has shown that onion flies (a major onion pest) lay fewer eggs when there are marigolds nearby. Other pairings are less researched, but have been passed down anecdotally through generations of gardeners.
How can companion planting help your garden?
Companion planting offers a variety of benefits across your garden, with different pairings helping each other in different ways. Depending on what you’re growing, you might be able to find companion plants that:
- Act as natural deterrents to problem pests
- Balance soil fertility by absorbing different nutrients
- Suppress weed growth around vulnerable plants
- Attract pollinators like bees and butterflies
- Maximise the space you have available by growing at different heights
The end result? Knowing which vegetables can be grown together can give you healthier growth, better yields, tastier crops and a lower maintenance garden! Plus, it never hurts to have some more variety in your kitchen garden or foodscape.
Which Vegetables Can Be Grown Together?
Time for the good stuff! Now, this won’t be an exhaustive list of which vegetables can be grown together – mostly because everyone’s gardening experience is different, and every gardener will have anecdotal evidence of which companion planting pairings work, and which don’t. Today, I’m going to focus on common crops, and plants that we’ve already talked about in landscaping tips or our growing guides.
- Tomatoes reportedly benefit from being planted near French marigolds (to deter whitefly), chives (to deter aphids), and basil (which can apparently improve the flavour of your tomatoes and deter aphids).
- Kale, tomatoes and cabbage are a great example of which vegetables can be grown together. This trio repels pests for each other and maximises space.
- Radishes pair well with cucumbers, lettuce, peas and pole green beans. These partnerships tend to produce better flavours and bigger yields.
- Radishes can also defend spinach from insects that eat and tunnel through leaves. The bugs will eat your radish leaves instead, but won’t harm the actual root vegetable beneath the surface.
- Peas and mangetout also grow well with pak choi and brassicas, like cauliflower and kale, adding vital nitrogen back into the soil to support their growth.
- Plant nasturtiums to attract certain butterflies (like the small white) and take the brunt of the damage away from your brassicas. They can also create a habitat for predatory insects like spiders.
- Carrots and leeks are excellent companion plants, as the scent of leeks keeps carrot fly away, and the scent of carrot can put off leek moths. Carrots and spring onions have a similar effect on each other.
- Corn can be tricky to get the hang of, but using runner beans as a companion plant can help. The runner beans will attract bugs that prey on common corn pests, and the study corn stalks can be used for the beans to climb.
- Courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans will benefit from being near nectar-rich flowers, like calendula or sweet peas, which will attract insects to pollinate your vegetable flowers and eat pest bugs.
- Growing a rose garden can take a lot of effort, but planting mint, garlic, chives and/or thyme as nearby companions can reduce the number of aphids and blackfly chomping on your flowers.
- Cabbages and dill are good companion plants, as the sturdy cabbage will keep the dill growing upright, and the dill attracts wasps (that will control pests like cabbage caterpillars).
- Sage is generally a good companion plant, as its scented leaves tend to repel pest insects, and its pretty blue flowers attract hoverflies and bees, which pollinate your crops.
General companion planting tips to get started
If you can’t keep track (or don’t want to) of exactly which vegetables can be grown together, don’t worry, here are a few rules of thumb that are a bit easier to remember and will give you a good chance of success.
- Avoid ‘monocultures’ (planting the same thing en masse), which will attract larger numbers of particular pests, and deplete specific nutrients in your soil, resulting in imbalance.
- Avoid fast-growing plants, like mint, which will smother just about anything else in the same bed – you could grow them in a container instead, though.
- Apart from exercising caution with mint, herbs are a relatively safe choice for companion planting, as their scents often repel at least one kind of pest insect. It’s a great reason to begin a herb garden when you also want to start growing your own vegetables!
- Tall crops and flowers can provide shade and shelter for plants that are prone to bolting in sunlight, or withering in wind.
- Let fast-growing crops use the space that you’re waiting for slower growers to fill.
- Grow plants that attract pollinators to encourage a healthy yield, and predators (like birds, dragonflies or hover flies), which will feast on pest insects.
Although not every companion plant combination has been rigorously researched, these are some of the more common examples that routinely work for gardeners that want to make their gardening a little bit easier. Have you tried any of these companion planting pairs already? Tell us your experience with which vegetables can be grown together!