Companion Planting Primer for Vegetable Gardens


Yellow Marigold Close Up
Photo by Krista Bratvold

Companion planting is the practice of grouping plants together that have beneficial relationships. Companion planting isn't an exact science, and takes experimentation and observation. The goal of companion planting is to increase the yield of plants by controlling for pests and encouraging pollination, whereas monoculture, or the practice of planting a single crop year after year, typically reduces the soil's nutrient levels over time.

A well-known example of this practice is the Three Sisters garden, consisting of corn, beans, and squash. Various Native American tribes discovered this practice thousands of years ago. These three crops work together symbiotically. The squash’s large leaves shade the ground and retain moisture in the soil. The corn provides a tall stalk for the bean vines to climb, and reduces weed competition on the ground.

Companion Planting with Vegetable Crops

Besides the Three Sisters, there are hundreds of beneficial crop combinations. Here's a quick summary of the main groupings:

  • Legume family plants, such as peas and beans, pair well with brassicas, carrots, lettuces, spinach, strawberries, corn, and cucumbers.
  • Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, can complement beans, carrots, lettuces, onions, spinach, and most types of herbs.
  • Alliums usually do well when planted with potatoes, carrots, lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries, and brassicas.
  • Place potatoes with onions, corn, lettuces, beans, and brassicas. 
  • Lettuces and spinach both grow well with carrots, radishes, brassicas, onions, strawberries, and cucumbers.
  • Tomatoes love being paired with basil, nasturtiums, marigolds, onions, and cucumbers.
  • Most herbs can be placed together or among other vegetable crops.

Pest-Repelling Plants

Another aspect of companion planting is the placement of pest-repelling plants. Not all insects are harmful, but some can eat away your garden. 

Some plants exhibit pest-repelling properties. Basil can avert whitefly when it’s planted among your tomatoes. Peppermint oil has been known to repel mice. (Be aware that mints are aggressive growers, though, and you may wish to confine their root systems to containers.) By masking the scent of carrots, strong-smelling alliums can deter carrot flies from your crop. Alliums have also been known to repel slugs.

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