Companion Planting With Vegetables and Flowers

The right plant combos will save space and provide weed and pest control.

| April/May 2011

Sweet Alyssum

Grow sweet alyssum to provide nectar for hoverflies, which feed on aphids. 


Each spring, I grow legions of onions and shallots from seed, and my biggest challenge is keeping them weeded. Last year, I planted pinches of arugula between the short rows of shallots, and the leafy, fast-growing arugula smothered any weeds and showed remarkably little damage from flea beetles, which often plague it. The arugula was ready to harvest just when the shallots needed room to grow. In a eureka moment, I realized I had discovered a vegetable companion-planting partnership I could use year after year to make my garden healthier and more productive.

The idea of “companion planting” has been around for thousands of years, during which time it has become so besmirched with bad science and metaphysics that many gardeners aren’t sure what it means. The current definition goes something like this: Companion planting is the establishment of two or more species in close proximity so that some cultural benefit, such as pest control or increased yield, may be achieved.

Historically, North American and European gardeners have based many of their attempts with companion planting on widely published charts, which were mostly derived from funky chemistry experiments using plant extracts in the 1930s. But it turns out many of the plant partnerships listed in these “traditional” companion-planting charts don’t actually work well. Reaping the benefits of companion planting is possible, though, as long as you look to time-tested crop combinations. (See our chart of Proven Companion Planting Combos for spring, summer and fall.) 

Companion Crop Combinations

In North America, Native American tribes from the Northeast to the Southwest developed highly specialized intercropping techniques to grow the “three sisters” — corn, pole beans and squash. (There is a fourth sister, sunflower, but she didn’t make it into the early stories.) Three sisters gardens vary in shape, size and planting style (raised mounds in the East and North, recessed waffle beds in the Southwest). The three (or four) sisters technique works because the crops cooperate rather than compete with each other for light and root space. The corn supports the bean vines, the squash shades out weeds, and the roots of the different plants get along nicely below ground.

But what about all of the other vegetables you want to grow? An experienced gardener from China wouldn’t be surprised by my success with onions and arugula, because intercropping of vegetables is the traditional way to garden in China’s most fertile regions. Plant associations that work well are shared among neighbors, as everyone has learned that intercropping is more efficient, reduces weed and pest pressure, and lowers the risk of crop failure. Chinese intercropping practices use a broad range of crops, which makes them easy to replicate in a diversified organic garden.

Agricultural researchers have noted that the paired plants in Chinese intercropping practices usually differ in height, maturation period and rooting habit. In addition, many gardeners in China grow the following intercropped vegetables back-to-back during the course of the growing season:

3/30/2016 5:38:44 PM

Last year I did a lot of interplanting in the vegetable garden for the first time. I planted cucumbers and bush beans and tomatoes all mixed in together in one row. I planted carrots with tomatoes and arthichokes in another. I mixed nasurchiams with potatoes in another garden plot. But it is very untidy and confusing at first especially when plants are still small and somewhat unidentifiable. Between the interplanting and the chickens eating up the bugs I had very little pest problems. The only problem I struggled to keep on top of was ants on the artichokes. Here's a drawing of my gardening plan for this year. ( This plan uses even more interplanting.

3/27/2016 8:23:12 AM

When planting vegetables that are not supposed to be planted near each other (for example tomatoes and potatoes) how near can you actually plant them? I use raised beds, but I have limited space, so some plants are near each other but not in the same bed. What is the general rule for this?

3/11/2016 6:25:52 PM

It is amazing the difference that companion planting can make. It takes a little more time to plan everything out but it is worth the results. Btw you can get a FREE copy of "Our Survival Essentials " during our FREE Promo days March 12th, 13th, & 14th 2016, So remember to grab your free copy during the next three days

3/9/2015 9:05:02 AM

Great post! I've always found companion planting super interesting and have done it for several of my veggies! You really can taste the difference when you plant garlic close to your veggies, too! For those new to companion planting, here's an easy chart to get you started:

6/17/2014 4:31:36 AM

This is nice. Thanks for sharing.

2/13/2014 6:57:29 PM

holler19, I saved this link to my favorites. Enjoy!

1/10/2014 8:25:32 AM

I must say that I approached this article with trepidation, expecting to find companion planting touted as a "new, modern approach." I was using companion planting back in the early 70's when Mother Earth was just a toddler. I like the mix of old and new information in this article and plan on trying some of the interplanting techniques to control weed seedlings between plants by planting crops that will shade them out. I know that i have charts at home of what to plant with whom. Maybe Mother Earth could look in their archives and publish some of those older charts so folks could experiment and have fun with them. Even if all the data is not completely accurate, it can never really hurt to include lots of diversity in your garden.

7/27/2013 10:10:54 AM

I noticed something this year I have not seen written anywhere else. I planted some zuchinni (Black Beauty) near a few milkweed plants. Gardeners in my area usually have a big problem with the Squash Vine Borer, including me! However, this year I have noticed my Zuchinni completely untouched. Literally completely untouched. On the milkweed however the Squash Vine Borer insects are numerous. The closer you get to the Zuchinni plant, the more SVBs on the milkweed. It is stunning to see so many planted on the milkweed. Usually thay fly around very quickly and don't sit around for very long. However, on the milkweed they plant themselves for hours on end. I urge you to give it a try and share your results. 

4/23/2011 4:01:05 AM

There's also a link to a chart on the left side of this page.

ashley howie
4/22/2011 11:47:43 PM

This article is amazing! This is my first year I am companion planting. I have beans and tomatoes mixed together and I plan on doing cucumbers an beans as well. I never had luck with onions or shallots but this year im hoping to turn them around. I am only 21 so if i master them now im set! I just would absolutely love it if someone came up with a full master list of companion planting. Wiki has a good list but I feel like its not complete. Has anyone seen this?

lynn bingham
3/18/2011 1:54:30 PM

Have you read the book "Carrots love Tomatoes" It provides some excellent information about companion planting. If not I suggest it very strongly.

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