If you’ve started gardening, it’s helpful to learn the basics of companion planting for beginners. Companion planting is the practice of putting mutually beneficial plants near each other in the garden, maximizing space and, ideally, plant health.
So, what is companion planting? How can you get started? Let’s dig in with a few basics, then you can check out the plant-specific companion planting guides at the end:
What is Companion Planting?
Also known as companion gardening or intercropping, companion planting is the practice of planting specific plants together to benefit each other. By choosing the right plants to grow near each other, you can potentially improve the health, productivity, and pest resistance of your garden.
The term also covers what plants to avoid growing near each other, since some plants don’t get along and can inhibit each other’s growth.
Companion planting recommendations are usually based on what gardeners have observed and passed along to other gardeners over time. While there are a few studies that back up these claims, like for French marigolds and tomatoes, many others have either found no direct benefit or haven’t been tested properly. Unfortunately, many of these studies are also done on large-scale crop farms that are often already in a monoculture, making the advice even less applicable to the average gardener.
Part of the challenge to studying companion plants is the overwhelming number of factors that affect a garden and its surrounding ecosystem in any one growth cycle. What works for one gardener may not work for you, since you could be using a different variety, live in a different area, have a good or bad year for a certain plant, pest, or disease, and so on so forth. Because of this, you should always play around with companion plant arrangements to find what works best for you.
While companion planting may not always have scientific studies to back it up, it’s still worth trying. After all, you’re probably going to plant the same plants in your garden in one combination or other, so it only makes sense to arrange them in a way that at least has a chance of benefitting each plant. Besides, some companion plant combinations like the Three Sisters (corn, squash, and beans) go back as far as Native American cultures. If gardeners have been using them for centuries, there’s a good chance they could work for you too!
Benefits of Companion Planting
There are a number of potential benefits to companion planting. Some of the most common ones include:
• Maximizing garden space: The best companion plants can often be planted close together, making the most of garden space. Their harvest times may also be staggered, allowing second plantings for some.
• Attracting beneficial insects: Some plants can attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, pollinators, and parasitic bugs that feed on pests like aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars.
• Repelling pests: In addition, the presence of some plants may be irritating or confusing for pests, making it harder for them to reach your plants.
• Act as a trap crop: You can use certain plants as sacrificial trap crops to lure pests away from your other plants.
• Improving soil quality: Some plants can create better soil environments by bringing nutrients to the surface or breaking up compacted soil. Others can produce chemicals that add nutrients or pest-fighting capabilities to the soil.
• Providing shade and windbreak: This is a specific beneficial relationship between two plants, one that likes heat and sun and one that does not. The larger or south-facing plant can help to protect plants from strong sun, rain, and wind.
• Offer plant support: Large, tall plants like corn can sometimes support smaller climbing ones, like some squashes.
• Preventing weeds: Some plants grow low to the ground and act as weed suppressors when planted next to taller, thinner plants.
• Improving crop flavor: While this is a matter of personal taste, some say that planting certain plants near vegetables and fruits can improve their flavor.
Similarly, by knowing what plants to avoid, you can prevent your plants from competing for resources, attracting pests, stunting each other’s growth, and more.
How to Plan Your Garden
Consider the size of your garden, the amount of sunlight it gets, and the type of soil you have when determining what type of companion plants your crops will need.
You should keep spacing in mind when planning as well. Some root vegetables and leafy greens are often planted right around the base of larger plants, but for many other companions the same spacing rules listed on your seed packet will apply. Otherwise, you run the risk of overcrowding.
And it probably goes without saying, but don’t plant something in your garden just because it could make a good companion. If you don’t enjoy cosmos or can’t stand the flavor of cilantro, there’s no sense using up garden space just because they could help your other plants. Use the lists below to put together combinations of plants you will actually enjoy and use.
Some very generic garden planning recommendations include:
• Planting heavy nutrient feeders, like corn, near nitrogen-fixing plants, like legumes
• Planting aromatic plants, like basil, sage, and other herbs, near plants that are susceptible to pests
• Avoiding growing plants together that have similar nutrient requirements or that compete for the same space
Vegetable Companion Planting
Here are my companion planting guides for the following vegetables:
Fruit Companion Planting
Here are my companion planting guides for the following fruits:
Flower Companion Planting
Here are my companion planting guides for the following flowers:
Herb Companion Planting
Here are my companion planting guides for the following herbs:
Happy Companion Planting!
With the information for getting started along with a wide assortment of guides based on the plants you want to grow, you should now have a thorough understanding of companion planting for beginners. Try different combinations and see what works best for you and your garden!