Plants are a lot like people. They have distinct likes and dislikes, preferences about what they’re fed and how often, how much they like to drink, and the things that make them happy or sad. And like people, your plants have friends and they have foes.
When it comes to organic gardening, planting “friends” together while keeping “foes” at a safe distance can mean higher yields, natural pest control, and more beneficial insects. It’s called companion planting, and it really, truly works. Long a staple of organic and permaculture practice, companion planting flies in the face of the homogenous, monocultural garden, in favor of mixed beds containing plant families and friends that get along well and make everybody happy.
Here are a few of our favorite companion planting tricks that will bring your organic garden to the next level!
Five Companion Planting Ideas
1 – Basil and Tomatoes
Not only do these plants taste wonderful together when cooked, basil and tomato plants make fantastic companions. Basil is strongly scented – in fact, that’s why we love it. But, depending on who you ask, pests either hate its smell, or are confused by it. So much so that they’ll forget all about your tomatoes. Plus, planting basil near tomatoes (and other crops for that matter) is said to improve both their growth and flavor. Try sprinkling a few basil seeds in the next time you broadcast lettuce seeds!
2 – Bush beans and Potatoes
Potatoes are heavy soil feeders, and bush beans are soil builders and nitrogen fixers. A match made in vegetable heaven! Plant a row of bush beans alongside your potatoes just after your first potato “hilling,” and then again on the other side of the potatoes after you hill them a second time. Bush beans are also said to protect potatoes from attacks of the Colorado potato beetle.
3 – The Three Sisters (Beans, Corn and Squash)
A longtime traditional companion family among native peoples of the americas, the three sisters – beans, corn and squash – make a functional trio. Like an older sister, tall sturdy cornstalks offer support to growing bean vines. The beans, in turn, add nitrogen to the soil, feeding the other two crops. The large, prickly leaves of the sprawling squash create a sort of living mulch, shading the soil, protecting it from erosion, keeping pests out and weeds down. Symbiosis at its finest.
4 – Radishes and Squash
Radishes are another strongly scented crop that deter pests. Even if you don’t like their spicy taste, try slipping a few radish seeds around crops to add a layer of organic protection. A ring of radishes around your squash plants will naturally deter squash borer larvae, keeping your squash prolific and happy. Try planting radishes around spinach and chard, as well, to deter those dreaded leaf miners.
5 – Marigolds and… Just about everything!
There’s nothing like a little extra color in the garden. And if you choose marigolds as your color spot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their pest-preventing properties. Which property? Smell, once again. Pests of all kinds simply hate the thick, citrusy smell of these lovely flowering annuals. But the bright flowers attract natural garden pollinators – a win, win! Try planting marigolds as a border plant in your raised beds that contain your tender veggies. You’ll be rewarded with lovely red, orange and yellow flowers (with edible petals!) and higher yields in the garden.
There are so many more companion planting friends to experiment with, but we hope these five companion planting ideas are a beautiful and functional place to start in your organic vegetable garden. Have any companion planting tips of your own? We’d love to hear them. Share with us in the comments!