One of the ways to help your garden become more productive is to employ the principles of companion planting. Companion planting encompasses all of the relationships between plants that grow near or with each other. The key is in knowing which of those relationships are beneficial  – and which can be harmful.

Radishes are an excellent companion planting for many vegetables grown in the garden
Radishes are an excellent companion planting for many other vegetables grown in the garden

Some varieties benefit by being cultivated with others because of the nutrients they can provide to the soil and the companion plants.  Beans are famous for helping corn grow better because they fix nitrogen levels in the soil, making it easy for the corn to soak it up.

Other plants provide support or shade for a different variety grown in close proximity – such as leaf lettuce inserted around tomatoes. As the tomatoes grow they provide valuable shade to the lettuce crop – and the lettuce in turn covers the soil as a live mulch.

Still another benefit can be that some plants deter pests and insects from attacking others. Case in point, Marigolds are well-known to help to kill off nematodes, repel whiteflies, and deter rabbits when planted as a border around the vegetable garden.

Never plant tomatoes in the shadow of a walnut tree - the roots of the tree can kill the plants.
Never plant tomatoes in the shadow of a walnut tree – the roots of the tree can kill the plants.

As for the bad – some plants can actually hinder the growth of other vegetable plants nearby. A great example of this is the walnut tree – which will render any tomato stalk planted near its root zone to a life of little existence – and zero tomatoes!

Companion planting has been around for centuries.  In fact, one of the most widely known and practiced companion plantings of all time, the planting of corn, beans and squash together (known as “The Three Sisters”) – dates back to the Iroquois.  They knew the trio worked in perfect harmony – and practiced the method exclusively as a way to increase their yields.

The Three Sisters method, like many companion plantings, actually has truth in simple science as well as old-timer legend. The beans fix the nitrogen in the soil, which corn needs and uses to thrive.

Corn, like this strawberry popcorn, is an excellent crop to plant with beans.
Corn, like this strawberry popcorn, is an excellent crop to plant with beans.

The corn provides a natural trellis system for the beans to grow up on – and the bean vines provides extra strength to the corn stalks to prevent them from blowing over in the wind. The squash vines play a vital role as well – acting as a living mulch on the soil – helping to hold in moisture, repel weeds, and even of more importance – make it hard for animals like a raccoon to track through to get at the corn.  Not a bad use of space and a perfect example of companion planting!

Companion planting can lead to healthier plants and better harvests!
Companion planting can lead to healthier plants and better harvests!

So where to start in your garden?

There are actually entire books written on the subject, so it can get a bit overwhelming. However, we thought it might be helpful to provide a few companion plantings for many of the varieties of vegetables grown in the common backyard garden – along with a few to avoid.

Common Vegetable Companion Plantings – And Ones To Avoid:

Beans : Plant near corn, cucumbers, potatoes  and cabbage.  Corn is the best  – the two really help each other.  Avoid planting beans near garlic, onions or shallots.

Broccoli :  Plant near beans, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce.  Avoid planting near peppers and tomatoes.

Cucumbers : Plant near beans, corn and radishes.  The corn works really well as it provides some shade protection for the cucumbers and allows for the vines to grow up and have support.  Avoid planting cucumbers around potatoes – they can encourage blight in potato crops.

Garlic :  Plant Garlic near tomatoes and cabbage.  Avoid planting near peas and beans

Onions : Plant near: beets, cabbage, carrots, and lettuce.  Avoid planting near beans and peas

Peas : Plant peas with corn , carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes and turnips.   Avoid planting with Onions, Garlic and Shallots

Peppers :  Peppers do well with tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and onions – Avoid planting near potatoes.

Potatoes : Plant near beans, cabbage, corn, peas, squash and eggplant.  Avoid cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes

Tomatoes :   Tomatoes do well when planted around cabbage, carrots, basil and onion and garlic.  But keep them away from potatoes and do not plant near the root zone of walnut trees

So how about trying a little companion planting in your garden this year as well!

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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