Veggie BFFs: Companion Planting for a Healthier Garden

Lettuce and Purple Pansies in the Garden

Lettuce and Purple Pansies in the Garden

Pansies are a colorful and cold-tolerant companion for lettuce in a cool-season garden.

Photo by: Kelly Quinn/P. Allen Smith

Kelly Quinn/P. Allen Smith

Pansies are a colorful and cold-tolerant companion for lettuce in a cool-season garden.

Do your flowers need better friends? It may sound strange, but some arrangements of plants are just better at sharing and getting along than others. “Companion planting” – grouping compatible plants together – can help protect plants from pests, conserve water, make better use of soil nutrients and lead to healthier plants. In fact, companion planting can be an important part of both organic and IPM gardening which I will write about in an upcoming post.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to plant pairings, but here are some of the best-known plant buddies:

  • Tomatoes and carrots share space well, and the pair do even better when they share space with chives, onions or leeks, which can help repel harmful pests.
  • Spinach and peppers may never see eye-to-eye, but their differing heights make them perfect plot partners. Sun-loving peppers reach toward the sky, providing cover for shade-dwelling spinach.
  • Corn, beans and squash are perhaps the best-known veggie companions. In fact, this historic companion planting is part of Native American legend. The corn creates a “pole” for bean vines to climb, while the low-lying squash vines help soil retain moisture and can keep predators away. The beans provide the soil with nitrogen and help stabilize the threesome. Talk about a match made in gardening heaven!

To create your own cooperative garden, keep these principles in mind:

  • Plant shade-loving plants next to tall sun-worshipers. In addition to spinach and peppers, corn and potatoes are another great tall-short pair.
  • Pair deep-rooted plants with shallower companions. For example, arugula and carrots won’t need to compete for root space.
  • Plant herbs and flowers among veggies. Marigolds, chamomile, cornflowers and morning glories are just a few of the plants known to attract predators that can keep troublesome insects at bay.
  • Put smelly pest-repellers alongside plants that bugs love to snack on. Aphids and ants don’t like garlic, and are likely to stay away from its next-door neighbor, too.
  • Consider keeping similar plants apart. Plants from the same family are often susceptible to the same kinds of pests and may compete for nutrients, water and sunlight.
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