- BY Evelyn
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Companion planting is a great technique for encouraging plant growth and deterring all kinds of garden or household pests. Whether you are growing plants for food or just because they look nice, companion planting can be an excellent way to protect plants as they thrive.
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But how do you use companion plants, and what are the basic rules of thumb to follow? Whether you are a green-thumbed gardener or not, knowing the basics can really help.
Understanding Companion Planting
Companion plants are any plants that benefit other plants. For example, Plant A might ward off pests that normally attack Plant B, so putting them next to one another will protect Plant B from harm. It might also help the plant to grow faster or just offer the shelter that Plant B needs.
Not all companion plants are meant to be useful outside of being companion plants. Some of them might be herbs that you never have a use for, other than treating them as a way of protecting the plants that you do care about.
Either way, using companion plants allows you to protect your garden more effectively, gives you more variety in what you are growing, and can even make the whole growing process more efficient. Combining plants in the right ways can really improve your garden as a whole.
Are there bad companion plants?
Technically, yes. While they are not considered companion plants, some plants can actively stunt or damage others, so planting them near to one another might make your garden worse. In extreme cases, one plant could even kill your harvest of another.
Common Plants that Need Companions
There are a lot of different plants that can benefit from certain other companion plants, and identifying them is the first step towards fixing whatever weaknesses they might have. Some of them might be edible, and others might just be for show, but all of them have good companion options.
Tomatoes are a very vulnerable plant compared to many other garden classics, and that makes them very weak without something to help protect them. However, not all plants are beneficial to them, and some can outright harm them.
For example, basil helps repel flies and worms while also giving the tomatoes a nice flavor. Borage helps encourage growth, and garlic will hold off spider mites surprisingly well. All of these can be great ways to protect your tomato yield while also making it grow into a nicer end product.
By contrast, cauliflower and broccoli are known to stunt tomato growth, making it grow a lot slower. Walnuts tend to do the same, while strawberries can directly spread diseases to tomato plants without an easy way of preventing it. Dill can also crowd out a tomato plant’s space and starve it of nutrients.
Broccoli requires a lot of food and often crowds other plants that want the same thing, meaning that broccoli plants will compete against cauliflower and cabbage if placed nearby. Asparagus can actually deplete the soil too quickly for broccoli to feed on it, too.
Pole beans and strawberries stunt the growth of broccoli, but beetroots will actually balance out its needs, making it grow more consistently and without as many moments of starvation. Celery is also going to fight off cabbage flies, while onions improve the overall flavor.
Spinach is known for growing well among most garden plants, but there is one major exception: potatoes. Potatoes will compete with the spinach for food, leading to both becoming very malnourished and eventually dying (or at least becoming much weaker).
On the other hand, there are a lot of handy companion plants. Tansy, cilantro, radishes, and dill can repel a lot of garden pests, while beets and chard feed from the same soil pH levels and are thus great neighbors.
Corns and beans do not do much below the surface, but they can offer shade, something that actually influences how spinach tastes. Without shade, most spinach becomes bitter and far less tasty overall.
Corn is an unexpectedly fragile plant when placed next to the wrong kinds of companions, but it can also see some major boons from others. For example, when growing near tomatoes, basil, or eggplants, corn might struggle due to the additional shade that they tend to create.
On the other hand, things like melons and sunflowers can really help increase corn yields, as can cucumbers. Dry beans produce nitrogen that helps corn grow, and winter squash can keep corn roots cool thanks to the specific angle of shade from its large but low-hanging leaves.
Using Companion Plants
There is not a single best way to arrange your companion plants since it all depends on the kind of garden you have and what you are planning to do with the space specifically. Companion plants can be as simple or as complex as you make them, but there are no best answers.
Always make sure that you are spacing plants out properly, though. Even if two plants are companions, you probably do not want them growing right next to one another in case the roots start to intertwine. A companion for one plant may be detrimental to another, too, so consider how cramped your garden may be.
If you are overhauling your garden and including companion plants as one of the new additions, then be sure to consider how you will throw away any leftover dirt or debris. One of our dumpster rental options can be a good place to start, letting you toss anything you no longer have a use for.