Companion Planting

Marlene Spinosa
Adams County Master Gardener

By this time of year, the vegetable gardens are planted and beginning to produce the fresh, homegrown vegetables we’ll be enjoying all through summer and well into the fall. Sadly, along with this wonderful bounty come the troublesome, nutrient-robbing weeds that infest seemingly every square inch of bare garden space. One possible solution to the weed problem is filling up these vacant spaces with companion plants for nearby vegetables, a simple solution that not only keeps down the weeds, but benefits the vegetables as well.

Companion planting is a productive way to replace weeds with plants that help each other. The roots, leaves and flowers of many herbs and vegetables attract beneficial insects or repel harmful ones as well as encourage growth and flavor in vegetables. Companion planting can help create an ecosystem where nature takes the lead and, diseases and pests are dealt with naturally. Companion plantings can be used in between plants, as well as in borders and as backdrops, too.

To fully discuss the benefits of companion planting would take a lot more space than this article allows, but I’d like to share some pairings which I’ve found successful. Cole or brassicas plants do well planted with Anise, a licorice-tasting herb. The scent of the herb camouflages the smell of the brassicas deterring the cabbage butterfly from laying its eggs on the plants. Basil planted with tomatoes helps improve tomatoes’ growth and flavor as well as being a wonderful herb to use with them in pasta dishes when harvest time comes. Beans planted with corn and squash, a Native American idea, provide much needed nitrogen to the corn; the corn is a support for the beans, and the squash provides a ground cover to suppress weeds.

Beets planted with onions or lettuce provide the soil with extra magnesium. The leaves can contain 25% magnesium, a great addition to your compost pile if you are not eating them. Cucumbers with sunflowers are a good combination any young gardener would like. The sunflowers are the supports for the cucumber vines; and by sprinkling some radish seeds into this combination, you can also repel cucumber beetles. Planting marigolds and radishes near eggplants repel beetles; marigolds and radishes also deter Colorado potato bugs.

Lemon Balm has citronella compounds; rubbing the leaves on your skin can repel mosquitos. It can be planted near squash to discourage the dreaded squash bug. Horseradish planted in a potato patch deters Colorado potato bugs, but plant in a container sunk into the ground to contain this invasive plant. Planting onions with chamomile or summer savory will increase their flavors. Nasturtiums planted around tomatoes, cucumbers and under fruit trees can repel whiteflies, wooly aphids, and pests of the cucurbit family. Wormwood, a wonderful garden border plant, will repel animals and insects. It produces a botanical poison so do not put it on food crops. Also do not plant it with beans or peas. Zinnias are good at attracting bees, insect pollinators and hummingbirds.

Harvesting the herbs and vegetables you may not have used before trying companion planting is an added plus. Good Planting and Good Eating.

Read other articles on gardening techniques

Read other articles by Marlene Spinosa