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Garden Buddies: Companion Plants, Better Together


Gardeners in Italy always plant basil near tomatoes. Is it because they're cooked together in many Italian recipes, or is it because somehow, as they grow, their aromas influence each other for the good? It's hard to say. But some people believe the distinctive odor from the aromatic oils in basil leaves keeps insects away who might otherwise come near and mess with the tomato plants. It's sort of like the basil is the tomato's bodyguard.


That's what is mysterious and fun about companion gardening: some crops that are really different from each other still, for various reasons, grow better near to each other.


And others hate, hate, HATE growing near certain plants. Instead of being best friends or bodyguards, they are arch enemies!


The first rule of grouping plants together in a garden is to make sure you neither crowd them too much so that they grow poorly for lack of space and sunlight . . . and also that you don't plant them so far apart that weeds go wild in between the plants you want, and you have tons more work to do in the garden.


So look carefully at the planting directions on seed packets and the informational stakes stuck in to most seedlings you buy at the nursery. Follow those directions for spacing plants properly so that they can be pleasant companions, not competitors.


The second rule of grouping plants is to consider how they change over the entire span of the growing season. For example, in spring and early summer, tomato plants are small and don't create much shade. They need the high heat of the summer to get huge. So in spring and early summer, you can plant radishes or lettuce right next to tomatoes, and those cool-season crops will be harvested and out of the way before the tomatoes get too big and crowd them out or shade them out.


There's no sense leaving the ground around a young tomato plant bare and useless - with smart plant placement, you can maximize your growing space and harvest more out of it without hurting any of your plants.


You can also make good use of the natural tendency of tomato plants to get huge late in the season. How? Think of plants in late summer that need shade from the hot summer sun. As long as you have proper support for your sprawling tomato plants - cages or ladders - you can plant lettuce and other leafy greens to the east or north of tomato plants, and they'll grow better with a little afternoon shade, compliments of their tomato neighbor


It is important to keep up to speed on the light needs of various plants as you decide what to plant, where. In contrast to leafy greens, peppers and eggplants need full sun all summer long. So they shouldn't be located by plants that will eventually overshadow them.


Here are a few more good garden companions:


      • Beans or parsley with carrots


      • Broccoli with dill


      • Cabbage family with thyme


      • Native American trio: corn, squash and pole beans


      • Radishes with cucumbers


      • Kale with potatoes


      • Onions with lettuce


      • Swiss chard at the base of tomatoes to shade the soil


      • Bibb lettuce in the partial shade of peas, since there will be extra nitrogen in the soil as peas (legumes) can get a lot of their nitrogen straight out of the air



Marigolds, garlic and onions are thought by some to keep away insect pests from your crops because of their distinctive aromas. Whether or not that's true, it's fine to grow them in several locations in the garden.


Radishes may attract flea beetles, so you could try planting some extra radishes that you don't care about harvesting (since seeds are so cheap!) near broccoli, eggplants and turnips as a "trap crop." That means the flea beetles will eat the radish leaves instead of the broccoli, eggplants and turnips. Ah ha! You TRICKED them!


Try to always put plants that don't need a lot of fertilizer, such as carrots, with plants that feed heavily, such as tomatoes. That way, they won't "rob" each other and they can live in peace.


Consider planting plants that have deep roots with those that have shallow roots, such as parsnips and onions, together. That way, their roots won't compete underground.


Always put leaf crops such as lettuces near to tall companions, such as pole beans.


Probably the best-known example of good companion planting is the famous Native American "Three Sisters" Garden. See what that's all about in the article in Garden Themes elsewhere on this website.


By Susan Darst Williams • • Planning 14 • © 2010




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