Plants need a buddy too

Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden

It’s called companion planting and it’s been around for a long time because it works. My first experience was with a small veggie bed at my first home that seemed to be where all the neighborhood rabbits liked to gather for brunch. My mom said it might reduce the number of bunnies if I surrounded the bed with marigolds.

Companion planting is nothing new. There is evidence of farmers using these simple techniques dating back to ancient Rome.

“Three sisters” is the name given to the oldest way of growing vegetables in this fashion. When placing squash, corn and runner beans close to each other, the vegetables benefit from one another and contribute to each other’s development. Corn stems help support runner beans. Squash foliage prevents harmful grass growth and retains the humidity in the soil. Beans, great nitrogen fixers, enrich the soil to meet the corn’s large consumption of that element.

More simply companion planting is when you purposefully plant certain combinations near each other to improve the performance of all. Conversely there are some plants that don’t do well in proximity to each other so companion planting keeps them a safe distance apart.

There are some plants that nature has gifted with the ability fight against insects and disease. Some give off odors that pests don’t like. While others are able to attract beneficial insects that will eat all the nuisance bugs that have been feasting on your plants. By planting these near others allow them to protect their companions and reduce or eliminate the need to use toxic sprays.

The chemical interaction associated with the proximity to plants, such as garlic, chives and onion, is well known as insect repellent. Aromatic plants can trick pests away from more appealing plants. Note that dill and tansy repel aphids and spider mites while mint and lavender keep ants away. The onion will protect surrounding plants against fungal disease such as late blight 

There are some plants that contribute to each other’s development by enriching the soil or the nearby environment. This companion planting helps accelerate the growth and improve the taste of vegetables and in a few cases actually improve the nutritional benefit of the plants they are nestled with. This way of gardening will with minimal effort enhance the quality of your harvests.

You must be careful as some interactions can hinder rather than help. For example, the walnut tree secretes a phytotoxin called juglone that prevents germination and the growth of many plant species as well as harmful plants that would like to settle nearby.

A healthy garden is one that is full of variety, where different plants work together. This healthy garden concept will produce an abundance of food and look stunning at the same time.

How to Get Started

Don’t worry, companion planting isn’t complicated. Just find the vegetable that you want to plant on this LIST and then plant one or two of its companions. Don’t worry about the number of combinations and contradictions – your beans will not shrivel up and die if they’re too close to the onions, they simply may do better near the corn.

The easiest place to start is combining culinary herbs and edible flowers with your vegetables. Group your veggies closely to their companions, then intersperse your vegetables with strong smelling and flowering herbs. This will give the most bang for your buck by keeping pests out of the garden, while improving the overall look and smell of your garden.

Credits and more info 

Here is a nice graphic illustrating buddies

A chart of good and bad companions

Companion planting tips graphic that shows “good neighbors”

Gardening 101: Companion Planting

New Self Sufficient Gardening article on companions  

Companion planning for tastier harvests  

Beyond spray and wipe-out PLUS a great Top Tips list  

The Balcony Gardener on companion planting in containers–aids/home-allotment-companion-planter/


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
This entry was posted in Planning, Plants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s