Introduction to Companion Gardening

A companion garden with vegetables and flowers.

Living in a place where the soil isn’t conducive to growing a garden, I took matters into my own hands last year. With the help of my family, I built a series of small encasings, filled them with organic dirt, and planted the fruits and veggies I so longed for in rows. The sight of greenery brought in neighbors from every direction offering advice on continuing my early success into a food-providing ecosystem. The advice, however, mainly consisted of pesticides and chemicals. After doing some research, I found a natural way to repel pests and help my garden grow.

I utilized companion gardening—an interesting method of arranging plants so that, using their natural abilities, they actually aid each other to grow and flourish. It mimics the benefits of pesticides and chemical pest repellents, without the negative consequences. This article will give an introduction to this natural gardening technique, while offering a basic guide to plant arrangements.

An Ancient Concept

A garden with corn and other vegetables.

The Native American "Three Sisters" crops are an example of companion gardening. Three plants—corn, beans, and squash—are grown simultaneously and close together. The growing cycles of each complement and benefit the others. As the stalks of corn grow in height, beans grow up the stalk while adding nutrients in the soil that in turn aid the squash. As the giant leaves of the squash provide shade on the ground, the other plants thrive without weeds. Modern farmers utilize the concept of plant reactions to environmental conditions to assist and protect neighboring plants. Each plant has a companion—a natural friend that it can grow with and service.

A (Somewhat) Messy Concept

A close-up of a melon in a vegetable garden.

It is not unusual for this type of garden to look unkept or overgrown, which often means the greatest amount of natural protection is being created. Companion gardens are lovely because they don’t stick to grouping single types of plants together. It's common to find batches of flowers among beds of vegetables (since they work as wonderful natural pest controllers). Therefore, if you're one who likes a neat garden, this method may not be for you.

Growing Guide

Here is a list of the best plants and veggies to grow together, with information regarding how to banish pests and other issues.

Keep in mind there are a couple of plants that are universally effective when planted with others: onions and marigolds are perfect for companion gardens because their scents repel most forms of pests.

Cabbage: Celery and tomatoes, both of which have been shown to repel cabbage worms.

Carrots: Onions and leeks, both of which repel carrot flies.

Corn: Beans, soybeans, squash, and melons. Soybeans are ideal because they naturally deter chinch bugs, which may feed on corn.

Lettuce: Beets, radishes, and strawberries. The lettuce and radish combination is lovely because the greenery actually helps tenderize the radishes.

Potatoes: Basil, marigolds, peas, squash, and green beans. Green beans are a great companion to the potatoes because they deter potato bugs.

A vegetable garden.

Radishes: Cucumbers, lettuce, melons, and peas. Radishes deter cucumber beetles, while lettuce tenderizes the radishes.

Cucumbers: Sunflowers, radishes, and corn. This vegetable loves shade, which makes it ideal for growing with tall plants like sunflowers or corn. The higher the stalk, the more coverage is provided and the happier the cucumbers. Radishes deter cucumber beetles.

Beets: Bush beans, lettuce, onions, and garlic. Garlic is said to improve the flavor and growing ability of beets.

Celery: Beans, chives, garlic, and tomatoes. Chives and garlic repel aphids, which tend to live on and eat celery.

Squash: Corn, pumpkin, oregano, and melons. Oregano has a unique smell which experts claim deters general pests.