Companion Plants: Gardening’s Happiest Partners

companion plants
companion plants

It’s Valentine’s Day, so what could be better than an article on companion plants, veganic gardening’s happiest partners?

What are companion plants, and how do they fit into vegan gardener Will Bonsall’s “… unified living system whose parts function to the benefit of one another and the whole?”   

A veganic garden is much more than plants, soil, and the gardener who tends them. It’s a living, growing community dependent on sun, shade, rain, insects, birds, and animals.

And as a living community, it can’t genuinely flourish without diversity. Companion planting is the science of growing the right combinations of plants to:

  • build habitats for beneficial animals and insects
  • discourage damaging pests

and replenish the soil with nutrients and microbes that keep the entire system healthy.

Companion plants are fruits, veggies, and herbs that – when growing together – do the work of chemical-based, soil-depleting fertilizers or toxic pesticides and herbicides for you!

The Ancient Genius of Combining Companion Plants

Last November, we visited Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, where the Anasazi Pueblo people settled nearly twenty centuries ago.

When Jesse Walter Fewkes excavated their cliffside dwellings in the early 20th century, he uncovered corn, squash, and pumpkin seeds along with farming tools. The Anasazi were one of a long line of indigenous American tribes to practice “Three Sisters” companion planting.

They grew corn, beans, and squash or pumpkin in the same plot – and the result was nothing short of genius:

Big Ag corn field – the opposite of companion planting.
  • The cornstalks serve as supports for the climbing bean vines, while the beans stabilized the stalks in windy weather.
  • The nitrogen the beans added to the soil fertilized the following year’s corn crop.
  • The low-growing squash plants shaded the ground, discouraging weeds and retaining soil moisture. And their prickly stems and leaves deterred hungry predators.

Finally, after harvesting their crops, the farmers could work the plant debris back into the soil to increase its organic content and improve its structure.

Unlike the monoculture responsible for Big Ag’s horizon-to-horizon corn, wheat, soy, or cotton fields, the Three Sisters method has no symmetry. It looks remarkably wild. And for wild creatures in search of homes, that’s a very good thing!

Creating Habitat with Companion Plants

Companion plants that attract pest-devouring ladybugs are a veganic gardener’s best friend.

Every living creature needs shelter, water, and food. One of companion planting’s great rewards is that it will transform your veganic garden into a haven for beneficial birds, bugs, and reptiles.

Not only will they provide chemical-free pest removal, but they’ll also gorge themselves on pollen and nectar – and in the process, help your plants produce fruit, veggies, and flowers. Toss a handful of pebbles in a birdbath, and you’ll have a natural “dock” for bees to quench their thirst as well.

Hedges, ornamental grasses, or blooming perennials create much-appreciated hiding or nesting places. Veganic gardening and companion planting work hand-in-hand to build the diversity every healthy ecosystem needs!

Making Companion Plants Work for You

The indigenous Americans who planted their Three Sisters centuries ago might laugh out loud at learning their technique has given rise to various companion planting forms. The Gardenology encyclopedia lists them as:

  • Hedged investment — a variety of plants in the same space improve the odds of having some yield, even if one category encounters catastrophic issues
  • Level interaction — plants that grow on many levels in the same place, can provide ground cover or even work as a trellis for another plant
  • Nitrogen fixation — plants that fix nitrogen in the ground, making it available to other plants.
  • Protective shelter — one plant can serve as a windbreak, or shade from the noonday sun, for another.

However, Gardenology also offers three additional techniques explicitly aimed at attracting “good bugs” and deterring harmful ones:

  • Pest suppression — plants that repel insects, plants, or other pests like nematodes or fungi, through chemical means. (Planting basil among your veggies can chase off aphids, mosquitoes, and mites.)
  • Positive hosting — attracts or is inhabited by insects or other organisms that benefit plants, as with ladybugs or some “good nematodes.” (Strongly scented herbs such as mint, sage, and rosemary do double duty by drawing good bugs and repelling insect pests.

    Nasturtiums draw harmful bugs away from other plants – and they add color and zip to salads as well!
  • Trap Cropping — plants you won’t be harvesting, which draw pests away from the one you will. (For instance, aphids and whiteflies love nasturtiums, slugs love chervil and thrips, and nematodes have a sweet tooth for French marigolds.) 

Your choice of companion plants will depend on your choice of crops.  Just aim for biodiversity, and you can’t go wrong!

A Companion Plant Chart to Get you Started

Chart revised from Greenthumb Gardener,  so you can start planning your own veganic gardening companion plant partnerships!

Vegetable Best Companion Plants Antagonistic Plants Greenthumb Gardener Notes
Asparagus Carrot, Tomato, Basil, Coriander, Dill, Parsley, Marigold Garlic, Potato, Onion Tomatoes repel beetles, help to protect asparagus
Beans Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Celery, Corn, Chard, Eggplant, Marigolds, Kale, Peas, Radishes, Potatoes, Strawberries Beets, Chives, Garlic, Fennel, Onion, Leek, Sunflowers, Shallots Plant marigolds near beans, it help repel the Mexican bean beetle
Beets Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chives, Garlic, Onions, Leeks, Lettuce, Kohlrabi, Spinach, Radishes Tomatoes, Beans The beets and beans don’t feel good near each other, but your lettuce will do well next to them.
Broccoli Bush Beans, Beet, Basil, Dill, Celery, Carrot, Cucumber, Lettuce, Garlic, Onion, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Rosemary, Mint, Sage, Thyme, Nasturtium, Marigold Asparagus, Beans, Cantaloupe, Mustard, Peppers, Pumpkin, Sweet Corn, Watermelon, Strawberry Aromatic plants help deter harmful insects.
Brussels Sprouts Basil, Beets, Carrots, Dill, Garlic, Onion, Thyme, Mint, Marigold, Nasturtium Tomato, Strawberry It’s part of the brassica family; aromatic plants help repel pests (like swede midge, a specialist of brassicas).
Cabbage Bush Beans, Beets, Celery, Chamomile, Onion, Potato, Dill, Mint, Spearmint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Marigold, Nasturtium Beans, Eggplant, Pepper, Mustard, Tomato, Strawberry Rosemary helps to repel cabbage fly.
Carrots Beans, Chives, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Leek, Onion, Tomato, Rosemary Dill, Coriander, Parsnip Onion, leeks, and aromatic herbs like rosemary and sage repel the carrot flies.
Cauliflower Beans, Celery, Chamomile, Spinach, Tomato, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Sunflower, Peas Strawberries, Tomatoes Plant celery near cabbage – it deters cabbage moth and cabbage butterflies. Mint and oregano are also useful
Celery Bush Beans, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Cosmos, Cucumber, Dill, Leek, Spinach, Snapdragons, Tomato, Marjoram, Daisies, Marigolds, Nasturtiums Corn, Carrots, Potato Celery and leeks grown together in a trench seem to do well, as leeks repel many pests; they won’t even lay their eggs. 
Chives Basil, Carrots, Kohlrabi, Parsnip, Parsley, Tomato, Marigold, Strawberries Beans Grapes also benefit from chives’ ability to repel aphids. Most allums also help keep away rabbits
Corn Beans, Cucumber, Marjoram, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini, Sunflower Tomato One of the three sister plants. Beans and peas are legumes; they supply nitrogen.
Cucumber BBeans, Celery, Corn, Dill, Lettuce, Peas, Radish, Nasturtium, Marigold Tomato, Potato, Sage, Strong Aromatic Herbs (except dill) Raccoons avoid cucumber, plant near corn
Dill Cabbage, Cucumbers, Corn, Dill, Lettuce, Fennel, Onions Cilantro, Tomato Grows well with fennel.
Eggplant Pepper, Potato ,Beans, Marjoram   To protect eggplant from Colorado potato beetle, grow them with beans
Kohlrabi Beets, Cucumber, Nasturtium, Lettuce, Onions, Thyme Pole Beans, Pepper, Strawberries, Tomato Helps protect the mustard family vegetables.
Leek Celery, Carrots, Lettuce, Onions Beans, Peas Leeks repel carrot flies, they won’t even lay their eggs on the neighbor plant. 
Lettuce Beets, Beans, Broccoli, Corn, Carrots, Onions, Radish, Peas, Marigold, Mint, Strawberries Parsley Onions repel rabbits. Mints repel slugs.
Marigold Peppers, Brassicas (broccoli, etc), Tomato, Cucurbits (cucumber, etc), and most other plants   Marigolds repel nematodes, so it’s a good idea to plant them on the borders of the garden.
Onion Beets, Chamomile, Carrots, Cabbage, Lettuce, Parsnips, Tomato, Marjoram, Rosemary, Strawberry, Savory Asparagus, Beans, Peas Surrounding the gardens with onions (like scallions) will protect the plants from aphids, the carrot fly, and many other pests. They also repel deer, raccoons, and rabbits. 
Parsley Asparagus, Beans, Tomato, Rosemary, Radish  Lettuce Adds vigor to both asparagus and tomatoes.
Peas Brussels Sprouts, Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Lettuce, Radishes, Potatoes, Sage, Squash Alliums (Chives, Garlic, Shallots, Onion) Provides nitrogen to the soil.
Potato Basil, Beans, Corn, Celery, Marigolds, Garlic, Horseradish, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Radishes, Spinach Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Cucumbers, Kohlrabi, Eggplant, Melons, Strawberries, Squash, Sunflower, Peppers, Tomatoes, Raspberries Don’t plant potatoes with tomato, cucumber, and raspberry as these attract harmful pests. Horseradish repels insects and supports disease resistance. 
Pumpkin Beans, Corn, Nasturtium, Marigold, Squash Potato Grow well with corn.
Radish Allium family (Chives, Garlic, Onion, Leek), Beets, Carrots, Cucumber, Cabbage, Lettuce, Kale, Squash, Spinach Hyssop (herb) Radishes attract pests; they are helpful as trap crops.
Sage Beans, Carrots, Cabbage, Peas, Strawberries, Rosemary   Repels cabbage fly and some bean parasites.
Spinach Brassicas family (Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kohlrabi), Beans, Celery, Eggplant, Lettuce, Leeks, Melons, Potatoes, Peas, Tomatoes, Radishes, Strawberries, Nasturtium   As an early spring vegetable, it does not have many pests.
Squash Beans, Borage, Corn, Dill, Peas, Radish (White Icicle), Nasturtium, Marigolds, Sunflower, Strawberries Potato Marigolds act as trap crops – attract pests, and confuse the squash vine borer from laying eggs.
Strawberries Bush Beans, Borage, Caraway, Chives, Lettuce, Spinach, Squash, Onions, Sage Cabbage Family, and plants susceptible to Verticillium (ie. Eggplant, Tomato, Potato, Peppers) Borage is an excellent border for strawberry patches.
Tomatoes Asparagus, Basil, Borage, Carrots, Chives, Celery, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigolds, Spinach, Onion, Parsley Brassicas (Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kohlrabi), Beets, Corn, Dill, Fennel, Peas, Potatoes, Rosemary, Walnut trees  Basil growing near tomatoes has been reported to improve the yields, enhance flavor (share nutrients) and confuse tomato-eating insects. 
Turnip Peas Mustard, knotweed, avoid rotating after cabbage family Hairy vetch and turnips make excellent companions.
Zucchini Corn, Nasturtium, Marjoram    

 

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