Companion Plants: Gardening’s Happiest Partners

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 — multiple plants in the same space increase the odds of having some yield, even if one category encounters catastrophic issues
  • Level interaction — plants that grow on different levels in the same space, perhaps providing ground cover or working as a trellis for another plant
  • Nitrogen fixation — plants that fix nitrogen in the ground, making it available to other plants.
  • Protective shelter — one  type of plant may serve as a windbreak, or shade from 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

Courtesy of Greenthumb Gardener,  so you can start planning  your own veganic gardening companion plant partnerships!

VegetableBest Companion PlantsAntagonistic PlantsGreenthumb Gardener Notes
AsparagusCarrot, Tomato, Basil, Coriander, Dill, Parsley, MarigoldGarlic, Potato, OnionTomatoes help to protect asparagus from the beetles.
BeansBroccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Celery, Chard, Corn, Eggplant, Kale, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Strawberries, marigoldsBeets, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Shallots, SunflowersMarigolds planted with beans help to repel the Mexican bean beetle
BeetsChives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radishes, SpinachBeans, TomatoesThe beans and beets don’t do well near each other, but get your lettuce next to them.
BroccoliBeet, Bush Beans, Carrot, Celery, Cucumber, Garlic, Lettuce, Onion, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Basil, Chamomile, Dill, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Marigold, NasturtiumAsparagus, Beans, Mustard, Peppers, Pumpkin, Sweet Corn, Cantaloupe, Strawberry, WatermelonMost of the aromatics help to repel unwanted insects.
Brussels SproutsBeets, Carrots, Garlic, Onion, Basil, Dill, Thyme, Mint, Nasturtium, MarigoldStrawberry, TomatoIts part of the brassica family, so the aromatics help deter pests.
CabbageBeets, Bush Beans, Celery, Onion, Potato, Chamomile, Dill, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Spearmint, Nasturtium, MarigoldBeans, Eggplant, Mustard, Pepper, Tomato, StrawberryRosemary helps to deter cabbage fly.
CarrotsBeans, Chives, Garlic, Leek, Lettuce, Onion, Tomato, Parsley, RosemaryParsnip, Coriander, DillOnion, leeks, and aromatics herbs like rosemary & sage deter the carrot flies.
CauliflowerBeans, Celery, Peas, Spinach, Tomato, Chamomile, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, SunflowerTomatoes, StrawberriesCelery grown near can repel the cabbage butterfly.
CeleryBush Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Leek, Spinach, Tomato, Dill, Marjoram, Cosmos, Daisies, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, SnapdragonsCarrots, Corn, PotatoCelery and leeks grown together in a trench seem to do well.
ChivesBasil, Carrots, Marigold, kohlrabi Parsley, Parsnip, Strawberries, TomatoBeansGrapes also benefit from chives ability to repel aphids. Most allums also help keep away rabbits
CornBeans, potatoes, Cucumber, Peas, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini, Marjoram, SunflowerTomatoOne of the Three sister plants. Beans and peas supply nitrogen.
CucumberBeans, Celery, Corn, Lettuce, Peas, Radish, Dill, Marigold, NasturtiumPotato, Tomato, Sage, Strong Aromatic Herbs (except dill)Cucumbers keep away raccoons, so they are good to plant with corn.
DillCabbage, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Fennel, Lettuce, OnionsCilantro, TomatoGrows well with fennel.
EggplantBeans, Marjoram, Pepper, PotatoEggplants grown with beans will help protect them from Colorado potato beetle
KohlrabiBeets, Cucumber, Lettuce, Onions, Thyme, NasturtiumPepper, Pole Beans, Tomato, StrawberriesHelps protect the mustard family vegetables
LeekCarrots, Celery, Lettuce, OnionsBeans, PeasLeeks repel carrot flies
LettuceBeans, Beets, Broccoli, Carrots, Corn, Onions, Peas, Radish, Mint, Strawberries, MarigoldParsleyMints repel slugs. Onions repel rabbits.
MarigoldBrassicas (broccoli, etc), Cucurbits (cucumber, etc), Peppers, Tomato, and most other plantsMarigolds are always a staple in our garden. We line the borders with them to help repel nematodes,
OnionBeets, Cabbage, Carrots, Lettuce, Parsnips, Tomato, Chamomile, Marjoram, Rosemary, Savory, StrawberryAsparagus, Beans, PeasRepels aphids, the carrot fly, and other pests. We also surround our gardens with onions such as scallions to deter many little creatures such as raccoons, rabbits, and deer.
ParsleyAsparagus, Beans, Radish, Rosemary, TomatoLettuceAdds vigor to both tomatoes and asparagus
PeasBeans, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Potatoes, Radishes, Squash, SageAlliums (Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots)Adds nitrogen to soil
PotatoBeans, Celery, Corn, Garlic, Horseradish, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Spinach, Radishes, Basil, MarigoldsAsparagus, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Carrots, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Melons, Peppers, Squash, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Strawberries, SunflowerCucumber, tomato and raspberry attract harmful pests to potatoes. Horseradish increases disease resistance.
PumpkinBeans, Corn, Squash, Marigold, NasturtiumPotatoGrow well with corn.
RadishAllium family (Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion), Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Cucumber, Kale, Lettuce, Spinach, SquashHyssop (the Herb)Radishes make a great trap crop (attract pests away from another crop)
SageBeans, Cabbage, Carrots, Peas, Rosemary, StrawberriesRepels cabbage fly, some bean parasites.
SpinachBeans, Brassicas family (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi), Celery, Eggplant, Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Tomatoes, Nasturtium, StrawberriesOne of the early spring vegetables, so does not have many pests.
SquashBeans, Corn, Peas, Radish (White Icicle), Borage, Dill, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Strawberries, SunflowerPotatoPlant lots of marigolds around it to help confuse the squash vine borer from laying eggs.
StrawberriesBush Beans, Chives, Lettuce, Onions, Spinach, Squash, Borage, Caraway, SageCabbage Family, and plants susceptible to Verticillium (ie. Eggplant, Potato, Tomato, Peppers)Borage makes an excellent border for strawberry patches.
TomatoesAsparagus, Carrots, Celery, Chives, Garlic, Lettuce, Spinach, Onion, Basil, Borage, Parsley, MarigoldsBrassicas (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi), Beets, Corn, Fennel, Peas, Potatoes, Dill, Rosemary, Walnut treesBasil growing near tomatoes has been reported to improve the yields of them.
TurnipPeasMustard, knotweed, avoid rotating after cabbage familyHairy vetch and turnips make excellent companions.
ZucchiniCorn, Marjoram, Nasturtium

 

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