About fifteen or so years ago, companion planting was all the rage. Numerous books were written on the subject: Don’t plant onions near beans, squash grows well with corn, etc. It was all so scientific and mind boggling! At times, it was enough to make a gardener throw in the towel in frustration!
While it is true that some plants make better “marriages” together than others do, the art of companion planting doesn’t have to be complicated at all.
Companion planting can be defined in two different ways: First of all, there are those plants that enhance each other’s growth or add protection to one or the other plant by being planted together. Secondly, there are those plants that make great partners simply because they look good together. Let’s look a little into each of these concepts:
For two examples of the first definition: Plant garlic near roses. Pests such as aphids are repelled by the scent of the garlic. Native American culture that was passed along to the first settlers included the practice of planting the “Three Sisters” together: Corn, beans, and squash. In a symbiotic relationship, beans fix nitrogen in the soil, allowing it to be made available to the corn. In turn, the corn provides support and shade for the climbing vines of the beans and squash.
Herbs are a group of plants that also assist in helping their companions. One of the most classic examples of plant combinations is the pairing of tomatoes and basil. Since most herbs are aromatic, their essences attracts or repels insects, both beneficial and pests.
For a short list of what to grow and what not to grow together:
Hyssop is an herb that will attract white cabbage butterflies. It is a companion to the cole crops, and acts as a trap crop for the cabbage butterfly.
Cabbage and cole crops in general do well in the presence of onions, cucumbers, potatoes, marigolds, beets and bush beans. Interestingly, the cole family resents being planted near pole beans. Strawberries are also a bad combination with the cole crops.
Beets do well with cabbage, onions, radishes, and bush beans.
Basil is a great companion for peppers and tomatoes. Think Italian! Along with cabbage, pole beans aren’t very happy with beets or onions.
The vegetable kingdom loves lovage! It gets along well with just about everybody. About the only plant it has a “rhubarb” with is rhubarb!
Peppers will sulk in the presence of onions.
In addition to garlic, roses also do well around onions and tomatoes.
Artemisia helps to keep aphids off of roses.
Speaking of tomatoes: Don’t locate tomatoes next to corn. They feud.
Slip some chives around your apple trees, including crab apples, to deter apple scab. Other plants protected by chives are roses and carrots.
Garlic will help to prevent borers when planted around fruit trees and raspberries.
Marigolds repel many insect pests and are appreciated by most flowers and vegetables. They also act somewhat as a weed deterrent.
These are just a few of the companions and enemies of some of our commonly grown plants. There are many others, and there are many resources out there, some easy to understand, others more complicated. A good rule of thumb is experience. If you have ever grown peppers next to onions, you will have discovered that the performance of the peppers is less than spectacular. You will not be very likely to grow them together again.
The second concept of companion planting is not so much that it is for the function of a partnership as it is for the good looks in combination.
Roses are usually tops in anyone’s ornamental garden. The problem with roses is that while the tops of the plants are pretty, the bottoms of the plant can be somewhat sparse and leggy. Try to under plant roses with other plants that hide their bottoms. Lavender, catmint, and some of the taller growing dianthus are good companion plants for this purpose. For your taller growing or climbing roses, interplant with clematis. They look good together, and both will benefit from the application of rose food. Parsley is not only good looking and great for hiding the legs of roses, it also acts as a deterrent to insects.
When growing spring flowering bulbs, especially daffodils, add daylilies to the site. As the foliage of the bulbs starts to die down, the foliage of the daylilies will sprout up and hide the yellowing foliage of the bulbs.
Hostas and ferns are classics together in the shade garden. Ditto for hostas, ferns, astilbe, and Japanese Forest Grass, or Hakonechloa.
‘Silver Mound’ artemesia, with its feather-soft silver foliage, lends its naturally rounded form as a softening effect in the garden. Pair it with the exclamation points of ‘Sunny Border Blue’ veronica.
Many people plant rhododendrons, but shy away from planting other companions with them. Hostas, Dwarf mountain laurel, and ferns all make wonderful companions.
Monarda and feverfew are wonderful together. The red upright flowers of monarda blends well with the tiny, white, daisylike flowers of feverfew.
The blue of a German or bearded iris is stunning when planted with the bright orange of the Oriental poppy. Not only is the color combination spectacular, but the contrast in foliage form and color is also complementary, as well. The swordlike green of the iris pairs wonderfully with the feathery soft green foliage of the poppies.
There are many other plants that work well together. Whether grown together as beneficial partners or for artistic effect, try out a few of them. Not only will your plants thank you, but you can show off your green thumb and make your neighbors green with envy!