Before the advent of chemical fertilizers and insecticides, the wise gardener relied upon companion planting to protect their crops. Chemical sprays were introduced to make things easier for the farmer. Spray on chemicals and the crops grew tall. Spray on more chemicals, and the bugs would die. Simple, huh? Not really.
As chemicals were poured into the soil, they quickly flowed into streams and rivers, polluting and killing fish and the foods that they lived upon. As the rivers flowed into marshes and estuaries, what was left behind was a legacy of death, killing wildlife and the foods they needed to survive. Chemicals do not dissipate; they have a half-life that remains in the soil and waterways for hundreds, even thousands, of years. In the state of Virginia, where I live, there is not a single river where it is safe to fish, nor a waterway where it is safe to swim. Groundwater has also been contaminated, making well water unsafe to drink.
What about my garden? How do I protect my plants? And how do I ensure that they will grow and flourish? The answer for me is companion planting. Certain plants are protected by other plants, which enrich the soil, guard against disease, and most importantly, repel the bugs. Most detrimental insects have become resistant to chemicals, so in a bad year they can decimate a garden in a single night. At the same time, beneficial insects have also been destroyed. These beneficials are the insects that you want to attract to your garden. Companion plants will not only attract good insects for pollination and procreation, but the beneficial insects will devour the insects that you don't want in your garden!
Many gardeners and farmers have turned away from chemicals, and they are embracing the natural way of companion planting. Companion planting is nothing more than growing certain plants in combination with others, in order to make stronger, healthier plants. Some plants give overall insect protection to their neighbors, such as marigolds, lavender, onions, and herbs. However, there are also plants that should never be grown together. It’s important to know the difference.
The following is a list of popular vegetables and their companion plants:
- Bush beans grow best when surrounded by potatoes, cucumbers, corn, celery, strawberries, summer savory, and tansy. Never plant onions near your beans.
- Pole beans love corn and summer savory, but they hate onions, beets, kohlrabi, and sunflowers.
- Cabbage (including broccoli, cauliflower, and kohlrabi) can be grown with potatoes, celery, dill, chamomile, sage, peppermint, rosemary, onions, and nasturtiums. Avoid planting with strawberries, tomatoes, and pole beans.
- Carrots grow well with peas, leaf lettuce, chives, onions, leeks, rosemary, sage, and tomatoes; however they do not grow well with dill.
- Corn is perfect when grown with melons and parsley. It is also the ideal spot to plant cucumbers, peas, and beans. The shade beneath corn is very beneficial to all of these plants. Parsley actually stimulates corn to grow bigger and produce better.
- Cucumbers can be grown with bush or pole beans, corn, lettuce, marigolds, onions, peas, and radishes. Do not plant any strong herbs near cucumbers. It will make your cucumbers taste bitter.
- Melons grow beautifully with corn, radish, nasturtiums, and sunflowers.
- Peas do wonderfully with turnips, beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, and radishes. Do not plant onions, garlic, or potatoes near peas.
- Spinach loves strawberries. It stimulates and provides for fuller, heavier yields. Spinach maintains soil micro-organisms and soil moisture, which is especially beneficial during periods of drought.
- Squash grows well with corn, onions, radishes, and nasturtiums.
- Tomatoes grow best with basil, carrots, celery, mint, onions, scented marigolds, parsley, and asparagus. Do not grow tomatoes with corn, fennel, potatoes, dill, or cabbage. Also, never grow tomatoes in the same spot year after year. Bad bugs and disease like routine, and they return to the same spot year after year. Don’t make it easy on the bugs. Make them hunt your tomatoes down.
- Pumpkins like corn and sunflowers.
- Zucchini love corn, peas, and beans.
These are just a few of the many plants that grow well together. I like to mix things up in my garden, interplanting vegetables with beneficial herbs and flowers. Beneficial plants make your vegetable plants stronger, but that's not all. Herbs and flowers are very attractive to beneficial insects and birds, which love the taste of those bad bugs.
After eight years growing companion plants in my own garden, I have very little insect infestation. Whatever bugs are not repelled by my companion plants, are quickly eaten by the birds. Beneficial insects pollinate my plants, therefore giving me stronger plants and greater yields. It&'s a perfect relationship that will last for many growing seasons to come.