Plant Companions: Friend or Foe?

Plant companions ensure a happy garden--and gardener.

Close-up of an orange marigold.

Credit: Angela Altomare
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It takes more than good soil, sun, and nutrients to ensure success in a garden. Plants have to grow well with one another.

Some are friends and some are foes! Learn more about companion planting or what is also called companion gardening.

Examples of Companion Plants

  • Blueberries, mountain laurel, azaleas, and other ericaceous (heath family) plants thrive in the acidic soils created by pines and oaks.
  • Shade-loving plants seek the shelter provided by a wooded grove.
  • The shade-lovers in return protect the forest floor from erosion with their thick tangle of shallow roots.
  • Legumes and some trees, such as alders, have symbiotic relationships with bacteria in the soil that help them to capture nitrogen from the air and convert it to fertilizer, enriching the soil so plants can prosper in their presence.

Credit: Margo Letourneau

Tips for Your Vegetable Garden

  • Some plants, especially herbs, act as repellents, confusing insects with their strong odors that mask the scent of the intended host plants.
  • Dill and basil planted among tomatoes protect the tomatoes from hornworms, and sage scattered about the cabbage patch reduces injury from cabbage moths.
  • Marigolds are as good as gold when grown with just about any garden plant, repelling beetles, nematodes, and even animal pests.
  • Some companions act as trap plants, luring insects to themselves. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.
  • Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes -- praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders -- that dine on insect pests.
  • Much of companion planting is common sense: Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.
  • Leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard grown in the shadow of corn
  • Sunflowers appreciate the dapple shade that corn casts and, since their roots occupy different levels in the soil, don't compete for water and nutrients.

Incompatible Plants (Combatants)

  • While white garlic and onions repel a plethora of pests and make excellent neighbors for most garden plants, the growth of beans and peas is stunted in their presence.
  • Potatoes and beans grow poorly in the company of sunflowers, and although cabbage and cauliflower are closely related, they don't like each other at all.

Strange Pairings

Sometimes plants may be helpful to one another only at a certain stage of their growth. The number and ratio of different plants growing together is often a factor in their compatibility, and sometimes plants make good companions for no apparent reason.

  • You would assume that keeping a garden weed-free would be a good thing, but this is not always the case. Certain weeds pull nutrients from deep in the soil and bring them close to the surface. When the weeds die and decompose, nutrients become available in the surface soil and are more easily accessed by shallow-rooted plants.
  • Perhaps one of the most intriguing examples of strange garden bedfellows is the relationship between the weed stinging nettle and several vegetable varieties. For reasons that are unclear, plants grown in the presence of stinging nettle display exceptional vigor and resist spoiling.

One of the keys to successful companion planting is observation. Record your plant combinations and the results from year to year, and share this information with other gardening friends. Companionship is just as important for gardeners as it is for gardens.

Free Chart! See our plant companions list for ten common vegetables.

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Comments

Please help me! I am looking

By Barbara Broach on August 13

Please help me! I am looking for something that I can plant in my flower garden and among my shrubs to keep the voles and moles from eating the roots. I have tried lots of commercial things.

Hi Barbara, Try planting some

By Almanac Staff on August 15

Hi Barbara,

Try planting some garlic cloves between the flowers and shrubs. Some of our readers swear by it.

My mother in law swears by

By Robyn snell- charter

My mother in law swears by placing crushed eggshells around the bases of tomato plants for keeping cut worms and the like away- she sure has an awesome garden!

I planted broccoli with

By Fredrica

I planted broccoli with lettuce. The list of companion plants states that they are foes. The lettuce is almost fully mature but the broccoli is only 2 inches in height. What should I do? Any background on reasons why these two are foes and what will happen would be greatly appreciated.

I have the self watering

By Lynda in Florida

I have the self watering planters on patio by pool. I have planted eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Aphids has covered eggplants and parts of tomato and now is attacking the new growth on pepper plant. I've sprayed a 3 in 1 spray for several days in a row, is there another more effective way to destroy these pest?

Milk thistle plant has a pest

By Renee in Florida

Milk thistle plant has a pest which is a known enemy of the aphids. I planted them in my garden and have no aphids. I have gardenias that were attacked last year from aphids. I pulled off a portion of the milk thistle that was covered in the pest of that plant, and placed in on my gardenias. This year, no aphids at all on my gardenias!

If the aphids are getting

By Almanac Staff

If the aphids are getting crazy, there are organic insecticides. See our Aphids page for different ways to tackle this issue: http://www.almanac.com/content/aphids

A very large problem I have

By Susi Taylor

A very large problem I have in my garden is the ants. We've tried everything to locate the nest but it seems they are everywhere and attract all our vegetable s, fruit trees and even ornamental plants!!!! Please help as we'd really hate to give up garden ing

Spread corn meal around. The

By DPatH

Spread corn meal around. The ants bring it back to their nest and eat it. Thhey can't digest it and they die. They only thing we found that successfully fought our huge amount of ants.

Use food grade diotamacuse

By Bobbi t

Use food grade diotamacuse earth flour,(I get mine at the feed store), sprinkle around the garden. The ants walk in it, it sticks to their legs and they take it back to the ant hill. The diotamacuse earth is transferred from ant to ant and takes care of the problem for you.

A mixture of 1/3 icing sugar

By Will W

A mixture of 1/3 icing sugar and 2/3 borax has always worked for me. The ants are drawn by the sugar, eat the borax, then take it back to the ant hill. The borax kills the ants.

Some people suggest mixing

By Almanac Staff

Some people suggest mixing about one pound of used coffee grounds with one quart of hot water and then pouring that over the ant hills. Other sources suggest sprinkling dry grits on the ant hills. Even plain boiling water may help.

I used boiling water for

By Lauren Gberg

I used boiling water for anthills in my suburban Colorado back yard. Works like a charm. They either die and/or move very far away.

I used to plant gardens every

By Jo Anne Pistek

I used to plant gardens every year with my mother. Now the only way I can plant a garden is in econtainers. Someone told me that I could use the plastic storage boxes with holes for drainage and adequate rocks and tree limbs as well as good soil. They also said to make sure they were deep enough for any roots. Any suggestion as to what type of plastic box to use and will the heat that might build up in them affect the roots or growing?

Hi Jo Anne, Yes, you can use

By Almanac Staff

Hi Jo Anne,

Yes, you can use plastic storage boxes as containers (don't use the clear plastic ones). Make sure to make holes for drainage and put rocks in the bottom. Use a good potting mix that is not too heavy. Get boxes that are at least 1 foot deep. You can also find big plastic pots at garden centers and department stores that work nicely.

 

when is comes to mustard

By Roxie Corbin

when is comes to mustard greens and or turnips and turnip greens or even poc salad what is the best compainan plant and foe plant.

Turnips do well planted by

By Almanac Staff

Turnips do well planted by peas.

However, keep turnips away from mustard which inhibits their growth.

I am not sure what a borer

By T. Lynn

I am not sure what a borer is, however, we had a small black bug, with orange and white dots on its back, almost opposite of a ladybug, get into our b. sprouts. They sucked the juice out of the limbs, ect. and they did not fly, but climbed up the stalks. Is that a borer...? We did use potash, from our fire pit, sprinked on them, and it seemed to help. You just have to do it everyday or two, until they smother. It seems the potash gets into their noses, lungs, ect. and they cannot breathe. If this is not a borer, can anyone tell me what it is, pleaz. Thanx for any help, or suggestions.

The borer that you refer to

By Sue Underwood

The borer that you refer to is a fat, white larva (sort of like a caterpillar w/o legs)that chews into the stalk and then tunnels through the stalk thereby depleting the vine of it's nutrients. Take a sharp knife, clean it first with some rubbing alcohol to sterilize it so you don't contaminate with any bacteria, then slice through one side of the stalk where the entry hole was made until you find the borer. It will be inside continually feeding on the stalk. Remove it - I gather all I find and put them in a bird feeding tray so the insect eating birds can feast on them. The catbirds love them!! then cover the area of the open stalk with soil. The plant will continue to grow if not severely eaten by the borer. Here is a link to more info: http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/squashvborer.html

I keep having my squash

By Lalunessr

I keep having my squash getting attacked by borers that just destroy the plants and causes plant to wither. Any recommendations? Thank you for any help give me to get rid of of these nasty pests!

I fought them for years until

By whiteburger

I fought them for years until I found Spinosad. I buy it under the name captain jacks' dead bug brew. It's organic and works on everything in my garden including the fruit trees. Start around the first day of summer and continue as directed all season

Plant a few radishes around

By jwbull

Plant a few radishes around your squash plants and let them grow without picking them and that should help.

Plant a few radishes around

By jwbull

Plant a few radishes around your squash plants and let them grow without picking them and that should help.

In reply to "an error" about

By Terry L L

In reply to "an error" about Herbs & Tomatoes... I planted both Dill & Basil in amongst my Tomatoes last year and didn't have a single worm all season! or bugs! It was great! Now if I could just keep the Bean Beetles away.....

I am thinking of trying the

By Anonymousbjs

I am thinking of trying the Three Sisters Planting method this year. Would planting cucmbers instead of the squash work just as well??

As long as your cucumber is a

By Lady Anne

As long as your cucumber is a bush variety, not a vine ;)

As a child, we had nettles in

By Anonymousdsafa

As a child, we had nettles in our garden area. We would rub the nettles all over our legs and arms, then go to the "doctor" aka sibling - and get a mud compact put on the stings. It took the sting away and off we were for another round of nettles. We thought it was great fun - then of course, we were young and carefree. I had a great childhood with wonderful memories.

This year will be my second

By lizmrtn

This year will be my second time to plant a garden. Last year my garden did very well. My question is, "do I need to rotate my plants this year?"

It is always a good idea to

By Almanac Staff

It is always a good idea to move your plants to a different spot in the garden every year. It helps to keep diseases and pests down.

I have often wondered if the

By guido

I have often wondered if the practice of succession planting would "replace" crop rotation. In other words, maybe I plant the a certain vegetable in the same spot next year, but that spot has been occupied by other crops. (Maybe lettuce, then legume, then corn, then cover crop to be turned under prior to lettuce next spring)

Note that there is an error

By sdlawrence

Note that there is an error in the article above which states: "Dill and basil planted among tomatoes protect the tomatoes from hornworms...".

Basil is certainly good for tomatoes, but dill? Not only does dill not protect tomatoes from hornworms, it actually ATTRACTS them! DO NOT plant dill weed anywhere near your tomatoes!

Note that along with tomato hornworms, dill will also attract the Braconid wasps that prey on them (as will cilantro), so it is good, but you don't want to invite that battlefield directly to your tomatoes by planting dill next to (or even near) them.

Planting Dill near Tomatoes

By deaconblue9038

Planting Dill near Tomatoes where Hornworms have been an issue in the past.Allows the Dill to become a host plant. I believe this is why the author included them in protection for Tomatoes!

The "weed" stinging nettle

By malberu

The "weed" stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is also one of the most valuable medicinal herbs for both humans and animals. See www.herbmed.org/herbs/Herb130.htm. Cooked or dried it loses its sting.

If you get 'stung' by

By gardengurl

If you get 'stung' by stinging nettle and you have jewelweed growing in the area, break a piece of the jewelweed off and rub the sap on the area where the stinging nettle zapped you. It will take the sting away. BTW, sometimes you will also experience a numbing sensation from stinging nettle but it will usually go away in a few hours.

As a child, we had nettles in

By libbylindy

As a child, we had nettles in our garden area. We would rub the nettles all over our legs and arms, then go to the "doctor" aka sibling - and get a mud compact put on the stings. It took the sting away and off we were for another round of nettles. We thought it was great fun - then of course, we were young and carefree. I had a great childhood with wonderful memories.

WOW!! You where one tough

By deaconblue9038

WOW!! You where one tough kid!!! lol What else did you find fun? Butting heads with the neighbor's Billy goat !! lol

Using the inner milky sap

By The Woodchuck

Using the inner milky sap from the stinging nettle will also reduce or eliminate the sensation from an encounter of stinging nettle

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