Companion Planting Guide

Companion Planting Tips, Plant List, and More

By George and Becky Lohmiller
February 10, 2019
Marigold

Close-up of an orange marigold.

Angela Altomare

Do you follow the principles of companion planting in your garden? See our tips on what plants to plant next to each other—and which to plant far apart—including popular crops like tomatoes, basil, potatoes, beans, and more.

What is Companion Planting?

It takes more than good soil, sun, and nutrients to ensure success in a garden. Time-honored gardening wisdom says that certain plants, when grown together, improve each other’s health and yields. For instance, some plants attract beneficial insects that help to protect a companion, while other plants (particularly herbs) act as repellents. Additionally, plants that require a lot of the same nutrients as their neighbors may struggle to get enough for themselves, producing lackluster crops.

Which vegetables should you plant next to each other? Which shouldn’t you plant together? Let’s take a look at the benefits of companion planting, then a list of the best companion plants.

Benefits of Companion Planting

There are plenty of reasons to plant certain crops together. For example…

  • Shade regulation: Large plants provide shade for smaller plants in need of sun protection.
  • Natural supports: Tall plants like corn and sunflowers can support lower-growing, sprawling crops such as cucumbers and peas.
  • Improved plant health: When one plant absorbs certain substances from the soil, it may change the soil biochemistry in favor of nearby plants.
  • Healthy soil: Some crops, such as bean and peas, help to make nitrogen available. Similarly, plants with long taproots, like burdock, bring up nutrients from deep in the soil, enriching the topsoil to the benefit of shallow-rooted plants.  
  • Weed suppression: Planting sprawling crops like potatoes with upright plants minimizes open areas, where weeds typically take hold.

Companion Plants for Vegetables

Some plants, especially herbs, act as natural insect repellents. They confuse insects with strong odors that mask the scent of the intended host plants.

  • Companion plantingDill and basil planted among tomatoes can protect from tomato hornworms.
  • 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 nematodes which attack vegetable roots, especially tomatoes.
  • 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 beneficial insects—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 grow in the shadow of corn.
  • Bush beans tolerate the dapple shade that corn casts and, since their roots occupy different levels in the soil, don’t compete for water and nutrients.
  • Tansy discourages cutworm, which attacks asparagus, bean, cabbage, carrot, celery, corn, lettuce, pea, pepper, potato, and tomato plants.
  • Catnip, hyssop, rosemary, and sage deter cabbage moth, which is detrimental to a host of edible crops, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip, and radish.
  • Mint wards off cabbage moth and ants.
  • Thyme thwarts cabbageworm, which munches broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, horseradish, kale, and kohlrabi
  • Lavender is known to deter codling moths, which wreak havoc on apple trees
  • Zinnias attract ladybugs, so when planted near cauliflower, which is susceptible to cabbage flies, the ladybugs are there to control the pest population.

See our companion planting chart for advice on popular vegetables.

Incompatible Edibles

Plants that are not compatible with each other are sometimes called combatants. Here are a few:

  • White garlic and onions repel a plethora of pests and make excellent neighbors for most garden plants, but 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.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers

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.

More Companion Plantings

Even plants in the woodlands are companions:

  • 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.

Peas
Pea pods

Strange Plant 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.

Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle

  • 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.

Learn More

Want to learn more about companion planting? Watch our companion planting video about why vegetables need flower friends!

Reader Comments

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Planting Dill near Tomatoes

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!

dill not being good for protecting tomatoes

I had loads of dill plants in and near my tomatoes and they did really well. Not one horned caterpillar this year and they usually decimate my tomato plants. That said, I don't think the climbing beans, garlic and potatoes liked having the dill plants around. Have to read more about companion plants/foes I guess. Mayber I just had "weird" plants or somethign about the soil. Gotta keep learning and trying. I'd also like to find something to deter the potato beetles and the Japanese beetles. I do put out the traps for flies and Japanese beetles, but still seem to have loads and loads of them to deal with.

JAPANESE BEETLE DETERRENT

I read once that Four O'clock plants are excellent as a Japanese beetle deterrent. They attract the beetles, who find the plant irresistible, but also poisonous. They eat it and die. i have planted Four O'clocks the past few years and have not had any Japanese beetle issues since. Try it!

The "weed" stinging nettle

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

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.

Using the inner milky sap

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

I agree with The Woodchuck.

I agree with The Woodchuck. It is true that if you rub some of the sap from the same stinging nettle plant that stung you, the sting goes away. I'm living proof & so are some of my children.

talking about woodchuck...

I live on an old woodchuck sanctuary my mother created many years ago. She used to ask me during drought season , "well, do we use the barrel of rain water we saved to take a bath this week or water the garden so the woodchucks can eat?"...After she passed away at the turn of the century I kept gardening and the woodchucks stay well fed. I built raised beds for growing my own vegetables for myself but for the past 2 years the woodchucks have found a way to climb up into the very high beds & devour everything. I'm starting to think it might be that they would leave my garden alone before because it was covered in slugs & snails(a battle I eventually won) & maybe woodchucks don't like food with snail & slugs?

As a child, we had nettles in

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

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

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