Iron Earth Canada

Simple Guide to Companion Planting

A simple guide to companion planting.

Everyone needs a companion and believe it or not, plants are no different. In fact, plants are pretty particular about who they hang out with. Just like humans, when they're in good company, plants will produce more, get sick less and they'll be able to protect themselves against pests.

So, what can you do to make sure your precious plants are running with the right crowd? Companion plant!

What is companion planting?

Companion planting is a technique where you group plants together that can be mutually beneficial to one another.

Benefits of companion planting

  • Attract beneficial insects (e.g., pollinators)
  • Repel pests and predators
  • Provide shelter and shade
  • Improve nutrient availability
  • Limit the spread of disease

Attracting beneficial insects

Everyone knows that bees are natural pollinators. They help your plants and flowers grow more plentiful and increase the yields of your vegetables that need pollen to product fruit.

It's always a good idea to have bright flowers around or near your vegetable garden to attract bees. Bees are attracted to a variety of plants including, but not limited to:

  • Marigolds
  • Oregano
  • Clovers
  • Rosemary
  • Asters
  • Milkweed
  • Ammi
  • Chives

As much as you can, focus on native perennials that are acclimatized to your growing location. Another thing that bees need is a reliable water source. A bird bath is a perfect compliment to your garden and the bees will thank you for it.

Repel pests and predators

While some insects are beneficial to your gardens, there are some that aren't. To keep that balance in check, you can use the natural oils, colours, and fragrances from some plants to keep pests at bay naturally.

Marigolds are a perfect companion plant to keep a variety of pests away while at the same time attracting the beneficial ones. The scent of a marigold is particularly unpleasant for cabbage worms, mosquitoes, and nematodes. It also deters some of the cuter (but still pesky) garden pests, like rabbits.

Another beautiful plant that repels fleas, ants, roaches, bed bugs, lice, ticks, and spider mites is the Chrysanthemum. These plants are a perfect companion in and around your vegetable garden, but they can also be placed around your house to keep bugs out of your home.

Some other pest repelling plants to consider:

  • Alliums (carrot flies, aphids, slugs, cabbage worms)
  • Petunias (squash bugs, hornworms, aphids)

Provide shelter and shade

Depending on where your garden is situated, you might use companion planting to shelter more delicate plants from the wind or the sun. For instance, you might use a tougher plant variety to act as a windbreak or a taller species of plant to shade more sensitive plants during the hottest parts of the day.

Plants can also act as physical barriers to hide other plants from pests or predators.

Improve nutrient availability

Plants need nutrients, but they don't necessarily need the same nutrients. In fact, you can plant various species of plants that have different nutritional requirements together. That way they won't all be competing for the same nutrients in the soil.

In agriculture farming, it's called a polyculture system. Where you can plant two or more crops together in the same field as opposed to a monoculture system where only one type of crop is grown at a time.

Limit the spread of disease

Disease can be a major problem for any garden if left unchecked. When you have many plants that are the same grouped together, disease can spread rapidly to the others before you have a chance to correct it. Companion planting separates your plants allowing you to isolate the infected, helping to limit the spread of disease to one area of your garden.

Does companion planting work?

Yes, companion planting does work. Of course, as with anything you read online, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are a lot of half-truths and myths around, so it's best to experiment to learn what works best in your gardens.

Companion Planting Examples

Below we share some companion planting ideas for some staple vegetables that you're most likely growing in your garden.

These combinations may improve the overall health of your plants or work to keep common pests away. Experiment with these combinations in your own garden to see what works best for you.

Tomato Companion Plants

Tomatoes are great companions to many other staple vegetables. They grow well with asparagus, carrots, cucumber, celery, lettuce, and onions. They also love mingling with herbs, such as chives, mint, parsley, sage and basil.

In fact, basil repels insects like mosquitoes and flies and can enhance the flavour of your tomatoes.

Lettuce also works well planted next to tomato plants where it can get some shelter from the hot sun.

Cucumber Companion Plants

Cucumbers get along well with asparagus, and they also jive with celery, corn, lettuce, peas, radish, onions, and tomatoes.

Because cucumbers need a place for their vines to climb, many gardeners plant them next to corn, which acts as a natural trellis.

Dill is another good choice to plant next to cucumbers because it attracts pollinators. Some people also say that dill helps enhance the flavour of cucumbers.

Carrot Companion Plants

If you have a problem with carrot rust flies in your garden, you can plant your carrots next to onions. Onions deter the rust flies as well as other common carrot pests. Leeks are another perfect companion for carrots to prevent and deter pests.

Another good companion for carrots are radishes. Radishes grow faster than carrots and that'll help prepare the soil by loosening it up, helping your carrot roots to grow.

Onion Companion Plants

Many folks like to plant their onions next to their cabbage family plants to deter and repel pests like cabbage worms and loopers. Cabbage family plants are broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage.

They also do well near tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers, helping to deter aphids, rabbits and other pests that like to munch on these vegetables.

Pepper Companion Plants

Basil is a wonderful companion plant that has come up several times on our list. When planted next to pepper plants, basil acts and a natural repellent for flies, mosquitoes, aphids, and spider mites. People also swear that basil improves the flavour of peppers.

Another plant to consider next to your pepper plants is Swiss chard. Swiss chard can protect your pepper plants from the wind and help shade your peppers from the sun.

We hope we've piqued your interest in companion planting. There are so many benefits to managing your garden naturally and there are so many combinations you can try so start experimenting today!

Did you find this article helpful?

If so, take a peak at our breakdown of all the North American hardiness zones to find out when your growing season begins and ends!