Companion planting is an easy gardening technique for naturally boosting health and productivity. In addition to streamlining garden chores, companion planting can do some of the work for you. Awesome! We could all use a little help in the garden! You can use companion plants to help attract pollinators, deter pests, and even improve the condition of the soil.
It’s currently mid-winter and planting season is fast approaching. It will be a busy spring for us this year, after last year’s work on soil conditions. We want to grow more of our own food, but we also need to compromise. The garden has to look great for ourselves, our neighbours, and for resale when we inevitably move again. Our plans have also need to make compromises for gardening with pets. This includes taking care with potentially toxic plants and trying to protect vulnerable (or tasty!) plants from falling victim to our dogs. Lots of dreaming, planning, research, prep, and more.
Companion Planting to Attract Pollinators
Attracting and supporting pollinators is always nice, but it’s particularly useful if you’re growing fruits or veggies that need pollination. In an edible garden, attracting extra pollinators can help boost your crop quality and quantity. Companion plants can be especially beneficial for crops with a short bloom span or with flowers that aren’t highly attractive, like the small blossoms on capsicum and chillies.
Deterring and Attracting (Yes, Attracting!) Pests
Companion Planting to Deter Pests
Some plants emit strong scents, essential oils, or have other natural properties that keep bugs at bay. Others are attractive to natural predators that will nibble on your unwanted garden guests. Marigolds are the most common deterrence companions. They can help repel aphids, but also attract beneficial predators, like hoverfly. Garlic, onions, and chives are also good deterrents for many common pests. As a bonus, if you don’t enjoy them as edibles, some have amazing flowers that bees adore so you can still feel good about scattering in a few plants. Check out my leek loving bumblebees below!
Companion Planting to Attract Beneficial Bugs
Attracting predatory bugs to the garden for snacking on unwanted pests is another way to boost natural pest control. If this sounds a little gory for your gardening preferences, remember that the lovely little ladybug is one of those insects. They love munching on aphids. As a note of caution, if you’re a monarch friendly gardener, beware that some caterpillar predators are just as happy to attack your monarchs as unwanted caterpillar nasties.
Companion Planting to Attract Pests
Attracting pests sounds like an unappealing idea, but it can actually be very helpful. You can lure insects onto sacrificial plants and away from your high-value plantings. Damage is less of a loss, and you can cull any time to clear out eggs before they hatch a new generation. Nasturtiums are one of my favourite sacrificial plants. They’re low maintenance and bugs love them. They’re helpful for luring pests away from more valuable plantings and for spotting issues before they spread.
Planting for Soil Conditioning
Soil condition can be aided with plants that help to add minerals, loosen with long taproots, and more. For many gardeners (self included) conditioning isn’t a companion activity so much as it is a general garden health booster. I’ve used cover crops in the past, and some of these have evolved into regular companion plants because of their ease and bee-friendliness. Allyssum is a favourite.
Plant friends can be helpful when planning rotations, though, especially in your edible garden Heavy feeders can be replaced with lighter feeders, which can then be replaced with soil enhancers. This works particularly well if you’re rotating seasonally between beds or planters.
Companion Planting Pals and Frenemies
Companion Planting Combinations
Some plants grow better with friends. In simplest form, this might be a basic buddy system, such as support for a climber or layering with under plantings of short shade lovers. Others, like pairing basil with tomatoes, are purported to enhance growth and flavour.
From a gardener’s perspective, it can also be helpful to group plants (even if they are in separate pots) that require a similar watering and feeding program to streamline garden chores.
Avoiding Planting Conflicts
On the flip side, some plants just don’t get along and are best planted apart. In simplest form, this may be because they compete for space and sun, or they have different preferences for growing conditions. If plants prefer different planting aspects, soils, feeding, or watering, they’re naturally suited to being separated. Giving the plants what they need will be easier if they aren’t grouped.
Some plants are purported to have negative alleopathic effects on others. Alleopathic plants typically release biochemicals (either from their roots into the soil or from their foliage into the air) that can impact the growth of other plants around them. These types of plants are best planted separately from other plants that may be adversely affected.
Selecting Companion Plants for Your Garden
Every Garden in Different
The right plants for your garden will depend on your specific garden space, conditions, and climate. Gardening books are a great resource, but for specific planting guides, make sure you pick one for your local growing area. There are also plenty of online resources, including Mother Earth News | Permaculture News | Wikipedia. For more specific planting ideas, local nurseries and specialists should have great tips, like these NZ sites Tui | Palmers | Kings Seed.
Companion Planting in Our Garden
I like including marigolds and a variety of alliums (chives, leeks, etc.), and I can’t resist lavender. The rest depends on what I’m growing, where, and when. Annual companion plants are favourites for our edible garden, but elsewhere many are pollinator-friendly permanent perennials. We’ve included many landscaping plants to attract and support bees in the broader garden. Manuka, creeping thyme, and lavender are personal bee-friendly gardening favourites.
In the edible garden, berries and brambles get seasonal border of pollinator friendly plants. Marigolds, zinnias, and allysum are some of my current favourites. They’re easy to grow and very low care. They also reliably self-seed or can be used to gather seeds for replanting. I occasionally let some of the edibles go to flower as well, when space and time allow. I actually grow leeks just for the bees!
Parsley and chives are used as border deterrence in slug prone places. We grow more than needed, so the neighbours’ bunnies get to enjoy parsley bouquets. I let our chives flower for the bees and for edible flower garnishes. I also like having a few nasturtiums as sacrificial offerings, as noted above.
One of the most interesting companion combinations in our garden was discovered by chance. As noted in our berries and brambles post, our feijoas are underplanted with strawberries. As luck would have it, the birds seem to prefer the pretty red feijoa flowers (bird pollinated) to pillaging the early strawberries below, at least while the flowers last. Win win!
Companion Planting Infographic Idea Sheet
The follow-on infographic idea-sheet was created many years ago, before Green in Real Life transitioned from Blogger’s blogspot to our home here at greeninreallife.com. The branding and design is dated, but good ideas are always in fashion, so we’ve keep it with our updated companion planting post:
The circles in my Venn diagram (one of my favourite ways to look at relationships visually), represent some of the main plant types that we like to have in our garden depending on the seasons. Nowhere near all that I’d like to grow, of course, especially if I had more gardening space. Large circles are common staples. The clusters around these show some of their planting companions and the relationships between those companions. Dotted lines connect the large circles to friendly companions. Colours are loosely based on plant colour to help with visual connections.