Companion planting, or the art of utilizing herb plants to benefit the garden, has been in practice for a long time and is definitely not a new idea. Native Americans used the “3 Sisters” method, our ancestors used herbs to help vegetable gardens produce heavier harvests, and today gardeners all over have modified this practice through observations, studies and experimenting with different herbs.
A few herbs added to your garden (or a whole garden devoted to herbs) will provide you many of the basic benefits. The main factor you should consider is what your garden needs. Does your garden require lots of moisture? Direct sunlight? Do you grow a vegetable garden or flower garden? Follow this guide in your garden, and you’ll know how and what to grow.
What is Companion Planting?
This is a method of grouping herbs together with vegetables and food plants in the garden. The biggest benefit is natural pest control. If you’re growing a variety of veggies or fruits, the last thing you want are pest insects spoiling your crops
A vegetable garden planted with many complementary plants.
Companion planting is a natural remedy for this purpose. It’s a method of gardening that uses herbs’ natural properties to repel garden pests and attract beneficial insects. If you’ve ever seen aphids on your squash, you know the misery of trying to battle these pests without pesticides. This type of planting eliminates the need for sprays or other chemical pesticides. But how does an herb plant do this?
How does companion planting work?
Companion planting works by repelling nasty pests that would otherwise feed on your crops. Beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, and assassin bugs — to name a few — love to prey on these pests. Planting with these beneficials’ favorite foods will help control your garden pests.
Here are some examples of these insects and the garden pests they eat.
- Ladybug — preys on aphids
- Lacewing — preys on aphids
- Assassin bug — preys on aphids
- Parasitic wasp — preys on
- Praying mantis — preys on mosquitoes
- Leafminer parasite — preys on leafminers,
- Pirate bug — prey includes aphids, cinch bugs, thrips, corn earworms, whiteflies and spider mites
Ladybugs benefit the garden by preying on aphids.
The purpose of companion plants in your garden is to repel pests and support beneficial insects. Over time, you will see which combinations work best in your garden.
How to use Companion Planting in your garden
Begin by making some observations of your garden. How much sunlight does it get? How often do you water or run an irrigation system? Choose companion herbs and flowers with your garden’s care requirements in mind. The following are some examples I’ve tried in my own gardens:
- Hard landscape gardens (such as shrubs and small trees, grasses, tropicals and succulents like aloe) where I’ve also planted plants like lemongrass, rosemary and citronella. These herbs add interest and repel mosquitoes and other pests.
- Herbs and vegetables love being planted together: basil, marigold, nasturtium, oregano and rosemary sage can all benefit the growth and development of your veggies. This is the type of companion planting many gardeners use.
- Gardening with native plant species and other plants that attract pollinators is another great way to apply the concept of companion planting. A butterfly garden or bee and hummingbird garden are wonderful ways to take advantage of companion plants
A Companion Planting herb guide for veggie gardens
The following are a few types of herbs and flowers that are highly beneficial in your garden. You can add more varieties of herbs as you go along, but the following herbs are great to start.
Nasturtiums in the garden add color and enhance growth and flavor of food crops.
Basil really loves to be planted with most veggies, especially tomatoes. It enhances the flavor of what it’s planted with. Plant with chamomile and
Chives are an all-around companion for veggies: chives repel aphids, Japanese beetles and cucumber beetles and aid the growth and flavor of carrots. Chives also help tomato plants by benefiting yield and deterring pests.
Rosemary deters carrot flies, bean beetles and cabbage moths, and is a good companion plant for cabbage, beans, carrots and sage.
Sage can be planted with rosemary, cabbage and carrots, but keep it away from cucumbers. Sage deters cabbage moths and carrot flies.
Cucumbers go well with beans and peas, which supply nitrogen.
Cilantro and dill are natural repellents of insects, and also help to attract ladybugs, which have several benefits.
Beans, corn and squash tend to be planted together. Corn goes well with beans – beans can climb on the corn while corn likes the nitrogen provided by the beans. Beans are part of the legume family.
Peppermint, or other varieties of mint, do well with tomatoes as well as most other vegetables. Mint repels a variety of pests including ants, aphids and mosquitoes, and mint’s flowers attract bees. Avoid planting different varieties of mint together (like spearmint and peppermint).
Chamomile will attract pollinators to your garden as well as enhance the flavors of veggies or other herbs you plant with it. You can also harvest the blossoms for chamomile tea.
Comfrey planted with tomatoes and other fruiting veggie plants will enhance the soil nutrients. Comfrey tea provides potash, an essential nutrient for vegetables.
Thyme planted near cabbage will help deter cabbage worms, and you can plant thyme with herbs that have similar requirements like oregano and Italian parsley.
Nasturtiums make a beautiful addition, because they attract pollinators and because nasturtiums are edible flowers. The flowers and leaves can be added to salads or stir fry recipes.
Onions, garlic, leeks and other members of the allium family tend to be less compatible and can slow the growth of other plants, so allium family plants are best planted on their own. However, allium family members such as garlic tend to be great pest repellents so can be a good companion for plants they are compatible with.
Companion Planting Chart
|Crop||Companion Plants||Plants You Should Avoid|
|Beans||Broccoli, Carrots, Cabbage Corn, Cauliflower, Eggplant, Carrots, Radishes, Squash, Potatoes, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Strawberries, Eggplant||Peppers, Beets, Shallots, Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Chives, Scallions|
|Carrots||Beans, Tomatoes, Onions, Lettuce, Garden Peas||Dill, Parsley, Parsnips|
|Cabbage and Other Cole Crops||Other Cole Crops, Potatoes, Onions||Pole beans, Tomatoes,
|Corn||Beans, Squash, Cucumbers, Melons, Potatoes, Garden Peas||Tomatoes|
|Cucumbers||Beans. Corn, Beets, Radishes, Onions, Garden Peas||Melons, Potatoes|
|Garden Peas||Beans, Tomatoes, Carrots, Spinach, Corn, Radishes, Cucumbers, Peppers, Eggplant||Potatoes, Members of the Onion Family|
|Garlic||Beets, Tomatoes, Carrots, Potatoes, Cole Crops, Peppers, Eggplant||Beans, Garden Peas|
|Lettuce||Corn, Squash, Pumpkins, Radishes||Cole Crops|
|Melon and Watermelon||Broccoli, Radishes, Garlic, Corn||Potatoes|
|Onions||Beets, Lettuce, Carrots, Cole Crops||Beans, Peas|
|Potatoes||Beans, Radishes, Cole Crops, Spinach, Corn, Lettuce||Eggplant, Tomatoes, Peppers|
|Summer Squash and Zucchini||Beans, Radishes, Garden, Peas, Corn||Potatoes|
|Tomatoes||Basil and Other Herbs, Carrots, Squash, Cucumbers||Cole Crops, Potatoes, Corn|
Best Pairs for Companion Planting
There are plants and flowers that pair up better with others outside of herbs and vegetables too. Knowing what your options are will help you mix and match your garden and landscaping to create a fruitful area that grows all of the vegetables or herbs you want with pretty flowers.
Cucumbers and Nasturtium
The goal of this pairing is to encourage pollinators to come to your garden with beneficial insects to help control the pests and keep your vegetables healthy and thriving. Nasturtium has very pretty flowers that will repel insects that could cause damage to your cucumbers.
All you have to do is set up a trellis garden and allow the cucumbers to grow up the trellis. The Nasturtium will grow around the base of the plant and produce deep green foliage with brilliantly colored flowers in shades of red and orange. As a bonus, the plant blooms throughout the active growing season to provide constant protection.
Flowering Herbs and Melons or Squash
Squash and melons all require the presence of pollinators to produce, so you can stack the deck in your favor by making this area of your garden irresistible to these pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. After all, the more pollinators you have attracted to your garden, the better your yield for your plants will be.
That’s not to say that they won’t find their way there with just your squash and melons, but planting a host of flowering herbs around them can increase your chances. A few excellent choices are fennel, dill, and parsley. Plant them right around your squash and melons in the garden.
Swiss Chard and Sweet Alyssum
Along with being gorgeous in a hanging basket, Sweet Alyssum also works well in companion planting endeavours, especially when you pair it up with swiss chard. This is an annual that you can easily tuck between the rows of your vegetables and start them from seed so they grow up alongside your plants throughout the active growing season.
This plant will attract droves of hoverflies wherever you plant it, and this is great news for your vegetables because hoverflies will help control aphids. So, you can plant your swiss chard as a border around your garden and intersperse it with this flower to help protect your whole crop.
Swiss Chard by Josephine Community Garden / CC BY-NC 2.0 Vegetables, herbs, and flowers all make great companion plants for your garden. Also, they all work well in containers or in the ground in a more traditional garden.
Corn and Squash or Pumpkin with Pole Beans
Planting corn or squash with pumpkins and pole beans has decades of proof that it works behind it. The Native Americans used this companion planting technique and called it the Three Sisters. Corn acts like a natural pole for your beans to climb as they grow and thrive.
The pumpkin or squash form a layer of low leaves around the base of the corn that help create a living mulch that is packed with nutrients and helps to reduce weeds while holding moisture in. The beans work to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plants can use as a fertilizer to encourage strong growth.
Broccoli and Calendula
Calendula is the pot marigold, and these are immensely popular plants because they’re very drought-resistant and easy to grow. The flowers also exude a very sticky substance that is irresistible to aphids along their stems. The aphids will get onto these flower stems and get stuck, and this can keep them out of your garden.
For this to work, you’ll want to plant them right next to your broccoli or other brassica crops. Along with keeping the aphids out, this companion planting trick will also attract beneficial ladybugs in. The ladybugs will eat the aphids to further control the population.
Carrots and Radishes
It’s essential that your companion plants don’t compete for the same resources because this can result in a lower yield or stunted growth for both crops. In the case of radishes and carrots, they pull nutrients from different places in your garden soil, so they don’t compete.
Additionally, your radishes will mature very quickly while not growing nearly as deep as the carrots do. Carrots have a longer tap root that takes more days to mature. So, these two vegetables are also pulling nutrients from different layers in the soil. You can plant them right alongside one another without having a problem.
Eggplants or Tomatoes and Lettuce
Along with companion planting with flowers and herbs or vegetables, you can easily pair plants that have different growth habits together. This practice is better known as intercropping, and it can be a very effective way to encourage healthy growth for different types of plants all in the same garden.
With this specific combination, the eggplant or tomatoes will grow taller as they mature and the season progresses. Eventually, they’ll be tall enough to provide ample shade for the lettuce, and this is great because the lettuce is a cool-season crop that likes colder soil. This could even extend your lettuce’s growing season for a few weeks.
Cilantro or Basil and Tomatoes
Some people believe that basil will improve how your tomatoes taste. However, cilantro or basil are both flowering herbs that will work to attract pollinators to your garden too, and this is a great way to encourage a good yield from your vegetables that need to be pollinated in order to produce.
Also, basil has a very strong, earthy scent to it. The scent is so strong that it can actually repel bugs. So, you want to plant your cilantro or basil around and between your tomato plants. The more you can pack in around them, the stronger the scent profile will be.
Roses with Geraniums or Chives
Any plants or flowers that produce a strong taste or scent when you get by them are thought to discourage aphids from getting close to your vegetables and wreaking havoc. There isn’t any solid concrete proof that this actually works, but it won’t hurt to give it a try.
Aphids are huge problems with your roses, and they can quickly damage a plant before you even realize that they’re on them. Plant geraniums or chives around and in your rose bushes to see if it works. The geraniums and chives will release an odor and ward the aphids away.
Cabbage and Chamomile
Chamomile has a very strong but soothing scent, and this is what draws in the beneficial insects to your cabbage and other brassicas. When the fall months come, you can easily chop the leftover chamomile up and toss it into your compost bin while leaving the roots in the garden to decay and add nutrients.
The cabbage needs pollinators to flourish and produce a strong yield, so you can plant chamomile right around and alongside your cabbage plants. The cabbage will provide a little shade to help keep the soil cooler, and this will encourage the chamomile to thrive and release scents throughout the growing season.
Best Flowers for Companion Planting
Flowers also work very well as companion plants, and you can pair them up with other flowers or herbs and vegetables. They can also add a wonderful splash of color all over your yard as long as they bloom through the summer months.
There are very few flowers that will bloom like the cosmos, and you’ll get a huge amount of flowers per plant. You can put every bloom to practical use when you put it in your garden because the flowers are wonderful for attracting a huge range of pollinators. If your goal is to draw in green lacewings, you want to plant bright orange or white varieties like Cosmo Orange. Green lacewings will eat a lot of soft-bodied insects, including scale, aphids, and thrips. So, they’re beneficial insects that can make a home in your vegetable garden and help keep your crops healthy.
Cosmos do well when you plant them in zones 9 to 11, and you can choose from purple, pink, white, orange, red, and yellow flowers. They like to be in an area that has full sun, so keep this in mind if you plant them next to taller vegetables. The soil should be of moderate moisture, and you can get away with average soil as long as it drains well after you water it.
Sunflowers are a perfect addition to the vegetable garden, and people have planted them along the border for decades. They make excellent natural trellises for your climbing plants like peas and beans, and they produce a huge amount of nectar to help attract pollinators to the garden for your flowering vegetables. Sunflowers also attract squirrels, and this could be a problem if you’re growing your sunflowers to harvest the seeds at the end of the season. You can combat this by planting a coarse-leaved vegetable like the squash under the sunflowers to scare the animals away.
This is an annual plant that does very well in almost any planting zone, so you have to replant them every spring. Sunflowers come in chocolate, burgundy, red, and traditional yellow with a very dark brown center. You have to plant them in a place that gets full sun, and the faces of the flowers will actually turn toward the sun during the day. The soil should drain well, but you should keep it moist. You don’t have to enrich it, and you can get away with average garden soil.
Zinnias are a very nectar-rich flower that are magnets for pollinators like bees, so it’s easy to see why they’re a good idea for a companion plant. Zinnias are also very popular with hummingbirds due to the flower’s shapes. Also, the pastel, paler varieties of this flower work to attract Japanese beetles, so you can use it as a trap crop to keep your other plants healthy. However, you may not want this plant if you don’t want Japanese beetles in your garden, so keep this in mind. You can also use zinnias as cut flowers when they bloom.
This is another annual that will do well in virtually any planting zone, as long as you realize that you have to plant them every spring. They come in white, green, purple, orange, lilac, red, yellow, and pink. They need full sun, and they also require humusy soil that drains very well after you water it.
Even though Sweet Peas aren’t edible for humans because the seeds are poisonous, there are several animals and creatures that find them irresistible. So, they work well both in vegetable gardens and flower beds, and you can squeeze them into your garden by planting them alongside your pole beans and edible peas. The flowers come in white, pink, purple, blue, and red, and they’re fragrant enough to attract a range of pollinators to your garden to ensure you get a good crop. They won’t cross-pollinate with your other edible peas either since they’re part of another genera.
When you plant this flower in your garden, you want to situate it in an area that gets full sun. The soil is slightly more finicky, and it needs to be humusy but well-draining. This is a more loose type of soil that you have to keep medium moisture by watering it regularly. They’ll climb up your bean poles, sunflowers, or trellises, so this will ensure that they get enough sun to do well.
Sweet pea by Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0 Sweet pea offers very soft looking flowers with deeper green foliage that will look wonderful planted in your garden or in your flower bed. They do like full sun, but they can also climb to reach it.
Borage is a very gangly, wide plant that works well in a cottage garden. It can be slightly too messy for formal settings though. It’s also a herb that does very well in vegetable gardens, and the flowers can act like a beacon to attract tons of bees to the area. The flowers and leaves on this plant are edible, and they give off a very light cucumber flavor. If you directly sow it into the ground, it’ll grow very quickly and self-seed to spread out. The flowers come in light blue or pink, and the temperature will dictate this color profile.
One rumor with this plant is that the flowers fade to blue when there is no pollen, so it tells the pollinators to try other plants. It’s an annual plant that does well in any planting zone as long as you plant it in an area that gets full to partial sun. It needs moist but very rich soil, and the soil should drain well. You can mix compost into your garden to encourage this plant to grow.
Companion Planting Mistakes to Avoid
Just because companion plants highlight which plants that go together well, you still have to know about the ones to avoid. Generally speaking, you don’t want to bunch plants together that have similar nutrients needs because they’ll compete. You also don’t want to put plants together that will compete for sunlight because one is taller than the other.
Crops that are vulnerable to the same types of diseases like blight should be at opposite ends or sides of your garden to prevent one crop from catching it and spreading. The same goes for plants that have the same pest issues. Some crops will also stunt the growth of other plants. On great example is fennel, and this makes a very poor companion plant. So, if you grow it, you need to put it in your garden in a space where it’s away from your other crops.
Companion planting can offer many benefits to the garden. Growing with companion plants will enable you to control the pests in your garden so your crops yield only healthy harvests. This type of planting is also very forgiving in that you can always experiment with what works best in your garden. Whether you choose to start small or go big, keeping it natural will help your garden thrive.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.