Companion Planting – Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

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.

Marigolds offer many benefits as a companion plant. 

Marigold deters leaf hoppers, worms, bean beetles and nematodes and does well planted with other herbs as well as veggies. Marigolds also release a chemical from their roots that act as a toxin to grubs, mole crickets and other burrowing garden pests.

Lavender attracts pollinators to your garden. 

Lavender is a good companion plant for most other herbs as well as crop fruits like strawberries, blueberries and figs. Lavender also attracts pollinators to the garden while repelling pests like spider mites and ants.

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.