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What Are the Benefits of Companion Planting?
Companion plants will either help a specific crop grow or will grow better beside a specific crop, and can do many support jobs in the garden:
- Repel insect pests. Cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, Mexican bean beetles, carrot flies, cabbage moths—all kinds of pests can plague vegetable gardens. Many companion plants (like marigold flowers, catnip, and rue) repel specific pests and should be planted near certain crops to keep them pest-free.
- Attract beneficial insects. Pollinators like bees and ladybugs can use a little encouragement to visit vegetable gardens and pollinate the crops. Gardeners often plant attractive plants like borage flowers to encourage pollinators to visit.
- Improve soil nutrients. When crops grow, they take up valuable nutrients from the soil—leaving the gardener to do a lot of work at the end of the season to renew the soil’s nutrients. However, there are many companion plants (like bush beans and pole beans) that add nutrients like nitrogen back into the soil, helping keep other plants healthy and well-fed.
- Encourage faster growth or better taste. Many companion plants (like marjoram, chamomile, and summer savory) release specific chemicals that encourage faster growth or better taste in the plants around them, leading to quicker and better harvests for home gardeners.
- Provide ground cover. Plants that spread low across the ground (like oregano) serve as a blanket over the soil, protecting it from the sun and keeping it cooler for plants that need it.
- Provide necessary shade. Plants that grow tall and leafy (like zucchini and asparagus) can provide welcome shade for sun-sensitive plants beneath them.
- Serve as markers. When growing slow-growing plants, it can be difficult to tell where the rows will be while you’re waiting for the seeds to sprout. Gardeners often use fast-growing plants (like radishes) interspersed with the slow growers in their rows to delineate where the slow growers will be.
7 Companion Plants to Grow With Basil
Basil, thanks to its highly fragrant leaves, might be considered altruistic in the realm of the vegetable garden. More than requiring protection, it protects a number of other crops by simultaneously attracting pollinators and deterring destructive insects that feed on the leaves, flowers, and fruit, like beetles (bean beetles, Japanese beetles) and worms (tomato hornworms and cabbage worms), allowing other plants to pay it forward.
Here are a few common plants that benefit from growing basil.
- Asparagus. The combination of basil and asparagus appeals to ladybugs in particular, which helps control the presence of aphids and other pests in the garden. Basil also repels the asparagus beetle, which feeds on the tender tips of new green asparagus shoots.
- Borage. Borage, a flowering herb with blue star-shaped blossoms, is a big favorite of pollinators in general, and it also works to repel bugs that are harmful to basil’s other companions, like tomato hornworms. Not only does it improve the growth and flavor of basil as it works alongside it, but it also makes an attractive, striking garnish on summer gazpachos or salads.
- Chamomile, oregano, and chives. Basil can be planted next to some flowering herbs, like chamomile, chives, and oregano, which increase the strength of the essential oils in their herb garden neighbors. This makes basil more flavorful in culinary applications and effective in the garden as a pest deterrent. Basil cannot be planted next to other herbs, like sage or rue.
- Marigolds. Marigolds and basil are a natural insect-repelling pair, so plant them nearby one another to double up on a potent aromatic shield.
- Peppers. Basil is doubly effective for peppers, both repelling garden pests and providing dense ground cover. Peppers prefer humidity, and basil works to trap heat and moisture.
- Root vegetables. The leafy green tops of parsnips, radishes, turnips, carrots, and beets all benefit from the pest-repelling aromas of a nearby basil plant.
- Tomatoes. Basil is notably beneficial against the tomato hornworm. While one’s influence on the other’s flavor is debatable, basil has been shown to increase the yield of tomato plants when planted together.
Plants to Avoid Growing With Basil
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Basil grows well next to many plants, but there are a couple of plants to avoid growing near basil.
- Herbs. While you can plant basil next to chamomile, oregano, and chives, basil generally prefers the company of vegetables over other herbs, and should not be planted near rue or sage. If planting basil near rosemary, plant them in separate pots as basil needs more water than rosemary.
- Cucumbers. Cucumbers are mostly water, and as such tend to take on the flavor of what is grown near it. Aromatic herbs, like basil, can affect the taste of your cucumber, so it’s best to plant them away from each other. Some gardeners also see reduced cucumber yields when it is planted near aromatic herbs.
- Fennel. Fennel is a garden crop that doesn’t grow well with most other vegetable garden plants, so it’s not recommended for most home gardeners. While it can attract beneficial insects, it can actually serve as an inhibitor to the growth of most other plants—stunting them or even killing them completely.
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