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Complete Companion Planting Guide: How to Grow Plants

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 5 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Gardening is about more than planting seeds, watering, and providing sunlight. Your flower beds and vegetable gardens need each other to keep themselves thriving. Knowing how to companion plant and which crops work best with one another is the key to a successful, flourishing garden.

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What Is Companion Planting?

Companion planting, or intercropping, is planting a variety of different crops together to increase growth productivity. For instance, mint can help you if you have an ant problem. Lemongrass has citronella, which mosquitoes hate. Lavender will attract bees, but it will repel other bugs. Some plants thrive more successfully when surrounded by other specific plants, and companion planting gives your garden a better chance at success by creating a beneficial environment that enables healthy progress.

Three Sisters Companion Planting Method

The Three Sisters is a popular companion planting method developed and used by Native Americans. Beans, corn, and squash are all planted together, each one benefitting the other in a symbiotic way. The leaves of the squash provide soil cover and deters pests, while the beans infuse the soil with nitrogen. Nitrogen helps the corn grow, and the corn stalks in turn become a beanpole, acting as a trellis for growing beans.

The 5 Benefits of Companion Planting

Knowing which plants, fruits, veggies, or flowers grow more productively together is how you can reap the most success from your garden. Here are a few benefits you can gain from companion planting:

  1. Enables pollination. When you plant particular crops around one another, you create an attraction of colors and scents that draw in pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Companion planting increases the chance of luring pollinators to your garden, which can help it grow healthily and naturally.
  2. Ward off pests. Certain types of plants are used to keep away garden pests, repelling the more destructive insects and keeping vulnerable crops safe. For example, sage and rosemary planted near broccoli, cauliflower, and radishes can help protect them from cabbage moths. Companion planting can help control the habitat for beneficial insects as well. Cilantro and dill will attract ladybugs, who feed on aphids, a sap-sucking pest detrimental to any garden. Research the best combinations for your own garden to provide your chosen plants with their own natural defenses.
  3. Provides shade. Direct sunlight is great for your garden, but some plants (like lettuce or bush beans) grow best when given a shadier environment. Tall plants can give shade to lower-growing plants, keeping them from burning up under the sun, and providing them with their best growing conditions.
  4. Alters soil chemistry. Some plants can replenish the soil’s nutrients. Taproots or legumes (like peas and beans), can fix nitrogen imbalances in your soil. Nitrogen-enriched soil is beneficial for crops that use a lot of nitrogen, like rhubarb and brussels sprouts. Keeping a balance of elements in your soil can help retain its quality, keeping it viable for your other plants.
  5. Suppresses weeds. Companion planting keeps your soil from exposure. Aside from the sun drying out your soil, empty plots can leave way for pathway weeds. Companion planting fills the spaces weeds could sprout, discouraging and hindering their growth.
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8 Examples of Good Companion Plants

Some plants make better companions than others. For example, many peas and beans don’t do well when planted near garlic, and potatoes will grow poorly when paired with sunflowers. While you should always look up the best companions for your crop planting, here are a few examples of classic companion plants:

  1. Kale and nasturtiums. While kale should not be planted near pole beans or strawberries, planting them near the nasturtium flower can keep it safe from aphids. Aphids love nasturtiums and marigolds, and will favor those plants over any others. A nasturtium decoy can distract pesky aphids, leaving your garden to grow.
  2. Tomatoes and basil. Aside from a delicious combination to eat, tomatoes and basil are great when grown together as well. Aromatic herbs often mask the smell of the desired plant and are often used as a pest repellent (sage is also useful against potato bugs, which can eat your tomato plant), and basil detracts tomato hornworms as well. Tomatoes should not be planted near fennel, parsley, or potatoes.
  3. Zucchini and spinach. Spinach thrives next to zucchini, benefitting from the zucchini’s shade throughout the hot summer months. In turn, zucchini benefits from the spinach’s nutrients that are left behind. However, zucchini should not be planted near pumpkin, as cross-pollination can occur and affect the quality of your crop.
  4. Borage and strawberries. Borage, also known as the starflower, is a medicinal herb that improves the flavor of its companion plant. Borage is great at bringing in predatory insects like praying mantises or predatory wasps that feed on the insects that plague strawberry plants. Borage also infuses the soil with trace minerals, which can lead to a healthier crop yield.
  5. Kohlrabi and thyme. Kohlrabi, German for “cabbage turnip,” is a big attractor for cabbage worms. However, cabbage worms are repelled by thyme, so these two plants should be planted together. It should also be noted that planting kohlrabi near other Brassicas or members of the cabbage family can be detrimental to their growth if not done properly. These cabbage crops utilize a lot of nitrogen and require a consistently rich soil. Many of these crops together can also attract aphids, flea beetles, and loopers, which may be too much infestation for thyme alone to handle.
  6. Hot peppers and eggplants. Part of the nightshade family, hot pepper plants work well with their eggplant companions. Hot peppers infuse the soil with a chemical that helps prevent root rot, disease, and fusarium (a harmful plant fungi). Herbs like oregano and mint can also be useful planted near eggplants, as they are more prone to insect attacks.
  7. Chives and carrots. Carrots do well when planted with chives. Chives can help improve the flavor and increase the length of your carrots, while also repelling aphids and cucumber beetles from your other susceptible crops. Chives, along with leeks, will also deter carrot flies from destroying your carrot harvest.
  8. Onions and swiss chard. The large leaves of the swiss chard can help keep the ground soil moist, providing a ripe environment for the short-rooted onion to grow. Swiss chard can be planted near most members of the allium family (like shallots and chives) for a mutually beneficial relationship.

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