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Corn Companion Planting Guide: 10 Plants to Grow With Corn

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 24, 2020 • 5 min read

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Whether served as corn on the cob or as creamed kernels, sweet corn (scientific name Zea mays) is a staple of American cuisine and an excellent choice for a home gardener looking to add some height to their vegetable garden.

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Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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What Is Companion Planting?

Companion planting is a time-tested gardening method that enriches and protects vulnerable crops. Farmers and gardeners plant specific crops near each other in order to deter pests, attract beneficial insects, and stimulate growth.

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.
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
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10 Plants to Grow With Corn

If you’re looking to plant some corn in your garden, consider companion planting to help it grow strong and healthy. In fact, corn is one of the first examples of companion planting in North America—Native American tribes would plant corn, climbing beans, and winter squash together to maximize the efficiency of each crop, calling the trio “the Three Sisters.” Here’s a quick companion planting guide to help you decide what to plant alongside corn—from veggies to aromatic herbs to flowers:

  1. Borage. Borage is a flower that not only attracts beneficial insects, but can deter pest worms from your corn.
  2. Cucumber. As a vine plant, cucumber spreads out along the ground to provide ground cover for corn, preventing weeds and keeping the soil moist.
  3. Dill. Dill is an aromatic herb that attracts beneficial insects like pollinators and parasitic wasps, which will help pollinate corn and keep other pest levels down. Learn how to grow dill in your home garden here.
  4. Marigolds. Marigolds are one of the most popular companion plants because they repel a wide variety of pests, including aphids—a common pest on corn stalks.
  5. Melons. As a vine plant, melons spread out along the ground to provide ground cover for corn, preventing weeds and keeping the soil moist.
  6. Mint. The aroma of different mint plants (including hyssop and sage) will repel grazing animals like deer, which are a dangerous pest to growing corn.
  7. Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are pretty flowers that attract aphids. While this may seem counterintuitive, many gardeners plant nasturtiums a short distance away from their vegetable garden to attract aphids away from their crops.
  8. Pole beans. One of the “Three Sisters,” pole beans (like green beans) are a great choice to grow with corn because they provide much-needed nitrogen in the soil. In turn, the beans can use the corn stalks as a support system instead of requiring a trellis.
  9. Thyme. Thyme is an aromatic herb that can repel corn earworms, a common pest in cornfields.
  10. Winter squash. One of the “Three Sisters,” squash vines are a traditional choice to grow with corn plants because they serve as a “natural mulch,” providing ground cover to prevent weeds and retain soil moisture. As an added bonus, the prickly vines are said to deter raccoons from approaching the corn.

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Plants to Avoid Growing with Corn

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Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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Just as there are good companion plants to grow beside corn, there are also plants that will inhibit your corn from growing properly. Corn doesn’t grow well near:

  • Crops in the cabbage family. Corn isn’t a great choice next to broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, or kohlrabi—the corn provides too much shade for the sun-loving plants, and they are all heavy feeders, which means corn and cabbage-family plants will compete for nutrients in the soil.
  • Tomatoes. Both corn and tomatoes are targets for the corn earworm and the tomato hornworm, and if planted together they can attract these pests in even greater numbers. In addition, tomatoes and corn are both heavy feeders, which means they will compete for nutrients in the soil.
  • Eggplant. Both corn and eggplant are targets for the tomato hornworm, and if planted together can attract these pests even more.
  • 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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