Sep 172013
 

Once the realm of the hardcore, hippy, home gardener, companion planting is now an incredibly popular practice – from beginner gardeners right up to large-scale agriculture. But, despite its popularity (it is huge in Europe), companion planting is often misunderstood, misused and misrepresented as the “cure-all solution” to problems in the patch.

So what is companion planting? Essentially, it’s a method of growing plants together, with the idea that they will assist each other in some way, like deterring pests, improving growth, enhancing flavour, attracting beneficial insects, fixing nitrogen, disrupting “patterns” and trap cropping. But, just as we have good neighbours, there are bad neighbours as well. Some plants really dislike each other, and shouldn’t be planted in close quarters, lest one of them struggle or meet its untimely demise.

Mythbusters – Does it Actually Work?

Now, the “Big Question”: does it work? Well, yes and no. There is a fairly limited amount of actual scientific information on companion planting, but it is safe to say that some combinations do seem to work, while others can be a bit hit and miss. Why? Well, for starters, companion planting is a northern hemisphere concept that works a treat up there, but not as well down here in Australia.

Secondly, it doesn’t work so well because it isn’t understood. We’ve all heard that basil and tomatoes should be planted together, but why? How many of each is required? Is one basil per tomato enough? Who benefits? What are we deterring? Does it enhance flavour? For years, I planted one basil plant next to each of my tomatoes, and guess what? Nothing happened. There was no discernable difference in taste. Nothing seemed to be encouraged or deterred. Nothing grew better or worse than it had before, there was simply no advantage, other than me not having to walk so far to make a pasta sauce!

Do you know why? Because, for basil to successfully repel flies from tomatoes, an absolute shovel-load of basil is required in your patch. I’m talking several basil plants for each tomato, and even then it won’t repel fruit fly. I love basil as much as the next gardener, but I don’t love it that much, and, to be honest, I’ve never had an issue with flies on my tomatoes. But who knew this? And how many of us think that this is the quick fix for all our garden woes?

Get Your Fix – Companions that Work!

Well, companion planting CAN be the quick fix, and here’s how: biodiversity! The best thing about companion planting is that it increases the biodiversity of your patch; that is, the variety of life forms in your garden. Some of the greatest companion plants in my garden are those which have nothing to do with my vegetable patch, but are the awesome locally native trees and shrubs I have planted about the place. Clever planning (if I do say so myself) has meant that my garden is never without blossom, and is therefore never without the array of critters that come with that: birds, pollinating insects (like butterflies, bees, and native wasps), reptiles, beetles and all sorts of helpful garden buddies.

By encouraging this assortment of good guys, my garden is almost completely without the bad guys, who never get a foothold in numbers that matter to me anyway! Remember, a lettuce leaf with a hole in it doesn’t require chemical warfare, nor does it signal an attack of the dreaded munchies! So now that I’ve put you off companion planting all together, let me say that I reckon there are some combinations that really work, especially those that involve plants that have a fair odour to them. Also, there are definitely combinations that dislike each other, so I’ve made for you, dear readers, what is possibly the most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe.

Now here’s my disclaimer… there is very little scientific garble to back this up, and some of them just work, so don’t come bleating if nothing happens, or things have problems! But here is a pretty comprehensive list of some common companions and antagonists, some of which I have seen working, others… well, let me know. Enjoy! Oh, since you asked, my favourite companion in my garden is healthy soil, full of organic matter, worms and good stuff. And beer!

Sustainable Gardening Australia presents:

The most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe (maybe)

Plant Good Neighbours How it works Bad Neighbours
Apple Nasturtium, Chives Nasturtium climbs tree and is said to repel codling moth Potatoes
Apricot Basil, Tansy, Asparagus Basil and tansy are said to repel damaging insects
Asparagus Apricot, Basil, Chives, Comfrey, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Tomatoes Basil and Parsley are said to improve flavour. Onions and garlic release substances reducing growth. Garlic, Onions
Balm (Lemon) Tomatoes Attracts bees, said to enhance flavour and growth
Basil Tomatoes Basil said to repel flies and mosquitoes
Beans (climbing) Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Corn, Lettuce, Lovage, Majoram, Parsley Beetroot, Chives, Garlic, Gladiolus, Onions, Sunflower
Beetroot Beans (bush), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Peas, Potato, Spinach, Silverbeet Bad Neighbours roots release substances reducing growth Beans (Climbing), Tomato
Borage Squash, Strawberries, Tomato Said to deter tomato worm and improve tomato flavour and yield. Said to increase strawberry yield.
Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Beans, Beetroot, Carrots, Chamomile, Coriander, Cucumber, Dill, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Mint, Nasturtium, Pea, Potato, Rosemary, Sage, Tansy, Thyme,Tomato, Zinnias, Land Cress Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp. Nasturtium disguises and repels aphids. Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly. Zinnias attract ladybirds, which we love! Bad Neighbours roots release substances reducing growth.  Land cress attracts Cabbage White Butterfly which lays eggs – when larvae hatch and eat it they die. Garlic, Rue, Strawberry
Capsicum, Chilli Carrots, Onions, Tomato
Carrots Beans, Chives, Coriander, Cucumber, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Pea, Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Tomato Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Dill, Celery
Celery Cabbage, Chives, Dill, Dwarf Beans, Leek, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Pea, Sage, Spinach, Tomato Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Carrots, Parsnip, Potato
Chamomile Cabbage, Onion Deters flies and mosquitoes. Strengthens neighbouring plants
Chives Apples, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peas Prevents Apple Scab. Said to deter aphids Beans
Cucumber Basil, Bens, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Dill, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Sunflower, Tansy Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Potato, Sage, Strongly Aromatic Herbs
Dill Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp
Eggplant Beans, Spinach
Garlic Apricot, Cherry, Mulberry, Parsnip, Peach, Pear, Raspberry, Rosemary, Rose Deters aphids, especially from roses and raspberry. Repels Cabbage White Butterfly Beans, Cabbage, Peas, Strawberry
Kohl Rabi Beetroot, Onion Beans, Tomato
Leek Carrot, Celery, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Parsnip, Strawberry Beans, Peas, Parsley
Lettuce Achillea, Beans, Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrot, Chervil, Coreopsis, Cucumber, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Onion, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Strawberry, Zinnia Achillea, Coreopsis & Zinnia attract pollinators and offer shade for lettuce Parsley
Marigolds (French) Numerous vegetables, including tomato Kills root knot nematodes and eel worm
Melon Radish, Sweet Corn
Mint Cabbage, Tomato Deters pests such as Cabbage White Butterfly, ants and fleas
Nasturtium Cabbages, Fruit Trees, Radishes, Zucchini Flowers repel aphids and codling moth. Cabbage White Butterfly is attracted to this plant, and will seek it out over cabbages
Onion Beetroot, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Chamomile, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Parsnip, Silverbeet, Strawberry, Summer Savory, Tomato Smell of onion said to deter numerous pests.  Onions release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours Asparagus, Beans, Gladioli, Peas
Parsley Asparagus, Sweet Corn, Tomato Said to improve flavour of asparagus and tomato
Peas Beans, Beetroot, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsnip, Potato, Radish, Sage, Squash, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth. Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as “living stakes” for peas Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots
Potato Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Corn, Eggplant, Horseradish, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Nasturtium, Parsnip, Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Corn, Watermelon Sweet Alyssum and Marigolds attract beneficials and suppress weeds.  Potatoes release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours. Horseradish should be planted at the corners of the patch Apple, Celery, Cherry, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Raspberry, Rosemary, Squash, Sunflower, Tomato
Pumpkin Beans, Cabbage, Eggplant, Peas, Radish, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Potato
Radish Beans, Carrot, Chervil, Cucumber, Sweet Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Spinach, Sweet Corn Radish is said to attract leaf miners from Spinach Hyssop
Raspberry Blackberries, Potato, Tomato
Rosemary Beans, Cabbage, Carrot, Sage
Sage Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Carrot, Rosemary Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly Cucumber
Silverbeet Beetroot, Cherry, Lavender, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion Basil, Wormwood
Spinach Celery, Eggplant, Strawberries
Squash Borage, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Peas, Sunflower, Sweet Corn, Tansy Potato
Strawberry Beans, Borage, Chives, Leek, Lettuce, Marigold (French), Onion, Pyrethrum, Sage, Spinach Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Brussel Sprouts, Garlic
Sunflower Apricots, Cucumbers, Squash Beans, Potato
Sweet Corn Beans, Cucumbers, Lovage, Marjoram, Melon, Parsnip, Peas, Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Zucchini Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as “living stakes” for peas. Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Cabbage
Tomato Asparagus, Basil, Celery, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Dill, Gooseberry, Grape, Hyssop, Lovage, Marigold (French), Marjoram, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Turnip Marigolds said to repel white fly and root knot nematode. Bad Neighbours’ roots release substances reducing growth Apricots, Beetroot,  Fennel, Kohl Rabi, Potato, Rosemary, Sweet Corn
Turnip Cucumbers, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Peas, Tomato
Watermelon Potato
Yarrow Most aromatic herbs When planted along pathways, is said to enhance essential oil production and herb flavour.
Zucchini Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Sweet Corn

and…

a couple of general plants that make great companions for other reasons

  • Basil helps repel flies and mosquitoes.
  • Borage in the strawberry patch will increase the yield.
  • Catnip repels fleas, ants and rodents.
  • Caraway helps breakdown heavy soils.
  • Chamomile deters flies and mosquitoes and gives strength to any plant growing nearby.
  • Chives grown beneath apple trees will help to prevent apple scab; beneath roses will keep away aphids and blackspot.
  • Elderberry a general insecticide, the leaves encourage compost fermentation, the flowers and berries make lovely wine!
  • Fennel (not F. vulgare or F.officionale) repels flies, fleas and ants.
  • French Marigold root secretions kill nematodes in the soil. Will repel white fly amongst tomatoes.
  • Garlic helps keep aphids away from roses.
  • Hyssop attracts cabbage white moth keeping brassicas free from infestation.
  • Mint repels cabbage white moth. Dried and placed with clothes will repel clothes moth.
  • Nasturtium secrete a mustard oil, which many insects find attractive and will seek out, particularly the cabbage white moth. Alternatively, the flowers repel aphids and the cucumber beetle. The climbing variety grown up apple trees will repel codling moth.
  • Pyrethrum will repel bugs if grown around the vegetable garden.
  • Rosemary repels carrot fly.
  • Rue (Rutus, not Peganum) keeps cats and dogs off garden beds if planted round the borders.
  • Sage protects cabbages from cabbage white moth.
  • Tansy (Tanacetum, not Senecio) repels moths, flies and ants. Plant beneath peach trees to repel harmful flying insects. Tansy leaves assist compost fermentation.
  • Wormwood (Artemesia, not Ambrosia) although it can inhibit the growth of plants near it, wormwood does repel moths, flies and fleas and keeps animals off the garden.

Information sources:
Bagnall, Lyn, Easy organic gardening and moon planting, published by Scribe Publications, VIC.
www.figtree.org.au.

Pictures
Companion Planting pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Borage pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Alyssum pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Marigold pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)

  14 Responses to “Companion Planting”

  1. I saw you wrote about companion planting with apple and apricot trees, I’m currently planning a small (but diverse) orchard near Warrnambool (SW Vic) and am after ideas about companion planting with fruit trees, any advice? And thanks for the great read!

    • Companion planting has a lot of benefits in a small orchard by reducing weed competition, providing host plants for beneficial insects, adding winter colour, providing habitat for small birds and lizards, providing more food in a smaller space and attracting pollinators. Any daisy type flowers will be good for pollinators as well as being host plants for predatory insects. Ground cover plants like pumpkins will happily use up space while suppressing weeds. Deep rooted plants like comfrey amd lucerne will be harvestable as mulch, lucerne is also a good ‘bee plant’. Don’t forget chooks, they will clean up a host of pests and fertilise as they go. It’s a good idea to provide a water source as well for birds and small animals

  2. How successful is gardening in large pots in Arizona?

    • We’d love to be able to give an accurate answer, but we are more familiar with Australia. However, websites tell us that your state is very dry, but that the temperature varies considerably depending where you live since the state is quite large and altitude varies enormously. Water will definitely be the limiting factor pretty much everywhere. So your pots would best plastic, ceramic or some other material that does not allow evaporation e.g. terracotta. The best system would be wicking beds where you can control moisture by applying it from the bottom. Our post http://www.sgaonline.org.au/wicking-beds/ explains how to construct them.

  3. My grandma told me a story years ago about planting something too close to cantaloupe because the canteloupe would take on the taste of that vegetable. Do you know what that would be?

    • I have not heard of what you say. I cannot find any scientific reason why they can’t be planted near each other. Some companion planting gardeners don’t like to plant potatoes near cantaloupes’. The best thing would be to try it. Then you will know and can let us know. All the best!

  4. I just have to tell someone this! I mulch my broccoli seedlings with lavender. I prune the lavender by running over with the mower then strew it around the seedling when I think they are established enough. Never have trouble with caterpillars any more.

  5. Yeah I am liking the sounds of this,I too was wondering that,I previously did have a garden with a mixed ton of fruit & vegetables but could not look after it,I was wondering about planting plants like daffodil and others with vegetables,herbs and fruit,glad I am checking out your site,now I can start again,till my garden gets cleared of grass 🙂

    • The biggest benefit of companion planting is really the diversity of plant life. This diversity creates habitat for beneficial insects, etc and plants happily share the space as they will have slightly different nutrient requirements. A classic example is the American Indians planting three different vegetables together – sweet corn or maize, climbing beans and squash or zucchinis. The sweet corn when they have started to grow will provide free stakes for the climbing beans as well as shade. A lot of climbing beans don’t set pods if it is too hot. The zucchinis will sprawl over the ground to help keep it cool. Together they will all help each other. Any daisy type plants are great in the veggie garden as they provide food for the many beneficials, including pollen and nectar. One ladybird larva can eat sixty aphids in a day! Daffodils are bright and cheery and lift us up on those dull, early Spring days. French marigolds are sometimes called Buddha flowers in South-East Asia as they protect crops. In fact these marigolds, as well as being hosts for beneficials, give off a substance that controls root damaging nematodes. To sum up; keep up the compost and organic matter, stack in the plants, and enjoy. Happy growing

  6. I have a garden that is approx. 13 meters long and varies from 5 to 8′ in width. I generally plant the taller plants in the longer rows – like tomatoes, snow peas, corn etc. In the shorter rows things like radish cabbage broccoli lettuce celery capies beetroot shallots. I am putting in some basil mint parsley and also some marigolds near some cabbage. Trying different things this year honi tsai tai, rocket, baby spinach. Put some bird netting over some of the garden to stop sparrows eating the young seedlings and hopefully keep the moths out. I do try and mix it up a bit where I plant things from year to year. So I can have up to 12-15 things in the garden at the one time and they all seem to grow well. My question is – they say don’t plant this near that – how far away from each other is this irrelevant.

    • The main benefits of companion planting are plant diversity to help control pests, protection for some plants by others from the elements and nutrients. Your practice of ‘mixing things up a bit’ is a good one. Plants have different nutrient requirements to each other and can happily co-exist in the same spot. The garden dimensions you have given works out to about 26 square metres. With some planning you could grow about half the vegetable requirements for a family of four. There is another answer about companion planting that has been uploaded along with this one. Please refer to it for some more information. Let’s get growing!

  7. I just started a container garden and so far am nurturing baby chillies, tomatoes, mint and basil. thought I would search companion gardening to check my plants will get along, thanfully it sounds like they’re all friends 😉

  8. thanks !! started looking for companions for tomatoes. found this site. very interesting. hope to improve my garden
    keith

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