This gardening method ensures that your plants always have good neighbors.

By Lauren Wellbank
April 08, 2021
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Whether you're new to gardening or have a certifiable green thumb, where you place certain plants in your garden can make all the difference in terms of their success. A surefire way to make the most of your garden is by companion planting. This gardening method involves placing certain plants next to each other so that they can benefit from one another's qualities and nutrients. Good companion plants will either offer protection from predators, a distraction from pests, or necessary amendments to the soil. Ahead, two gardening experts share what you need to know about the method of planting.

woman watering garden
Credit: Tom Werner / Getty Images

What is companion planting?

Simply put, companion planting is growing different plant species close together to create a beneficial relationship that can offer better growth and production or aid in deterring or trapping harmful pests, or encouraging beneficial insects, according to Erin Schanen, Troy-Bilt brand gardening expert, master garden volunteer, and creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel. Companion planting is also used as a means to add amendments to soil. "This idea of companion planting for soil health extends to cover crops as well," Schanen says. She adds that farmers will sometimes sow winter rye in fall and then till it into the soil in spring before it flowers offering a host of benefits that exceed what basic fertilizers can provide. "The plant material will break down quickly once tilled in to build the soil and may even help to prevent weeds," she says.

What are the benefits of companion planting?

There are a variety of reasons why home gardeners may want to plan their garden with companion plants in mind. "Some crops are magnets for pests that can reduce their yield and make them look unsightly, so one way to manage the issue can be to plant a sacrificial plant to 'trap' the insects and lessen the damage on the desired crop," Schanen says. "Flea beetles, which munch numerous tiny holes in leaves, weakening young plants especially, are a common pest on many plants including eggplant, peppers, and potatoes." Since flea beetles love pak choi, bok choy, and radishes, you can plant them to draw them away from your other plants.

Can you include a variety of plant types?

Some pairings can be very specific according to Schanen, but she says that it's generally best to think in terms of diversity. "Most gardeners won't go wrong by planting a variety of plants, both vegetables and flowers (which will also serve to attract all-important pollinators) rather than row upon row of the same thing," she says. "A beautiful garden full of different textures, colors, and flowers is also more likely to be a healthy garden."

How do you start companion planting?

If you want to try companion planting in your own garden, Venelin Dimitrov, horticulturalist and senior product manager with Burpee, says getting started doesn't have to be overwhelming. "One popular companion plant is referred to as the Native American 'Three Sister Planting.' This age-old grouping involves growing corn, beans, and squash (often pumpkin) in the same area," he says. If you want to start small, you can focus on a specific crop you want to add to your yard and then find companion plants to ensure its success. "For example, asparagus plant companions are basil, parsley, [and] tomato. And carrots' plant companions are beans, lettuce, onion, peas, pepper, radish, and tomato." For a more in-depth look at the best companion plants for your garden, take a look at this chart from Burpee.

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