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The Benefits of Companion Planting

Have you started your garden yet? If so, or if you plan to, then I hope you’re going to plant a variety of vegetables and herbs. There’s nothing like the taste of your own home-grown food. And with the rising cost of food, now is the time to start doing so. If you haven’t grown vegetables before, then you may not be familiar with companion planting. It’s simply the idea that one or both plants when grown close to each other will benefit. One example of companion planting is the Three Sisters from the Native American tradition. The trio includes maize (corn), pole beans, and winter squash. They were planted together in Native American communities because the plants complemented each other; i.e., the tall corn supports the climbing beans; the squash grows close to the ground, so it shades the ground, preventing water loss, and its prickly leaves discourage weeds and pests. The fast-growing beans make nitrogen available to other plants. It’s a win-win.

The benefits of companion planting include:

1. Deterring pests: some plants act as insect repellents or deter small critters, such as garlic’s smell, which is unappealing to many pests.

2. Beneficial pests: some plants attract beneficial insects, such as borage attracts bees for pollination. I had ladybugs and a praying mantis show up in my garden last year and had no major issues with pests, such as squash bugs. I found a few late in the Fall, but that was it. If ladybugs and praying mantises bless your garden, then consider yourself fortunate.

3. Provide shade: large plants provide shade for smaller plants that don’t need full sun. I plant basil under my tomato plants.

4. Supports: tall plants can support lower-growing crops.

5. Plant health: one plant may absorb certain substances from the soil that will change the soil's biochemistry which benefits nearby plants.

6. Soil fertility: crops such as beans, peas and other legumes help make nitrogen more available in the soil. Also, plants with long taproots, such as burdock, bring up nutrients from deep in the soil, thereby enriching the topsoil to benefit the shallow-rooted plants.

7. Weeds: sprawling crops, such as potatoes grown next to tall, upright plants, minimizes open areas where weeds tend to take hold.

For many years, the common belief was that certain plants grew well together but others did not. There is actually more science backing the positive connection between planting certain crops together. However, in some instances, where two different crops may be prone to the same pests or diseases, it’s best to not grow them together. I have a Companion Planting chart on my website, as well as other helpful documents for gardening. Go to


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