Walking through the Main Street Community Garden you will see many iterations of a well-tended vegetable garden, neat rows of carrots and beets, perfect heads of cabbage. And then there are gardens exploding with flowers, intermixed with patches of arugula, collard greens and other vegetables. It may first appear that those gardens are all passion and no purpose, but many organic gardeners practice ‘companion planting,’ or ‘companion gardening.’

Companion planting is interdependent gardening that benefits plants and the soil in several ways. It attracts beneficial insects, many of which eat pest insects, thus preventing them from proliferating out of control. There are also plants that naturally repel pests. Companion planting also benefits each plant by enriching the soil. The most well know example of companion planting is ‘Three Sisters’. The Iroquois first nation used the term for planting beans, corn and squash together. The beans capture nitrogen from the air and return it into the soil where it can be use by the other plants. The corn creates support for the beans to climb and the squash provides ground cover maintaining soil temperatures and protecting the other crops from pests with its thorny stems; a happy, beneficial symbiotic relationship. And, most importantly, companion planting is organic.

Here is a short list of companion plants broken down by plant family group to get you started. They can be planted together in their families and with companion plants.

  1. Tomato Family-includes TOMATOES, PEPPERS, EGGPLANTS and GREENS plant with BASIL, PARSLEY, ASTER (the very large family of flowers including sunflowers)
  2. Potato Family– includes POTATOES, BEANS, PEAS plant with DILL, ROSEMARY, DAISY
  3. Cabbage Family– includes CABBAGE, ROOT CROPS, LETTUCE planted with ROSEMARY, SAGE, THYME, CHAMOMILE
  4. Squash Family– includes SQUASH (summer and winter), CORN, POLE BEANS planted with RADISH, DILL, NASTURTIUM, SUNFLOWERS
  5. Root and Greens Family– includes CARROTS, GREENS, ONIONS planted with DILL, FENNEL, ASTER

There are many ways to plan your companion garden. Companion planting can be broken down by Botanical Families, groups of plants that fight pests, and plants that feed each other by returning nutrients to the soil and interdependent families like the Three Sisters planting.

There are other considerations to be made when planning a companion garden, such as the soil type and pH, germination time for each plant, amount of sunlight required, the best type of mulch or cover for around plants, etc. The list goes on, and it becomes more difficult than a New York Times crossword. I highly recommend the book. “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham published by Rodale Press, which I referenced for this article.

What is most important in companion planting is understanding and appreciating the interdependence of plants. Plants can survive, under the right conditions, with adequate water and soil amendments, but partnering with beneficial neighbors can make a garden thrive.