Some plants help each other enormously, while others hinder their neighbors – use this cheat sheet to ensure harmony in the vegetable plot.
There can be real discordance in the vegetable garden. Placing plants side-to-side that vie with one another, for example, does not do much good for any of them. But there is wonderful community that can happen between plants as well – and it's a great way to strategize when plotting out a garden plot.
Welcome to companion planting.
The idea of planting things in groups to bring out the best of each other is certainly nothing new. Long before European settlers arrived in America, indigenous peoples were grouping together corn, beans, and squash – a companion planting known as the “three sisters.” Of this sibling bonanza,The Farmer's Almanac notes that each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. They write:
• As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support.
• The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
• As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
• The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
• The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons, which don’t like to step on them.
• Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a healthy diet.
The three sisters relationship is really the perfect illustration of companion planting, but there are all kinds of benefits beyond the ones explained above. Tall plants provide shade for shorter plants nearby who are shy of the sun, for instance, while ground-covering plants work well with tall plants to utilize space nicely. Meanwhile, a savvy gardener can also team up plants to prevent pests – some plants can repel pests to help nearby companions, while some plants can even attract predators of another plant's pests.
The cheat sheet below comes from Anglian Home, and is actually just a snippet from a larger infographic that was almost too comprehensive to share here. Since I've always been enamored with the idea of creating a great community of plants in the garden, I wanted to highlight this part. So here you go – may you plant a garden of friends that look out for each other and thrive. It takes a village, even with the tomatoes and carrots.
For more natural gardening ideas, see the related stories below.