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Companion Planting

Tomato and basil plants companion planted in garden 

Companion planting is the practice of growing several different types of crops within close proximity of each other to enhance crop production. Interplanting, the practice of planting different crops between one another, is especially ideal for small gardens to maximize space and improve productivity.

Planting fruits and vegetables with flowers, herbs or other vegetables can provide a number of valuable natural resources to your garden. However, when planning out your garden, consideration needs to be taken to ensure you’re growing supporting plants next to one another rather than competing plants. For instance, onions and beans should not be interplanted. Though onions repel pests for many other crops, it will stunt the growth of beans.

Companion planting can help your garden thrive and be beneficial to plant mates. It can help deter harmful pests, provide support for crops, improve soil quality, offer shade to smaller plants, provide weed suppression and attract beneficial insects to your garden. The scents and bright colors of herbs and flowers confuse harmful pests and attract beneficial insects and pollinators.

One of the most popular companion plantings is the “three sisters garden” of corn, beans and squash. Taller plants, such as corn, can provide a natural support trellis and shelter for beans, peas and other climbing crops. In return, beans and peas provide nitrogen to the soil for the corn and squash plants. Squash and pumpkin leaves shade plants, such as beans and peas, that need sun protection and provide weed suppression.

If you’d like to try companion planting, but don’t know where to start, consider these suggestions:

  • Marigolds can be planted throughout or around the garden to repel insects and nematodes.
  • Interplant smaller cool season plants, such as spinach, beets or lettuce, in between larger, slow growing vegetables, such as tomatoes or peppers. Once the smaller crops mature, the larger plants will offer shade.
  • Tomato plants can benefit from herbs such as parsley and basil being planted nearby. Parsley draws insects away from the tomato plants. Basil growing about 10 inches from tomato plants can increase yields of the tomato crop.

Companion planting is not an exact science, and successful companion plantings can differ in areas. Companion planting charts can offer a starting point. Record observations and results of plant combinations from year to year of successful and failed companion plantings. Share results to provide education and assistance to other gardeners. You can also contact your local WVU Extension Service office for suggestions for other companion crops.

Natasha Harris, former WVU Extension Agent