Companion planting is not an exact science. But in an organic garden, the right companion planting combinations can help increase your yield. It can be a strategy that will help improve the overall functioning of your garden over time. And can also make it easier for you to manage pests, fertility and any problems that may occur. When you plant a wide range of different crops that can aid one another, you can make it easier to manage your garden without relying on harmful chemicals etc.. And the beneficial wildlife will flood in.
But if you are new to the idea of companion planting, it can feel like something of a minefield. It can be challenging to understand how to get started. To inspire you to explore the world of companion planting, here are 7 top companion planting combinations to consider:
The Most Famous of Companion Planting Combinations: The Three Sisters
Perhaps the best known and most famous of all plant combinations is that known as the ‘three sisters’. This is a combination of sweetcorn, beans and squash. Each of these three plants aids its companions in some way, and so the three crops are often grown together. Corn provides support for beans to climb. The beans fix atmospheric nitrogen and make it available to plants grown nearby. Squash shades the soil and provides some protection from certain pests.
Tomato and Basil
There are plenty of plants that can be grown alongside and around your tomatoes. But basil is one excellent example. Basil is an aromatic herb that can help to attract certain beneficial insects while repelling or confusing certain pest species with its pungent smell. It also spreads and can create good ground cover around tomato plants. This helps preserve soil moisture. Some people even say that tomatoes taste better when basil is grown nearby.
Carrots and Onions
Carrots and onions both benefit from being sown close to one another. For one thing, they can grow well in similar conditions. For another, the smell of each plant helps to confuse and distract the pests drawn to the other. Onions make it more difficult for carrot flies to find your carrot crop, for example. This is another great companion planting combination to consider for your polytunnel garden.
Peas, Lettuce and Radishes
Peas are a legume that helps its neighbour as a nitrogen fixer. But peas can also grow to provide a little shade for plants grown nearby. Lettuce will not only benefit from the nitrogen for leafy growth. It can also benefit from the shade during mid summer. Lettuce will be less prone to bolting in hot weather if grown in the shade. Radishes are also great for sowing beneath your peas. Not only will they benefit from the shade (since soil moisture will be retained). They will also act as a trap crop for certain pest species. And they can be harvested quickly before the peas and lettuces need the space and nutrients.
Squash and Nasturtiums
Another of my top companion planting combinations is squash and nasturtiums. Nasturtiums like similar growing conditions to squash, and can work well in the same location. Nasturtiums also provide an edible crop. But more than this, they can also help squash by attracting pollinators, repelling certain insect pests, and by acting as a trap crop for others.
Brassicas, Beetroot and Beans
Members of the cabbage family (brassicas) are great for growing here in the UK. They often do very well in the conditions to be found here. Beetroot likes similar conditions, and so can do well when grown in the same bed. To make sure the leafy brassicas get all the nitrogen they need, it is a good idea to grow them alongside a nitrogen fixing plant. In spring, broad beans are a great choice to grow alongside spring brassica crops. While later in the summer, French beans or runner beans may provide some shade to keep brassicas healthy and happy in hot weather.
Marigolds or Borage (In Almost Any Companion Planting Combinations)
Finally, there are certain plants that will work well as companion plants for a huge range of polytunnel crops. French marigolds and borage are just two excellent examples of annual flowering plants that can work very well as companion plants scattered throughout all your vegetable beds or food growing areas.
There is a lot to learn about companion planting. And there is a lot science still does not understand. But the companion planting combinations mentioned above should give you some inspiration and help you come up with your own successful polyculture planting schemes.
What are your favourite companion planting combinations? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.