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Two of the main challenges we face when we grow our own food organically are controlling pests and maximizing our crop yield. Knowing the best companion planting combinations helps you solve both problems without resorting to nasty chemical solutions. You can of course further optimize your crop yield by using any of our homemade organic fertilizer recipes, too. It’s not just about mixing plants to deter pests – in fact, many combinations attract beneficial insects as well as birds to eat any invading pests and encourage pollination. Companion planting also helps you get the most from whatever growing space you have available, and is equally useful in tiny urban spaces and sprawling rural properties. We’ve put together a list of our favorite companion planting herbs and flowers to help you get larger amounts of healthy crops from your organic garden, whether you have several acres, a square foot garden, or a vertical garden.
All varieties of marigolds, including pot marigolds (Calendula), French and Mexican (Tagates) are among the best companion plants for vegetable gardens as well as ornamental gardens. The only vegetables you shouldn’t plant marigolds near are beans and brassicas (the cabbage family). Plant marigolds to repel white flies nad ward off nematodes. As companion plants, marigolds are an organic gardener’s best friend, because they help keep slugs off your food crops. We all know slugs are a total menace, munching their way through masses of young vegetable crops and causing devastation. But slugs have a weakness: They adore marigolds. Instead of chomping on your veggies, they’ll head to the marigolds and feast there. so plant multiple patches all over the garden – just not too close to beans and brassicas.
Chives, along with onions, are the ideal carrot companion planting choice. They repel the insanely annoying carrot fly. As an added bonus, chives also deter white fly and aphids, they’re easy to grow, and they taste great. Just remember to keep them away from peas and beans.
3. Sweet Alyssum
The primary function of companion planting sweet alyssum is natural, organic weed control. It grows quickly, creating thick, low-growing mats that help to prevent weeds, and you can use it as a green manure, too. Plant sweet alyssum on bare earth or in between crop rows, or anywhere else you don’t want to see weeds. When the growing season finishes, just dig the mats back into the ground to help replenish the nutrients in the soil. When they bloom, the fragrant flowers attract bees to the garden to help with pollination of your vegetable crops.
Nasturtium companion planting has multiple benefits. Firstly, they act as decoy companion plants for pests like aphids. This means that nasturtiums attract aphids to themselves and away from neighboring crops. Acting as both decoy and trap, the bright flowers of the nasturtium attract larger predatory insects that feast on tiny insect pests. Nasturtium companion planting also repels a long list of other insects. Brilliant for planting near members of the squash family, nasturtiums repel squash bugs, pumpkin beetles, and vine borers. Their ability to deter common cabbage family pests like white fly is another reason for their popularity among organic growers. And, the flowers have a strong, peppery flavor that makes a fabulous addition to salads.
For many organic vegetable gardeners, dill is their staple companion plant, particularly in when used in close proximity to members of the cabbage family. Dill firstly improves the growth, health, and flavor of these crops. When in bloom, it also attracts large, predatory wasps that feast on the pests that commonly attack squash and cabbage crops. It’s important to note that dill is irresistible to tomato hornworms, so can be used as a trap crop, but shouldn’t be planted too close to tomatoes.
Sage has a strong scent and makes an outstanding companion to the cabbage family, carrots, and tomatoes. This herb wards off the dreaded cabbage moth, along with white fly and carrot fly. Companion planting sage with tomatoes invigorates the tomato crop, deepens the flavor and repels troublesome pests like hornworm.
Yep, companion planting catnip is a genuine “thing” practiced by organic growers all over the globe. We all know that catnip is irresistible to cats, and growing catnip gives your cats a healthy, organic supply. Yes, it does attract cats to your garden, but they’re so entranced by the catnip that they forget all about having a poop or digging up your crops. Plus, having cats around helps to keep rodent populations down. Planting catnip as a border around crops that are vulnerable to rats, mice, and other rodent pests does wonders, as these little critters loathe the scent of catnip. While we’re not certain, we assume it’s because they associate the scent with their natural predators. Companion planting catnip also deters a long ist of insect pests, including ants, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, weevils, aphids, and squash beetles.
Yarrow has multiple benefits in the vegetable garden. It attracts bees to aid pollination and predatory insects that consume large volumes of pests like aphids. It also acts as an organic fertilizer, returning large amounts of nutrients to the soil Yarrow has clusters of tiny blooms that draw predatory and parasitic wasps that attack pests like tomato hornworm.
There are a huge number of chrysanthemum varieties, and quite a few of those prove very useful in the vegetable garden. C. coccineum, for example, repels root nematodes, as does C. cinerariaefolium. Both of these varieties, commonly known as painted ladies or painted daisies, contain high concentrations of pyrethrum. This natural insecticide contains six distinct pyrethrins which make up a very effective form of natural pest control. While live chrysanthemums will repel a whole host of bugs, including Japanese beetles, without doing them much harm, the plants don’t discriminate. Not being sentient, they can’t distinguish between an insect pest and a bee going around pollinating, for example.
Another awesome nematode-repelling choice, dahlias also have large, bright blooms that attract pollinators. When companion planting dahlias, remember that earwigs cannot resist them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most earwig species devour pests like aphids. The drawback is that they’re omnivorous, and are partial to certain vegetable crops, too. So we advise keeping dahlias away from crops like corn that earwigs love.
Geraniums make a beautiful addition to the vegetable garden, and they’re a great choice for attracting pollinators. Companion planting geraniums with cabbage repels troublesome cabbage worms. White geraniums are particularly effective against Japanese beetles and beet leafhoppers.
Companion planting basil with tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, and other herbs (apart from oregano and rue), improves their flavor, health, and vigor. It’s exceptionally useful to tomatoes, peppers, and asparagus because it repels nematodes, aphids, asparagus beetles, white fly, black fly, mosquitoes and tomato hornworm. Beets, potatoes, pole and bush beans also benefit from being planted near basil. Because basil attracts butterflies, unless your cabbages and other brassicas are particularly well netted, it’s not a good idea to plant them in close proximity.
Now, we know there’s an array of other flowers and herbs that belong in the vegetable garden as companion plants, but these are a few of our favorites. We also love garlic, but we’re covering that in a separate post, so watch this space! What are some of your favorite companion herbs and flowers?
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