Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill
Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.

5 Garden Design Tips

using companion planted garden design
Using Companion Planted Garden Designs is easy !

Fall & Winter is the best time to do your garden planning.

Many gardeners just do the same thing they have always done, planting in rows, or adding the same plants to their container garden.

Here are 5 tips to help you get more from your garden:

  1. Plan out our garden spaces before you buy seed or plants to maximize your investment
  2. Learn what plants grow well together to avoid stressed or weakened plants
  3. Get professional tips on growing the plants you like to grow to boost your garden’s productivity
  4. Find out what varieties garden experts recommend to increase your success
  5. Start with quality organic seeds and plants from trusted sources

Want all that in one place  ? … check out our new Companion Planted Garden Designs at the Prior Unity Garden Store

Companion & Follow-on Planting for Containers

Companion planting in containers works the same way as companion planting in your garden bed.  Plants are grown together or in proximity to each other so they can provide different benefits to each other.

Follow-on planting is choosing certain plants to be planted in the same space or very close to each other through the seasons.

Companion planted container garden in mid spring.
Companion planted container garden in mid spring.

In this photo there are two types of kale and one type of broccoli that were planted last fall.  In early spring the lettuce was planted.  Most of the lettuce was harvested by the time this photo was taken, althoguht one is in the right container.  Other kales had been harvested to plant the lettuce.  By harvesting the lettuce we made room to plant tomato seedlings, so …..

  • Fall planted kale – harvested in late winter and into spring made room for
  • Spring planted lettuce (and there were radishes too) which, when harvested made room for
  • Spring planted tomato seedlings
  • Once all kale and broccoli is harvested, put a few scallions, a basil, a marigold or more lettuce around your tomato
  • As your summer crops die back, are harvested or are no longer productive – plant kale again and start over !

Companion Planting – What Gets Along with Cabbage?

Plants have organic material that has an impact on other plants and insects. There may be substances in the root that effects the soil for the other plants or in the flowers that attracts/repels certain insects.  Companion planting is a holistic and natural approach to gardening. There are resources to help you know what to pair with every plant, and this blog is focussed specifically on friends of cabbage.

We have identified 5 tips for knowing what to pair with cabbage:

  • Cabbage neighbors should be onions, potatoes, nasturtiums and aromatic herbs
  • Aromatic herbs, such as dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary, and lavender will help repel cabbage worms/butterflies
  •  Plant Mint: The odoriferous members of this family, especially catnip, help to repel aphids and cabbage pests. Be advised that certain mints can grow out of control and take over a garden space. To make sure you do not start a new problem by fixing an old one, you can grow mints in containers and place around your garden.  We do this for many herbs so they can be workhorses anywhere in the garden we need them.
  • You can also plant with other braccicas (collards, kale, cauliflower, etc.) as they all get along well. If you do plant these together, we recommend starting them under row covers to help prevent attracting cabbage butterflies and other bugs who like this family of plants.
  • Bad neighbors for cabbage are:  strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, rue, grapes, lettuce, and pole beans.


Nasturtiums & Cucurbitaceae

Trailing Nasturiums

Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed and a great addition to any garden because they have multiple functions of food, flower & pest control.

Food: Both flowers and leaves are edible, great to pick as you move through your garden and to add to salads or anywhere you’d like a beautiful to look at spicy taste addition.

Flowers: They have cool orchid looking flowers in cream, yellows, oranges, reds, mahogany and salmon.   Some are trailing and some are upright, so use whichever suits your site, purpose and aesthetic.

Pest Control:  They repel white flies, so plant them anywhere our hot humid summers may bring white flies to your garden.   Nasturtiums also repel squash bugs, so plant them with members of the cucubritaceae family – what’s that ? .. plant with your cucumbers, melons & squash.

They can ramble among your wandering squash and melons, up a pole with your cucumbers, or put in a pot and moved around the garden where ever you need them.   You can also use them as a trap crop for ants.


Planting your Autumn Hoop House

If you have a small hoop house, about 10 x 5′, plant a row of Broccoli or Cauliflower down the middle, then you can plant kales, chards, spinach or arugula around them and put fast growing roots; such as Seeds of Change “Champion” radish or Botanical Interests “Little Finger” carrots,   in between.   As you thin, harvest roots, and your cut and come-again greens, you’ll be working closer to the edge of bed.  Your broccoli and cauliflower will have room to grow tall in the middle and if the growing is good  you may want to thin some lower leaves.